Five million in five years – Sir Bobby’s legacy

Sir Bobby Robson with Jim Rosenthal, Bob Wilson, Dr Ruth Plu

Today (Monday 25 March) marks the fifth anniversary of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, the cancer charity launched by Sir Bobby to help find better ways to detect and treat cancer.

And the Foundation is also celebrating another significant milestone with the announcement of a new fund-raising total – an incredible £5.2million.

It is a long way from the initial £500,000 target Sir Bobby first set for the charity after a request for help from his oncologist Professor Ruth Plummer in 2008.

Professor Plummer was treating Sir Bobby for his fifth, and what he knew would be his final time facing cancer.

He was receiving treatment in what was the clinical trials unit at Newcastle’s General Hospital.  The clinical trials team was moving to a new purpose-built unit at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care at the Freeman Hospital and needed £500,000 to equip the centre.

Professor Plummer explains: “Clinical trials of experimental drugs need specialist units and equipment so that we can safely work out the right dose, and also collect research samples from our patients so that we can test the new treatments and make them available to all patients as quickly as possible.”

Rather than simply supply the names of likely donors, as Professor Plummer had asked, Sir Bobby and Lady Elsie responded by launching a charity to get the money she needed.

The reaction was incredible.  Just seven weeks after the launch of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation Professor Plummer had the £500,000 required and in February 2009 Sir Bobby officially opened the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre – he was very proud that the centre carried his name.

Sir Bobby said he would give up a year of his life to the charity.  In fact he became so passionate about it that, despite being very ill, he spent his last 18 months doing all he could to raise funds to help others with cancer.  He said he hoped it would become his legacy.

It is a legacy which continues to grow and has funded world-class cancer facilities within the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust that directly benefit cancer patients from across north east England and Cumbria – and which contribute significantly to international efforts and research into fighting the disease.

Professor Plummer adds: “Sir Bobby always had an eye on what we could do if we raised more than £500,000.  I think he’d be amazed at just how much more we’ve been able to do.

“The specialist cancer equipment and staff we’ve been able to fund as a result of the charity is making a tremendous difference to patients.

“The scientists, nurses, doctors, in fact everyone who is involved in treating and caring for patients are just so appreciative of the help we get thanks to the generosity of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation’s supporters.

“Sir Bobby was a great inspiration to everyone at the Sir Bobby Centre and his charity is a legacy worthy of his name.  We’re grateful to him every day.”

It has already made possible three significant new approaches to detecting and treating cancer by equipping the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre and funding specialist training posts for a clinical trials doctor and nurse within it, jointly funding the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation PET Tracer Production Unit with Newcastle University and making the majority charitable contribution to help purchase the latest generation in ‘stereotactic’ radiotherapy.

The combination of these three elements – clinical trials of new drugs in the Sir Bobby Centre, patient PET scanning and new radiotherapy treatment which is so accurate it can treat inoperable tumours – is creating what Professor Plummer describes as “a very special jigsaw to help fight cancer.”

Sir Bobby’s wife, Lady Elsie, sons Paul, Andrew and Mark and committed Patrons including Alan Shearer, Niall Quinn, Steve Gibson, Delia Smith and Mick Mills are helping continue the work Sir Bobby began through the Foundation.

Niall Quinn, Patron, says: “I feel privileged to have met Sir Bobby, let alone to have contributed in a small way to his Foundation and the lesson I have taken from my involvement is that it’s not what you have, it’s what you leave behind.

“Sir Bobby may no longer be with us, but he left behind an incredible legacy and a remarkable team. Reaching £5m is a brilliant achievement, a testament to the deep generosity and tireless efforts of so many people.

“His team include those who are working hard to tackle cancer, but also everybody who helps to raise funds or contributes time, money or support. Bobby’s memory brings out the best in people. Long may it continue.”

Sir Bobby always said ‘when’ not ‘if’ we beat cancer.  He truly believed, with us all pulling together, we will beat the disease.

Alan Shearer, Patron, says: “Sir Bobby set off to raise £500,000, so for his charity to have raised over £5million is a staggering achievement.

“I’m proud to be a Patron of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and I’ve been privileged to meet some amazing people through the charity.

“Cancer affects everybody differently.  For some people, like Sir Bobby, it becomes a challenge.  We all know that sometimes it’s just not possible to beat the disease but I’ve met lots of people who have dug in regardless.  People who know that by helping the Foundation they’re helping others who will have cancer in years to come.

“The work the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation has funded over the past five years is incredible and really pushing the boundaries of how we detect and treat cancer.  I’ve no doubts the next five years will be just as positive and bring even more advances.

“My thanks to everyone who has contributed to this fantastic team effort.  I’m sure Sir Bobby would be humbled and very proud at his charity’s ongoing success.”