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Laughing at death: Gary’s experience

When Gary Lovelace found out that he had incurable cancer, he got together with an old school friend who is a war reporter in Ukraine and together they have raised thousands of pounds for charity by “laughing at death”, betting who would die first.

Gary Lovelace sitting and smiling at the camera

“We don’t want to win and we don’t want to lose!” said Gary, 65, “It’s an unusual approach to incurable cancer but I am all for it. I know I don’t have long left but I am determined to have as much fun as possible – listening to bands, going to pubs, hanging out with my friends and family, even playing football, as ever, extremely badly.

"Lots of people hear the word ‘incurable’ and assume that your life is over. If I can, I want to show people in my position that’s not necessarily so. On the contrary, you go for it.”

The former headteacher first noticed a lump in his side after damaging his ribs slipping in the bath.

He said: “At first, I just thought the lump was part of my injury, but when it didn’t go away after a while, I went to see my doctor. I was referred to hospital for scans and had my appointment within two weeks. When the results came back, I was told I had a tumour on my left kidney.”

Gary had surgery to remove his kidney in March 2021 and was told that the operation had successfully removed the cancer. However, three months later, a scan showed that the cancer had spread. Gary’s cancer was diagnosed as incurable.

But to give him more time, Gary receives regular treatment to help control the spread of the cancer.

He continued: “I was put on a treatment called ‘immunotherapy’ to help prevent it spreading further. I have regular scans to monitor the tumour and see how the immunotherapy is working. The last scan I had showed that everything was stable, which is good, and I’m due to have another scan soon."

“If possible, I would like to be an example that you can live life to the full with cancer. Since my diagnosis, I grab opportunities, rather than saying ‘I’ll do that next month, I’ll do that next year’. I love music, so now whenever the chance comes up, I try and see bands I love when they’re performing. I don’t want to turn those chances down."

“It’s not always possible because the treatment is difficult, and it can make you feel unwell and sometimes reading things about other people saying ‘live life to the full’ can be hard. My message is to do what you can and grab whichever opportunities you can.”

Since being diagnosed, Gary has turned his attention to fundraising for Yorkshire Cancer Research and supporting the world-leading research the charity funds in the region.

He said: “I’ve always been community focused, and I’ve always believed in giving something back. I wanted to do something to help support cancer research.”

Following his diagnosis, Gary met up with an old school friend, investigative journalist and writer John Sweeney, and the pair decided to put together a fundraising plan.

Gary Lovelace with his arm around school friend John Sweeney

Gary explained: “John came to visit me in Leeds. He’s a war correspondent and spends a lot of time reporting in Ukraine, so when we were talking about fundraising ideas, we decided to join forces to fundraise for causes that were important to each of us. Mine are cancer charities in Yorkshire; his are Ukrainian charities. People have really got behind it, and we’ve already raised over £5,000.”

The “winner” – the pal who dies first - gets 51% of the pot for his charities, the “loser”, the survivor, 49%, for his good causes.

John added: “I’ve known Gary Lovelace since school, so far back in time that the dinosaurs roamed the earth. He’s always had a wonderful sense of humour and the idea that the prospect of imminent death might stop Gary joking is absurd. It’s been an honour to support his drive for cancer charities in Yorkshire. It’s been an honour to know Gary, full stop. And who wins? Well, I don’t want to win. And I don’t want to lose.”

Gary chose to fundraise for Yorkshire Cancer Research after being treated at the Bexley Wing at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and deciding he wanted to support a charity that funded cancer research in the region.

He said: “I saw a Yorkshire Cancer Research post on Facebook and began following the work that the charity did. I started to read about the inequality in cancer diagnosis and treatment in Yorkshire, I wanted to support the charity to help tackle that unfairness and improve cancer treatment for people in my area.”

People in Yorkshire are more likely to get cancer, and more likely to die of cancer, than almost anywhere else in England. Yorkshire Cancer Research funds £10m of vital cancer research each year, helping more people in the region survive cancer.

The charity currently funds 62 research and services programmes, and more than 405 cancer experts across the region, helping to bring new and innovative treatments and expertise to Yorkshire. As part of his fundraising, Gary and his friends organised a charity football match to help raise funds for Yorkshire Cancer Research.

Gary standing next to the pitch during the charity football match for Yorkshire Cancer Research

“We held a charity football match in April, which has been the focal point of our fundraising so far. Apart from it hammering down with rain, it was a really great event. We split into two teams, one for the veteran players and a team of youngsters who were slightly more energetic.

“We had 28 people playing, as well as others watching and taking part in the social side of the day. It was a great cross section of people and a lovely atmosphere. The event raised £1000, which was a great result. I hope this is the catalyst for many more events.”

Since his diagnosis, Gary has received overwhelming support from friends and family, as well as from the community surrounding Leeds Modernian Football Club, a football team that Gary has been involved in for many years.

He said: “I’m lucky in my life that through my work in schools, and my involvement in my local football club, I’ve got to know a lot of people in Leeds, and I’ve got a lot of good friends. Everyone’s been in touch through phone calls and meeting up in person, and people have been showing support on my fundraising page too."

“I’ve had a lot of really touching comments and I’ve been able to see the influence I’ve had on people’s lives, and that’s really special. I feel very lucky and very blessed to feel so loved.”


Emma Jacob, Communications Officer

Yorkshire Cancer Research

Tel: 07903225991