Bereaved brothers in training for marathon in memory of mum
Two brothers from London will take on their first marathon in a bid to fund the fight against the disease that killed their beloved mother.
Oscar and Tobi Kirby-Hogarty are running in the Brain Tumour Research Virgin Money London Marathon team, less than a year after the heart-breaking loss of their mum Lesley to the disease. Devastated by her sudden death, the siblings have already raised £10,000, which will help raise awareness and fund research into brain tumours – a disease which kills more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer.
Lesley Kirby-Klappholz, who lived in Twickenham for 25 years, was 63 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour in May 2019. Having finished a highly decorated career in education five months earlier, Lesley was looking forward to her well-earned retirement. Her professional life had spanned 38 years, which included 11 years of headship. Her first headteacher role began in 2007 was at Shene School in Richmond (now Richmond Park Academy).
Tobi, 25, founder and director of MKH Search recruitment business said: “I still remember to this day, when Mum decided to go for the job, she sat me and Oscar down and said, ‘I won’t get it; I’m one of 20 candidates and I don’t have enough experience, but I’ll give it a go!” How wrong she was! Mum’s continuous desire to take on challenging roles prevailed, and she took the position. The commitment and dedication we remember her by is, in part, our motivation for taking on this epic running challenge.”
Following a successful tenure at Shene School, in 2016 Lesley, a graduate of Bulmershe College of Higher Education in Reading, returned to Kingsley Academy (formerly Hounslow Manor), a school she had previously worked in as head of modern foreign languages (MFL). The school had been put in special measures and, once again, Lesley rose to the challenge.
Tobi, who lives in Clapham South, added: “As before, she loved the broad diversity of students and the challenge at hand. She retired from main-stream education following a tremendous career in which she fulfilled her professional aspirations and made an impact on the lives of thousands of children and the development of hundreds of teachers. She made so many friends and made so many people’s lives richer. We couldn’t be prouder.”
Lesley’s shock brain tumour diagnosis came after several trips to the GP, where she had been complaining of memory loss and change in character. She was told the symptoms were probably down to the fact she’d recently stopped working.
Oscar, 27, group sales director at ENGAGE Group Limited, said: “She had gone from having a really busy, responsible role to a much quieter schedule. We accepted the initial diagnosis but there were real moments of fear, as her memory continued to deteriorate and we wondered whether it might be early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“On her fourth trip back to the GP’s surgery, she demanded a CT scan. I had no idea this was going on at the time. Then, one evening, I was out for dinner and I got a phone call from my dad to say she had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. It came as such an awful shock.”
During the initial consultation with the surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital in Fulham, it was suggested that Lesley’s tumour, around half the size of a golf ball, was likely to be grade 2 and treatable. Because of its location, the medics were confident that they would be able to remove it. However, on 18 June, the evening before she was going into theatre, the family was given the devastating news that the tumour had spread and was now a high grade, butterfly-shaped glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).
Oscar added: “We were told that, at best, they would only be able to remove part of the tumour because of its size and spread. The aim of the surgery was to relieve the pressure in her brain. There would be no cure. This was about extending her life for as long as possible.”
Unfortunately, Lesley suffered a major haemorrhage during the surgery and contracted a virus. She came out of the operation completely comatose and her distraught sons were told she would only have 24 hours to live.
Oscar explains, however, that she went on to defy the odds: “The doctors were gobsmacked at the fight she put up. Her body was incredibly healthy. Eventually, though, she started to decline again and 14 days post-surgery they told us she would never recover. Her heroic fight with this awful disease ended on 8 July 2019.”
Now, just eight months on from the tragedy, Oscar and Tobi are hoping to make a difference by running in the iconic, world-famous event, which sees tens of thousands of runners taking on the 26.2-mile course through the heart of London. The televised event takes place on Sunday 26 April.
Oscar, who lives in Earlsfield, Wandsworth, said: “I’ve always wanted to take on this fantastic event in our home city and losing mum was the push we needed to sign up. A recurring theme in the speeches at Mum’s funeral and one of the defining features about her was her pragmatism. Her no-nonsense attitude was another motivating factor for our decision to take part and fundraise for Brain Tumour Research.
“We want to do something positive to channel our grief and, in doing so, raise money and awareness for this wonderful charity. When we were sorting through Mum’s paperwork after her death, we discovered that she was a regular giver to a number of different charities. We are doing the marathon in tribute to Mum and her charitable nature. It is one last, small thing we can do in her honour and to honour others suffering this horrific disease.”
Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure. The charity is calling for a national annual spend of £35 million in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.
Carol Robertson, head of events fundraising for Brain Tumour Research, said: “We were so sorry to learn of the very personal motivation for Oscar and Tobi’s marathon challenge. They have done an amazing amount of fundraising already, in the face of such grief, and we are so grateful for their support. We wish them good luck for the run and hope as many people as possible will continue to give generously to help them exceed their target. Lesley’s story reminds us that brain tumours are indiscriminate and can affect anyone at any age; we cannot allow this desperate situation to continue.”
March is Brain Tumour Awareness Month, culminating in Wear A Hat Day on Friday 27 March. Now in its 11th year, Wear A Hat Day has raised more than £1.25 million to help fund the fight against the disease.
To sponsor Tobi and Oscar, go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/oscar-kirby-hogarty
To sign up for Wear a Hat Day go to: https://www.braintumourresearch.org/fundraise/wear-a-hat-day