Keith Porritt cycles the US coast to coast to raise money for pancreatic cancer research

Image above: Keith Porritt; photograph Anna Kunst

Coast to coast

What do Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Aretha Franklin, Patrick Swayze and Alanah Martin have in common? That they died of pancreatic cancer, the most devastating of cancers. Almost everyone who has it dies from it and more than half die within three months of being diagnosed.

When Chiswick resident Alanah died, leaving husband Keith and two sons, the suddenness of her illness and death was brutal. Ten years on Keith is planning a trip across the United States with a group of friends by bike to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer UK.

“It’s been ten years this October 2022 since we lost Alanah to pancreatic cancer a few months after diagnosis. Alanah was larger than life, hugely generous, and much loved and tragically died aged just 60. She has been with us in spirit every day since” says Keith.

Alanah, originally from Whitstable in Kent, worked as a BBC radio presenter in the early 1990s, giving up full time work to focus on the boys, Jerome and Jacob, being active in their schools and taking up pursuits such as ceramics, upholstery and screen printing.

“She was the person people turned to when they needed help, and she always responded. She was the linchpin of the family. She was a magnet, everything she did she created communities – with neighbours, with her ceramics group, no one had a bad word to say about her. She had a golden aura.”

Image above: Alanah

Keith wanted to do something life-affirming that raised money to fund research and having started long distance road cycling eight years ago to raise money for charities, has decided it is time for the big trip: coast to coast from Astoria in Oregon in early July to Portsmouth, New Hampshire in mid-September, cycling with a couple of school friends.

He, Paul Holbrook and Neville Gray are planning to ride the 3,500 miles, doing 60 – 80 miles a day, giving themselves every sixth day off and sleeping in an RV at night. Another friend, Nic Myers, will be the driver, as well as chief cook and bottle washer.

“Aren’t there mountains?” I ask, picturing the map. If memory serves, that’s right across the Rockies.

“Yes” he says, ruefully, “lots and lots of them.”

It is a well-known route and as far as possible they will be avoiding the trunk roads, mindful of the dreadful injury Olympic rower James Cracknell suffered when he was hit by a truck on a cycling trip in the US.

“It should be the cycle of a lifetime” says Keith. “Apart from forest fires, the heat, bears, lions, snakes and saddle sores – what could possibly go wrong?!

Image above: Keith Porritt; photograph Anna Kunst

Tennis ball stops training

He has been training by riding up and down Richmond Hill and out to the Surrey hills. At home he uses a Tacx, an indoor bike which, linked up to his laptop and a TV screen in the kitchen, which simulates the gradients he expects to be climbing. His road bike has 22 gears.

It was all going so well until he stepped on a tennis ball playing tennis and twisted his ankle. As we met, he had been out of training for a week and was still not allowed to ride his bike. for another few days.

“Any chance you might not be able to do the trip?” I ask tentatively. “No” came the stern reply. Clearly that is not an option.

The friends met at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle. Keith is a media consultant, Neville a criminal lawyer, Paul was CEO of a medical equipment company and Nic a surveyor, so the trip is self-funded. Having stayed friends all these years they will be supportive of each other rather than unduly competitive, he says. They will stay together and cycle at the pace of the slowest.

They have to be in New Hampshire by mid-September. Arriving any later is not an option, as one of Keith’s sons is getting married.

If you would like to contribute to Keith’s fundraising, the Just Giving page is here: justgiving.com

Pancreatic Cancer UK, set up in 2004, is leading the fight against pancreatic cancer by finding ground-breaking research into early diagnosis and new treatments to find desperately-needed breakthroughs.

It provides specialist support and information to help parents and families cope with diagnosis and to feel supported and live well. It also campaigns for change and is calling for better care, treatment and increased research funding.

For more information about pancreatic cancer and the work the charity is doing, go to pancreaticcancer.org.uk

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