Dad of boy with brain tumour will swim channel backwards to raise cash for research
A father is planning to raise money for a children’s hospital where his son is being treated for a brain tumour, by swimming the Channel – backstroke.
Dr Jason Betley, a lead scientist at Cambridge genome sequencing company Illumina, is planning to swim the 21-mile stretch in the next three weeks to raise money for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.
He is taking on the challenge in honour of his son Tom, 14, who is due to have surgery there in October. The operation will attempt to remove the regrowth of a tumour after it was originally operated on ten years ago.
Jason said: “I wanted to give something back to the tremendous people who have given so much to Tom and to us, Tom’s family. I’m a long-time open-water swimmer and have been training for this particular swim for 18 months now. Thinking about what Tom is going through, and the donations people are making to the charity, will be my motivation to keep going to completion.”
Tom was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged three. In 2008, he underwent two operations to remove the majority of the tumor, followed by two years of chemotherapy. Now, at 14 and after nine years of twice-yearly scans, Tom’s tumour is growing again, albeit slowly. He is starting to show symptoms, so doctors have recommended brain surgery, followed by proton therapy. Alder Hey hospital carries out pioneering research into pediatric care, and is the UK’s most advanced centre for surgery on Tom’s type of tumour.
Jason said: “Tom is remarkably good. He has barely broken his stride. He is extremely pragmatic, stoic and accepting of what needs to happen and very trusting of the medical profession. He knows what an amazing thing they did for him ten years ago and almost assumes and trusts they are going to do it for him again. So he is in very good mental shape.
“ I’m obviously apprehensive as any parent would be to see their boy go in for a major operation like this and it is not without risk, but there’s also something as a parent takes over in these situations where you are just very calm and pragmatic.”
Jason will make his Channel attempt between now and September during a period of Neap tides, which are the gentlest. He said he chose to try backstroke as a new challenge as he has previously swum the Channel forwards. As a practice run he swam backstroke around Jersey. “No one else had done that before,” he said.
Now his main concerns are salt mouth – “Anything over six hours and the salt water starts to take away the top layer of your tongue which is quite unpleasant” – and waves crashing over his head as he swims backwards.
He expects the swim to take 18 to 20 hours, but the main challenge is mental. He said: “Your mind will play a lot of tricks on you and give you lots of reasons why you should stop.”
Details at justgiving.com.