Bernard and the Loose Change Buskers

For the next three weeks, we’re partnering with Absolute Radio and Magic to share the stories of those living with cancer or researching the disease right now. Garry, a radio producer, is travelling the country for us, and he will be sharing what he finds in a weekly blog diary. Read about his first week of visits to Liverpool, London and Manchester below.



With a half-remembered module of ‘medical physics’ in my A-levels, and a summer of digitising medical records for a GP’s surgery while at university, my medical education is slim to say the least. I have an idea that there is more to cancer than seeing it as ‘The Big C’, and that there is more to it than finding a single ‘cure for cancer’. But I don’t really understand the hows or whys.

So I began my three weeks travelling round the country for Cancer Research UK hoping it would be an education for me, as well as for people listening to the interviews that I would produce.

My first stop was in Liverpool to meet Justine, a keen runner, who has made a successful recovery after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, in 2006.

She spoke very candidly about how living with cancer affected her life, especially her difficulty in accepting the diagnosis. She told me: “It was a poignant moment when I looked in the mirror and thought… where’s my hair? That was the day it hit home that I was really, really ill.”

It was heartening to hear from Justine about how she’s using her experience to help others in the same position, which was also helping her to move on from her ordeal. It has also given her a fresh outlook on life, setting herself daily goals and making plans for the future.

Listen to Justine talking about her experience:

Next, I met Dr Pawan Randev who, as well as being a GP, trains other doctors and medical professionals across London.

Dr Pawan Randev

Dr Pawan Randev

He told me about how hard he works keeping the people he trains up to date with the latest research, and giving advice on how to help patients cope with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Pawan spoke about how he keeps up to date with the latest guidance and advice, particularly with how to talk to patients about their fears and worries. He’s also taking part in an online ‘Talking About Cancer’ course, run by Cancer Research UK, to help him be even better with patients.

This was something that struck me about him – it was more than just learning what he needed to know about cancer, but constantly striving to be better, to understand more – not just about the disease itself, but how it affects patients and their families.

Listen to Pawan discussing his work:

I then moved on to Manchester, visiting the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and the Manchester Cancer Research Centre – which is a joint venture between Cancer Research UK, the University of Manchester and the Christie Hospital.

Dr Allan Jordan

Dr Allan Jordan

At the Drug Discovery Unit, I met Dr Allan Jordan who reminded me of the personal connection to cancer that drives many of the researchers.

His grandmother died of cancer just a few days before he was born, and he wants to help others survive cancer so that they can be there for those important life events – like the birth of a grandchild, or your child’s wedding.

Allan spoke passionately about the work his team is doing to tackle lung cancer.

This is a disease where survival figures have remained stubbornly low. But Allan was confident that the drug discovery work they are investing in right now could lead to new treatments for the patients who so desperately need them.

Listen to Allan talking about his lung cancer research:

The need for new treatments was brought home to me by Clare Dickinson, a research nurse, who had just come back from a clinic where she revealed some positive test results to a patient who’d been taking part in a clinical trial.

Clare Dickinson

Clare Dickinson

Clare was able to give the great news that the patient could now look forward to her daughter’s wedding, including things like buying her outfit.

The improvements to treatments that are helping Clare’s patients are made possible by the hard work of people like Allan and his team.

They are creating and testing potential new drugs, and using the institute’s close proximity to the Christie hospital to help get those experimental drugs to patients as quickly as they can.

Listen to Clare talking about her experiences:

But none of that would be possible without the efforts of the fundraisers who I saw working tirelessly to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

And it’s not just a one-way process. The researchers are also incredibly keen that the fundraisers get to see what’s going on and what their hard work is achieving. As Clare says: “They get inspired  by coming in to see what a difference their fundraising makes locally for our patients.”

Bernard busking in the park

Bernard busking in the park

In Didsbury Park, just round the corner from the institute, I met Bernard, who a few years ago formed Loose Change Buskers – a collective of musicians who travel round the North West of England raising money (or filling the bucket as he put it) for Cancer Research UK. To date they’ve raised around £250,000, which I thought was phenomenal.

Again, cancer is personal to them. In the last few years they’ve lost two members to cancer and at the moment another is ill.

So while busking in different areas is a great group activity for them, they know the value of what they do. And they have first-hand experience of why they need to help the fight against cancer.

As they’re collecting money for Cancer Research UK, they are representing the work that people like Allan and Clare do, and those making donations are able to share their experiences too. As Bernard says: “We’re at the coalface, because we’re hearing the stories first-hand.”

And this weekend they’re splitting the group into two, to try and fill even more buckets for Cancer Research UK.

Listen to Bernard talking about his fundraising:

Even though I’ve only just finished my first week of speaking to people for Cancer Research UK, I feel I’m already starting to build up a picture of where we’re at in the fight against cancer. Rather than thinking of it as one big picture, it appears to be more of a jigsaw, and the efforts of researchers, nurses, doctors and fundraisers are all adding more and more pieces to that puzzle right now.

Next week I’ll be travelling to Leeds, Belfast, Portsmouth, Chorley and Birmingham, so follow my progress on Absolute Radio and Magic, and hear more from the individuals who are helping us to beat cancer.