Washington man’s vital role in making life easier for cancer patients

From left, Brian Burnie, founder trustee of Daft as a Brush, Lady Elsie Robson, volunteer driver Alan Gibson, from Washington, and Daft as a Brush volunteer Derek Fordy, also from Washington.
From left, Brian Burnie, founder trustee of Daft as a Brush, Lady Elsie Robson, volunteer driver Alan Gibson, from Washington, and Daft as a Brush volunteer Derek Fordy, also from Washington.
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A volunteer from Washington is the driving force behind a charity’s bid to make life easier for cancer patients across the north of England.

Alan Gibson, 70, from Washington, drives an ambulance for up to four days a week for the ‘Daft as a Brush Patient Cancer Care’ service.

It’s a great thing to have a service that takes that worry away

Alan Gibson

Mr Gibson takes patients to and from the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, which is part of the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle, and to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in the same city, free of charge for chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.

The retired gas engineer started volunteering as a patient ambulance driver after his wife, Valerie, died of pancreatic cancer five years ago.

Mr Gibson is now driving a new ambulance funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

The ambulance – called ‘Reach for the Stars’ – cost £20,000, and is already being used by patients.

The service helps to alleviate the stresses which travelling for treatment can provide for patients, and is used by people from as far afield as the Scottish Borders, North Yorkshire and West Cumbria.

Mr Gibson said: “My wife, Valerie, died of pancreatic cancer five years ago and we asked for any donations in her memory to come to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

“Volunteering as a patient ambulance driver is my way of saying thank you for the excellent care she received here and I’ve made a lot of friends through the service.

“Travel is, unfortunately, a significant part of any cancer treatment and it can be daunting and tiring.

“It’s a great thing to have a service that takes that worry away.”

Reach for the Stars has replaced the original ambulance of the same name, which was part-funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in 2013.

Another volunteer for Daft as a Brush is Derek Fordy, who is also from Washington and a widower.

He has become good friends with Mr Gibson, and they now holiday together, with a trip to the USA planned.

Lady Elsie Robson, the wife of the late Sir Bobby, has helped to continue the foundation’s good work since her husband’s death in 2009.

She said: “This is such a helpful service for people travelling regularly for cancer treatment.

“Travel can really add to the stress of treatment and to have that removed is marvellous. And not just for the patient.

“It’s a weight off the minds of friends and relatives to know there’s this excellent service available to help with the transport side of things.

“I think the volunteers who run Daft as a Brush do a magnificent job.”

The foundation was launched by Sir Bobby in 2008, and has gone on to raise over £11million to find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer.

The Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre is based at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care.