For people who believe that time is short and life is precious, TourdeSands brings a purpose - to take on personal cycling challenges and make the most of life for themselves and others.
As a Charity we raise funds by challenging ordinary people to take part in extraordinary long distance cycle rides. The organisations we support improve the quality of life, and end of life, for those suffering from the effects of cancer and its treatment.
We do this to honour a truly special person, Sandra (Sands) Watson.
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My wife Sandra was diagnosed with cervical cancer on 10 /9/2002, when she was 45. She died on 17th March 2016. This Charity is born from our experience between those two dark days.
As part of her diagnosis, Sands had to have the lymph nodes removed from her groin to assess if the cancer had spread. When lymph nodes are removed, the passageways that lymph travels in are blocked. This results in lymph fluid accumulating in the area below the blockage - in her case anything below her waist.
This condition is called lymphodoema, and Sands developed a severe case of it.
Both her legs swelled up which is very uncomfortable and dangerous as the fluid that remains is highly prone to infection, leading to a damaging condition called cellulitis.
She had four episodes of this.
Perhaps even more so than the cancer diagnosis, surgery, and treatment, my super-fit and previously healthy Sands was hit hard by the thought of being left with a life sitting on the sofa with her legs elevated. Sofas weren't her thing.
We sought advice (which we found, very worryingly, was incredibly difficult to access) and was told she needed to wear very heavy support tights all day and to seek a special massage to move the fluid past the blockage. There was no such support locally so she had to travel the 100 miles to London three times a week to get this treatment.
After much more research she found that instead of a very sedentary life, exercising regularly in the special tights, helps the muscles squeeze the fluid past the blockage.
So she started cycling.
Sands went to Halfords, bought a bike and started to cycle every day. Literally 100 metres to start with, but she gradually build up to at least 10 miles per day. She progressed on to a road bike and with a lot of application and effort built up her riding to 20 to 25 miles per day. It worked.
A combination of cycling and careful diet simply transformed her life. After a while she had the condition completely under control and didn't need any more massage trips.
In 2012 we were hit by the news that the cancer had reoccurred, this time in her lung. The lung was removed and, again, with real grit and determination, Sands got back on the bike and built her fitness and lung capacity back up. She achieved a lung function test of 85% with just one lung.
On holiday in Spain, she even did a climb of over 700 metres over 18kms, all up hill. It took a while, but she did it - with just one lung.
In November 2015, we had the devastating news that she had another secondary cancer, this time in her brain, which was duly surgically removed that month. In January 2016, we went to New Zealand on holiday and on 2nd February cycled the “Central Otago Rail Trail “ which was 210km long.
We returned home in March 2016. She had a scan which showed the tumour had spread into her spinal cord and there was no treatment, She died at home on the 17th March 2016, just ten days after getting home.
Her death at home was a deeply emotional and spiritual experience.
Once she received her terminal diagnosis, it was apparent that the team who had looked after her for so long (and so well) had no answers . We contacted St Barnabas Hospice who were incredible. They listened to what we wanted to achieve and then helped make this happen. Sands was adamant she wanted to die at home, with her family around. This required both practical and emotional support. The team at the hospice adopted a “can do" approach and within two days we were equipped to fulfil her wishes.
Being at home allowed us to discuss things fully, for her to say goodbye to friends and family in her own environment and for her to be in control. The wonderful team at the Hospice had the ability to allow us to do things our way, yet to be there when we needed support.
Home birth is a well discussed and well practiced topic, yet home death is not. We'd like to change that too.
By establishing this Charity in Sand's honour I want to do 3 things:
1. Improve the quality of life for those with Lymphedema and terminal, debilitating illness by improving access to information and opportunity.
2. Support efforts by professional Hospices to improve the quality final days and of death, especially at home.
3. Introduce more people to the life affirming and self-improving experience of long distance cycling.
I hope you can support us or benefit from our efforts, in honour of Sands.
TourdeSands is a registered charity (Charity registration number 1170438).
To view the charity registration, follow the link Register of Charities
The Charity aims to assist specific projects and organisations who support people with a terminal diagnosis or are living with conditions caused by cancer.
ALL the money we raised has gone to support projects which have a direct impact in patient care, For the lymphodoema support Network we were able to help to fund educational programmes for doctors, and to fund information leaflets for patients.
We have set up a joint venture with St Barnabas Hospice and we joint fund a new post for a palliative care nurse in the Stamford and Bourne area. This is having a direct impact on the quality of end of life care and support offered to patients and families .
The programme has now been running for nearly a year and the Nurse is now at capacity . The feedback form families has been overwhelming and makes every pound raised and every turn of the peddle worth it.
A sample of Patient and Family feedback
The patient and partner commented on how much support the team, and in-particular the Tour de Sands Nurse have given to them.
They noted that we have all been like a ‘third arm’ to them and they couldn’t have got through this time without the level of support and input we have all given them.
All the Angels that helped me through the most difficult time in my life, also my late husband. I was truly blessed, and my husband was truly cared for by you all.
The visits from xxx and the team provided my dad so much comfort. I can’t thank you enough for the compassionate care you gave and above all for helping to preserve his dignity when he was so very poorly.
Together we are making a real difference
TourdeSands 2017: E2E Ride
The main event for 2017 is the "E2E" bike ride.
This is a charity bike ride from Easton on the Hill, near Stamford in Lincolnshire, through all of France and Spain until we reach Elviria, which is 8kms east of Marbella. Hence the name, "E2E".
In total, this is a leisurely 1600 miles.
However, we are not doing this over a long weekend. We will be taking a month.
That's around 30 days, averaging approximately 50 miles a day.
We will be joined along the way by friends old and new, who will choose which "Stage" of the ride they want to ride.
You can download our day-to-day schedule here.
The most important feature of the E2E ride is that each day, Sandra's road bike will have a different rider to help it return to our "second home in Elviria.
It will in effect be the only bike which completes the entire route.
The Wheely Miglia 2019
In September 2019 we are undertaking another epic bike ride. We have decided to ride the same route of the 1955 Mille Miglia ( 1000 miles) in Italy. The Mille Miglia is an iconic endurance road race which was established in 1927 and ran 24 times to 1957. The 1955 race was won by Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson at an average speed of over 100 mph! We start and finish in Breschia, and cycle through Rome, Florence, and Bologna. See the full route below.
40,000 feet of climbing (1.6 times everest)
We are attempting to ride the route on bikes we have made ourselves out of Bamboo! This has been a great project and has been many hours of fun and head scratching with the help of the guys from The Bamboo Bicycle Club. There is something very special in riding a bike you have made yourself.
For more information head to https://www.bamboobicycleclub.org
Video telling the Wheely Miglia story,
shot by Stuart Leithes of ITV for Anglia TV news:
In February 2016, Sandra completed the Central Otago Rail Trail -some 150 kms, This was to be her last ride as she passed away some 6 weeks after completing it.
As a wonderful way to be involved with the TourDeSands charity friends in New Zealand are riding the Trail at the same time as the E2E ride