A time to praise charities

WASHINGTON Irving (1783-1859), the American author of Rip Van Winkle and also The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that became a Johnny Depp horror film, once opined: “Christmas is a season for kindling...the genial flame of charity in the heart.”

Appeals for good causes intensify at this special time of year, and every little helps, even if it is only a small gesture like buying charity Christmas cards.

The tireless devotion of fund-raisers striving to make life a little more tolerable for the sick, homeless, destitute and disadvantaged has to be admired. Whatever our station in life, whether we are rich or poor, high born or humble, each of us has a cross to bear, and a myriad of counselling and support groups exists to aid victims and sufferers and to seek to persuade them that sharing the problem will lighten the load.

“You are not alone in this,” is a common theme, an encouragement to adopt a positive and non-defeatist attitude. But most of those bodies require financial support that usually has to come from charity and well-wishers.

Whether you are pro-charity or against it, it is well-nigh impossible not to be impressed at the way charity shops have burgeoned in every town centre and high street throughout the land and are usually well stocked and well patronised. Only a month ago, the British Heart Foundation opened in Gorleston High Street and already seems busy. These shops are a painless way of giving.

In the medical sphere, we have only to look at our James Paget University Hospital for proof of the benefits of continual and dedicated good-hearted efforts that have amassed vast sums for major projects, like scanners, the Sandra Chapman Centre, breast and intensive care units and the current palliative care appeal.

Some charity organisations benefit from being high-profile household names, perhaps with celebrity support, while others are smaller and seldom in the public eye, but all compete relentlessly for funds in a severe financial climate. Recently my attention was drawn to a group that hitherto had escaped my notice: the Norfolk Lymophoma Group, soon to celebrate 10 years of existence. Although I had heard of lymphoma, I knew nothing about it until I heard from ex-Gorlestonian and former Great Yarmouth Grammar School pupil David Cooke, a 66-year-old sufferer who not only founded the county group of which he is president but also has helped to raise tens of thousands of pounds for the cause, often by riding his bicycle.

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I am not alone in my ignorance of lymphoma, for David – long resident in Norwich – tells me: “When I was diagnosed I didn’t have a clue what it was, so I went to the national association which helped me with a lot with information, booklets and support. There are hundreds of lymphoma patients around Yarmouth, but it is considered to be the Cinderella of all the different types of cancer and gets very little publicity compared with other forms of this disease.”

Lymphoma is a type of cancer involving cells of the immune system that can affect spleen, liver and bone marrow; the term Hodgkin’s Disease is often used in connection with it.

When he was first diagnosed, he was warned that he would die within three months without treatment, so he embarked on gruelling chemotherapy, then had a stem-cell transplant and blood and platelet transfusions.

Stockbroker David told his 800 clients he was taking time off work because of his medical problems, many of whom responded by sending cheques to the national Lymphoma Association. Surprised and delighted at the influx of donations, the national body asked him to form a county committee, which he did. Its programme of fundraising and social activities included a 2010 walk at Acle, sponsored by Yarmouth Rotary Club, and another is planned for next May.

“The need to lead a healthy life-style is paramount because although he is currently in remission, his rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma might well recur, necessitating “pretty harsh treatment, so your body has to be strong enough to withstand it. They have told me to keep as fit as possible and eat the right food. I don’t smoke or drink and l live as healthy a lifestyle as I possibly can. Even when I go for my check-ups, I go on my bike”.

Presumably not everyone found to be suffering from the same affliction has kept fit throughout his or her life, so suddenly that patient has to abandon unhealthy living and buckle down to exercise and healthy eating.

This came as no great punishment to David, for he had enjoyed cycling all his life, first as the schoolboy owner of a prized Claud Butler racing model, envied by lads like me, who, under parental pressure, had to settle for a conventional black bicycle...

David, whose family home was on Middleton Road in Gorleston until 1961, continues to lead a full life despite the threat of a recurrence of lymphoma, helped by his absorbing interests which I featured in this column a few years ago.

For he is an acknowledged authority on Dinky toys, member of the official collectors’ association, author of a book about them, and trustee of the Bressingham Steam Museum where some of his models are displayed. Also, he owns a 1974 78-seat ex-Yarmouth Corporation double-decker bus (CVF31T), still in its original blue and cream livery and being restored; occasionally it appears at rallies.

Boys of my generation bought Dinkies whenever pocket money and post-war restricted availability permitted, but David Cooke never stopped collecting them when adolescence developed into adulthood, and he had so many that in 2004 he showed some to presenter Michael Aspel and millions of viewers of the BBC Antiques Roadshow television programme when it visited Ipswich. Two years later he sold more than a thousand at a Christie’s auction.

Another interest that brought him to the attention of people throughout our county was his regular broadcasts on BBC Radio Norfolk, reporting on the stock markets and advising on vintage and antique toys.

David remains in close touch with his boyhood friend in Gorleston, Mike King, for many years a Lowestoft resident who occasionally supplies me with reminiscences of his family’s experiences in the borough, with photographs to illustrate the column.

l For more information on the Norfolk Lymphoma Group and its support bodies, visit www.norfolklymphoma.org.uk The national helpline is 0808 808 5555.