Originally published in October 2003 icon
Twenty years old this year, the Bob Champion Cancer Trust was born out of racing's greatest fairytale - the 1981 Grand National Triumph of a formerly crippled horse and a jockey recently recovered from testicular cancer. The racehorse had suffered two bouts of tendon trouble and a broken hock bone, while in 1979 his rider had been given eight months to live - unless he braved intense chemotherapy, then less sophisticated and more debilitating than it is now.
The heroic pairing of man and mount - Bob Champion and the legendary Aldaniti proved that determination and dedication could defeat the most unfavourable odds. "I rode that race for all people suffering from cancer" says Bob "and for all the people who care for them. My only wish is that my winning shows them there is always hope and that all battles can be won. I just hope it will encourage others to face their illness with fresh spirit."
Nearly 25 years on, Bob remains cancer free. But the medical battle against men's cancers goes on: though still comparatively rare, the number of men with testicular cancer has risen by 70 per cent in the past 20 years and prostate cancer is expected to overtake both lung and breast cancer in the UK by 2018. It was only fitting that the charity named for Champion (and chaired by Aldaniti's owner Nick Embiricos) should be devoted to improving methods of detecting and treating testicular, prostate and bladder cancers and, ultimately, eradicating male cancers altogether.
Five years after that unforgettable Aintree triumph, the Bob Champion Cancer Research Unit was opened at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, Surrey. Here, studies have investigated the hereditary aspect of cancers within families, tested high-dose chemotherapy treatments with bone marrow transplant, studied the fertility of patients after treatment, ways of reducing the side effects of radiotherapy, of targeting tumour cells and monitoring tumour growth rate. Ways of providing psychological support for cancer patients have also been explored: readers of Champions, Bob's autobiography will recall how angry he became during his illness and resistant to treatment - and how vital to him was the support of friends and the inspirational courage of the young children he saw on the Royal Marsden wards. Two further projects aim to make life under stress a little sweeter for patients - the Aldaniti Rehabilitation Unit and the Bob Champion lounge, where long stay inpatients can rest and relax.
To conquer men's cancer, in memory of Aldaniti
Millennium year saw the opening of the Bob Champion Research Centre for Urological Cancers which has joined forces with the Institute of Cancer Research to provide Europe's first male-dedicated cancer research facility. Dr David Hudson is leading a six year research project into prostate cell biology. "Treatment of testicular cancer patients is such a success story that the Trust agreed we should now expand our funding to include other male cancers including prostate."
Bob Champion's is an enticingly sociable charity with fun events ranging from cookery demonstrations, an annual (July) tennis tournament in Battersea Park, a Polo day with Veuve Clicquot reception and an Aldaniti Ball planned for November. Horses are very much part of the Trust's fundraising and last year riders who raised f 1000 or more were given a unique chance to ride retired Grand National runner Brave Highlander on scenic routes through the Sussex Downs. The handsome bay gelding, who came in fourth in 2000, proved his winning form by raising over 92,000 for the cause.
Equestrian calendar girls from the Chapel & District Riding Club also did their bit, raising 4000 with a 2003 Saucy Horsy calendar.
Celebrity Vice-presidents who do their bit for this special charity include Clare Balding, Willie Carson, Josh Gifford and his three-day eventing daughter, Tina Cook, actress Lisa Goddard, David Gower, Greg Rusedski, John Hurt (who played Bob in the Champions movie) and racehorse-owning Lord Lloyd Webber. "To conquer men's cancer, in memory of Aldaniti" - that remains the aim and Holy Grail of The Bob Champion Cancer Trust.
Further in formation - and 2003 charity Christmas cards - from The Bob Champion Cancer Trust, 6 Old Garden House, The Lanterns, Bridge Lane, London SWI1 3AD.