A 2,000 mile journey for The Urology Foundation

Alan and Geraldine Sinfield, from Polebrook, near Oundle piloted their 34-foot Bavaria yacht the Tante Helena around the mainland, a journey which took four months to complete.

The pair raise almost  £10,000 for TUF, a charity dear to their hearts as Alan was diagnosed with prostate cancer and testicular cancer in 2013, then earlier 2014 Geraldine was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Their diagnoses were all the more upsetting as Alan lost his first wife, Wendy, to cancer in 2002 and Geraldine’s first husband Ian also died from the disease four years later.

After departing from Shotley Marina, near Ipswich, the boat sailed to Lowestoft, made a 100 mile overnight trip to the Humber where they were greeted by hundreds of seals, visited Whitby where Alan enjoyed fish and chips at the famous Magpie and travelled to Alnwick where Alan visited the world-famous Barter bookstore.

The next stop was Holy Island where the yacht was accompanied by thousands of ‘howling’ seals. In Inverness dolphins swam alongside the yacht for an hour. The boat then sailed through the Caledonian Canal and along Belfast and Dublin.

When TUF caught up with Alan, the yacht was heading for the Scilly Isles.

Alan, 71, said: “It was a real highlight to see the dolphins dancing round the boat. I have also loved seeing the seals and have even spotted some porpoises. I am very much enjoying the adventure so far. It is definitely living up to expectations.

“Everyone we have spoken to has been interested in our story and some of the marinas have waived mooring fees in place of donations.’’

He continued: “I took up sailing in my early 60s and love it because of the incredible sense of freedom. When you put the sails up and turn the engine off you have an amazing feeling of calmness, of peace.

“I wanted to do something big before I pack up sailing. There are so many beautiful places in the UK that we have not visited and sailing means you can explore the island in a very special and unique way.”

During the 2,000 mile journey the boat will stop at approximately 40 different places.

Geraldine was unable to accompany Alan for the entire journey so he was also joined by his friends Mike Maconochie and by James Hancox, the boat’s previous owner.

Alan discovered he had prostate cancer after noticing blood in his urine a few days before Christmas in 2012.

“I thought ‘Whoa, what is that?’” he said. “I was extremely worried. I had examinations and scans before the doctor broke the news to me. Geraldine was with me and we were both expecting it but it was still a shock and very upsetting to be told: ‘You have cancer.’

“My main concern was for Geraldine, not myself, because she had been through it all before with Ian, who fought non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for 12 years. We had only been married for three years and there were so many things we wanted to do. It didn’t seem fair.

“Of course it also brought back memories of my first wife Wendy. She was 57 when she died and we had been married for 37 years. It was a desperately difficult time.”

Alan had a radical prostatectomy which proved successful and went on holiday to Greece with Geraldine to celebrate. But in October he found a lump in his left testicle.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Alan. “I felt really angry and I didn’t know what to expect. The reality was not as bad as the initial thoughts of what might change though.”

Alan had an operation followed by chemotherapy. Treatment was successful and the couple thought they had put their ordeal behind them.

Then, in January 2014, Geraldine was diagnosed with bladder cancer after spotting blood in her urine – a very common symptom.

Alan said: “Tests revealed she had a tumour in her bladder. It felt like one thing after another. We both wondered ‘how much time do we have left together?’ ”

Geraldine had surgery and one dose of chemotherapy.  Both are checked regularly to be sure the cancers have not returned. The couple say their ordeals have brought them even closer together.

Alan and Geraldine first met when they were married to their late spouses and the foursome became great friends.

When Wendy died it was Geraldine and Ian who helped Alan through some of his darkest days.

He said: “I knew what she was going through when Ian died and I tried to help her through it. Eventually our friendship turned into something more.”

They decided to fundraise for TUF after learning first-hand about the work of our charity.

Alan said: “The research and training The Urology Foundation supports are absolutely vital. Its work also includes helping doctors communicate effectively with patients. The surgeon who dealt with me was not only one of the best but also had a real ability to communicate, not just with the patient but also with the family. The charity is funding research into exactly what happened to Geraldine and me and there could be no charity more relevant to us.”

To make a donation or follow the boat’s progress go to tantehelena.com 


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