Letter: Maybe if enough Sheffielders make videos we could get an inter-city Premier League-like challenge going

Sheffield's own Nick Matthew OBE was the first of ten squash greats to take a volleying challenge on a petition in my wife Briggs's memory. The Telegraph's editor, Ellen Beardmore, a brain tumour survivor herself, has kindly invited me to write a letter about it.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 6:00 am
Paul Sanderson is asking Sheffielders to support the challenge in memory of his wife Briggs

The challenge has also been taken by Laura Massaro MBE, and on the tennis side, Rod Laver, Chris Evert, Rafael Nadal, and Nick Kyrgios. It's to get signatures on the petition. Twenty stars have signed including Naomi Watts, Bradley Cooper, and Emily Blunt; six professors including 2018's Nobel laureate in Medicine; and seven tennis greats including Billie Jean King and Evonne Goolagong.I'm down in Sydney. I moved back here from NYC partly to get away from memories of fighting Briggs's cancer through four centres in Manhattan.

There were the good memories everywhere too.There was an immunotherapy that might have saved her. It had brought complete remissions in stage IV colorectal cancer in its very first trial but a major pharmaceutical company had bought the rights. I tried for a year to get it for Briggs in time.

We'd had contact with Alan Rickman and Susan Sarandon through our playwriting. They signed an earlier petition of mine to get access to it.In an article for the Medical Journal of Australia's MJA InSight on the history of immunotherapy, which goes back to the 1890s, I cited one that had worked in Alan's stage IV pancreatic cancer.

That was in 2005, long before it took Alan and Aretha Franklin, and before them, Steve Jobs and Patrick Swayze. To my knowledge it's still not in development.

Shortly before Alan lost his fight, he was selflessly first to donate through the Volleying Challenge for a major new centre focused on immunotherapy at the University of Southampton. It's since been completed and can become a model for others like it worldwide.

I talked with a professor there who was previously Cancer Research UK's chief clinician. He said the hardest part of his job is deciding who gets into trials of advanced cancers, knowing patients he needs to exclude will most likely die.

The petition in Briggs's memory is to get governments worldwide to adequately fund research and development of immunotherapies in all cancers.

Adventurer Bear Grylls OBE recently took the challenge. One of the busiest guys on the planet with Running Wild and his other shows.

I emailed him late on a Tuesday afternoon and by Wednesday morning he'd made a video. He then posted a video by a young boy, Marc, who lost a leg to cancer, adding, "So proud to be a part of this challenge…who will you be nominating?"

Marc has made two videos. In his first he did 253 volleys, when the challenge is only 30. His mother Marie-Jo only realised later that he'd gone through 252 days of chemotherapy. She told me it was worse than the amputation. Briggs said to me one day, "I know how hard it is on you when I'm in pain. I can see in your eyes how helpless you feel that you can't do anything more."

I hope you'll help to, as Susan Sarandon has said of my campaign, "usher in a new era in cancer twenty years ahead of time" by signing or sharing the petition, or taking the challenge or nominating someone. It's mostly about heart, a bit of fun, or in honour of a family member or friend.

Maybe if enough Sheffielders make videos we could get an inter-city Premier League-like challenge going. After all, Sheffield FC was the world's first club!

This is the link to the petition: https://www.change.org/p/petition-for-briggs-for-cancer-immunotherapy-for-all (or it comes up with a Google search for "Petition for Briggs for Cancer").

And to the Volleying Challenge: https://www.facebook.com/VolleyingChallenge/posts/2420904954682580 (which comes up with a search on Facebook for "go to the wall against cancer").

Paul Sanderson

By email