For three days in August, 20 riders took on the incredible challenge of cycling from London to the heart of Paris to support the work of WMUK. Rebecca Milburn, whose mother has WM, explains how the ride raised an incredible sum of money, by uniting the team in a common purpose.
Our journey together began in Crystal Palace and it’s fair to say we were an eclectic group. There were WM experts, patients, family members and we were delighted that Beth Mitchel from the International Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia Forum could join us too. Most had never done anything quite as crazy as a 200-mile cycle ride, so anticipation and nerves were high.
However, for those of us who live with WM or are supporting loved ones, adversity is nothing new. We’ve all been on the diagnostic odyssey and continue to battle the uncertainty of symptoms, pain and treatment options. Along the way, we’ve all built resilience.
Indeed, it was patient’s resilience that inspired this whole cycling challenge. Helen McCarthy is the consultant we had to blame. Inspired by a WM patient who cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats just months after a gruelling session of chemotherapy – she approached WMUK about doing a similar challenge. She told me, “I thought if he can do it after chemotherapy, it would be a wonderful challenge for us doctors.”
With Helen to blame, we set off with eager anticipation and the port of Newhaven on the south coast in our sights. While there was no time pressure for our 11pm ferry, there were certainly plenty of hills to contend with, not to mention the odd puncture and the growing sense of discomfort from so many hours in the saddle.
Now, there's plenty of research to show that human beings can endure far more pain when we do so in the company of others. The ride was certainly proof of that. The thigh-burning gradient of Turners Hill in West Sussex caused us to curse Helen and her crazy ideas, but together we conquered it.
It was in the dark moments that the firm friendships were formed. That, and onboard the Newhaven to Dieppe Ferry where those of us who were looking forward to a long soak in a hot bath followed by the luxury of an eiderdown duvet were sorely disappointed!
It was gone midnight before my head final hit the pillow in a cramped berth. After what felt like mere seconds, I was jolted from my not so peaceful sleep at 4am. Bleary eyed and coffee-fuelled, we set off for day two.
Our reward was a beautiful stretch of cycle path known locally as the Avenue Vert. As the name suggests, this is a dedicated cycle path stretching through the beautiful French countryside. Not a hill in sight (or another human being at the unearthly hour of 6am).
We’re all guilty of pre-judging people and I must confess that before the ride I was a little apprehensive about cycling with such experienced consultants. We tend to hold medical professionals on a pedestal, but events like this are such a leveller. The very ethos of WMUK is to unite people with different experiences of WM, with a focus on improving life. The ride did just that and on the long flat stretches of path, conversations flowed.
One of the most beautiful memories I have is from the second day where we stopped in the most picturesque French village. I sat sipping coffee and indulging (guilt free) in the most exquisite croissants while discussing the merits of ear plugs with leading WM consultants, patients and their families. It just summed up the camaraderie of the group.
Tackling the Real Challenge
By the start of day three, what had seemed like an unsurmountable challenge was now within our grasp. It had gone in a flash and yet the team had gelled together like friends who’d been on the journey together forever.
As we set off with visions of the Eiffel Tower, the hard work and dedication of the support crew really came to the fore. The team of mechanics, medics, guides and their endless supply of ibuprofen gel and jelly babies, got us through those last few tough miles.
Nothing quite prepares you for the site of the Eiffel Tower rising majestically into the Parisian sky. Tracey Paulin, a WM patient cycling in the group, told me, “Everyone had been saying well done for doing this, so I felt like I finally deserved the sponsorship.” We may have had sore derrieres, but we had huge smiles on our faces.
The metaphor of a journey is an overused cliché, but so much of the cycle challenge seemed to mirror the daily struggles we all face. It wasn’t easy. There are parts of the journey we’d rather forget, and moments we’ll remember for ever. But what got us through was the team around us.
The £60,000 we’ve raised for WMUK will ensure that more people living with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia can get the support they need to live well. As Helen said, “WMUK is such a fantastic charity and it’s actually just a great family.”
My fellow riders and I hope that more people living with and impacted by Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia can be part of this fantastic family as a result of cycling endeavours.
If you would like to be part of next year’s Wheels for Waldenstrom London to Paris Cycle challenge from 23-25 August 2024, visit www.my-cycle.co.uk/london-to-paris-wmuk