Suffolk dad takes on London Marathon after losing home and ‘world falling apart’ during six-year-old son’s cancer battle

The father of a six-year-old boy with cancer from Bury St Edmunds is running the Virgin Money London Marathon on 22 April, to ‘give something back’ by raising vital funds for CLIC Sargent, the charity that supported his son through gruelling treatment. 

Suffolk dad takes on London Marathon after losing home and ‘world falling apart’ during six-year-old son’s cancer battle

Russell Turner’s world fell apart when his son Oliver, aged just four-years-old at the time, was diagnosed with a Wilms Tumour, in 2016.

What was initially thought to be a kidney infection, turned out to be a cancerous tumour in his son’s kidneys. Oliver endured forty two weeks of chemo and a major operation to remove one kidney and a portion of his other.

His parents’ lives went on hold as they dedicated every waking moment to supporting their young son through his treatment.

Not only did the diagnosis take its toll physically on Oliver, the whole family struggled to cope as they came to terms with their son’s shock diagnosis and the enormity of the situation. 

It was during these dark days that dad, Russell, lost his job, their family’s source of income and their home, as he struggled to keep his business running throughout the treatment.

Russell, 42 years old, said:

“The cancer diagnosis was financial ruin for us; we’re still picking ourselves up and out of the gutter as a result." 

“I’m a personal trainer and I couldn’t maintain the business. I was trying to see some clients in between hospital visits, to keep food on the table, but we lost our income overnight.

“We had to move out of our rented accommodation and move into a friend’s house. You live day-to-day and bill-to-bill when you’re going through something as life-changing as this.

“You have to keep paying the bills and the hospital car park fees – the world doesn’t stop demanding money from you because your child has cancer.”

All of this took its toll on Russell’s mental health. He continued: “When I heard it was cancer, I felt isolated from everything immediately because no one will ever know that feeling.

“If I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure if Oliver would make it through the treatment. But as time went on, I saw his ability to do anything in any environment. It made me feel embarrassed that I wasn’t as strong as him. 

“I couldn’t cope seeing him so weak, so unhappy, but I had to be strong for him. Behind the scenes I was actually falling apart.”

Russell added: “I would say to other men out there experiencing this situation, to find some help, because you’re going out of your mind with worry.

"We’re often expected to be strong, but I needed help too and was sometimes frightened to ask for it."

"I had to get some counselling to help me try and fit into a world I didn’t understand any more."

Commenting on the support that he received from CLIC Sargent throughout his son’s treatment, Russell said: “After seeing what Oliver went through, I want to help others. Without CLIC Sargent the whole experience would have been even more isolating. It would have made an already horrific situation even worse.

“I received money from CLIC to help me with running our car and the essential journeys we needed to make. The smallest amount of money made a huge difference to us. 

“Oliver’s mum got a lot of support too to get a disabled badge for the car, so we could get him into hospital quickly when he had his temperature spikes. 

“In the madness of cancer, CLIC Sargent helped us with all the forms, so we didn’t have to worry about it. They remove the pressure and give you help so that you can concentrate on your child.”

After his operation to remove his kidneys in 2016, Oliver had more chemotherapy and two weeks of radiation every day. He has now finished his treatment but has scans every three months to keep monitoring him.

Russell concluded by saying: “I want to give something back and show some of the fight that Oliver showed – I’m so proud of him and kids like him. I feel like I can’t settle unless I’m raising awareness or funds for charities like CLIC Sargent who help children and families going through the hell of cancer.

“With a marathon there’s a start, middle, and an end, with cancer there isn’t a clear journey, you’re all over the place. No matter how difficult it is, it’s not as hard as what my son has gone through.”

Laura Jade, Sports and Challenge Events Manager at CLIC Sargent, said: “When cancer strikes young lives we fight tirelessly to limit the damage it causes beyond their health through practical, emotional and financial support. We rely entirely on donations to fund our vital work and so we can’t thank Russell enough for her fantastic efforts. 

“This big challenge Russell is taking on will make a massive difference for young people with cancer by helping us ensure they are getting the right support they need.”

To sponsor Russell’s London Marathon effort, and help to raise vital funds, go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Russell-Turner-Oliver  

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