Sadly, and as the followers of Nicki’s Smile know, there is a tragic story behind my nomination. To give you some background, here is the nomination application from my mum, taken from the London 2012 torchbearer website:
“My son`s young wife died of cancer in November 2010 aged 33. As well as leaving him absolutely devastated he was faced with the daunting task of bringing up a bereft 3 year old son. In the past months he has pushed himself to the limits in his role as a single parent. His strength has been incredible to behold. When his wife became ill he shouldered his responsibilities unwaveringly. He cared for her with unending love and devotion and was by her side every single step of the way, never missing a single hospital test or treatment.
He has now adopted such a role with his young son Joshua and has given up his career in the city while he ensures that Joshua has a loving and stable home. And through all of this he has never once complained about his lonely and difficult situation. He has set up a charity in memory of his beloved wife ring- fenced by Pancreatic Cancer U.K. and has already raised a considerable amount of money towards ensuring earlier diagnosis of this terrible disease. The charity is called Nicki`s Smile (www.nickissmile.com) because that is what she did until the day she died, never complaining or asking why.
I feel that if he were lucky enough to be chosen to bear the torch it would be an amazing symbol of hope for him and would also show that he and Joshua, are carrying her light & legacy forward. He is determined, that by trying to help others beat this awful disease then Nicki did not die in vain.”
So what’s a day in the life of a torchbearer like?
It was a particularly early start as Channel 5 News had kindly offered to follow me on the day. I must thank their Senior Programme Editor Richard Zackheim for arranging this. The help and support Channel 5 News has provided in raising the profile of Nicki’s Smile has been phenomenal.
Filming commenced at 6.30am and I then departed for my torchbearer meeting point in Croydon. The nerves were really starting at this point as the sheer enormity of the occasion suddenly dawned on me. I donned my uniform and then met and chatted to my fellow torchbearers.
I was slightly surprised by the eclectic mix of torchbearers. Some were rightly chosen for their incredible community and voluntary sector efforts. Others were chosen for very different reasons – they were board members of global corporations. A sign of the sponsorship times we live in. We were joined by one celebrity, Sir Patrick Stewart and he was incredibly moved by the occasion.
After meeting and greeting, we were given a briefing by the 2012 torch team. It wasn’t rocket science, but we were advised where to stand, how to hold the torch and how fast we should walk/jog. We were then taken to our torchbearer bus and departed for our drop-off locations. We were all overwhelmed by the incredible public turnout. As I reached my drop-off in the busy Pedestrianised Shopping Area, the crowd was so deep the bus struggled to pass!
I left the bus to rapturous applause from my fellow torchbearers and entered a cauldron! I couldn’t believe how many people had come to see me run! I was quickly mobbed my people wanting their photo with the torch. I duly obliged and then realised how famous people must feel whenever they go out in public.
My few moments of fame had arrived. I could see the previous torchbearer running towards me and I was then beckoned into position. We shared a ‘torch kiss’ and after posing for media photos I then set off on my 280 yard journey.
At this point the nerves had evaporated. I was soaking up the incredible atmosphere, waving to one and all in the crowds. I spotted my family and friends but was unable to stop. Before I knew it, my run was over and I passed the flame to the next torchbearer. As I was whisked onto my torchbearer bus I saw many familiar faces in the crowd! They started chanting my name and everyone else followed! It spread to the rest of the surrounding crowd and I was left speechless. What a few moments of fame!
I was presented with my torch at the drop-off point and after finishing the Channel 5 News interview I then met up with my family before heading home.
It meant the world to me to be a torchbearer. The sole reason I was chosen was because of Nicki’s passing and how I am treasuring her memory through my charitable efforts.
It was an incredible and emotional day. I was really touched to see so many members of my family and friends and the thousands of local residents that came to support me. It was fantastic to see so many Bushey congregants there. I will never forget the way Rabbi Richards and others led the crowd in chanting my name!
The atmosphere was electric. I was carrying the torch for Nicki and I know she was smiling down on a truly beautiful day. The torch will be passed down through the generations and treasured for eternity. It was a day I will never forget.
Nicki’s Smile, a fund of Pancreatic Cancer UK, is delighted to announce it is to contribute £125,000 to a research study that is aimed at identifying pancreatic cancer earlier.
The study, led by Dr David Tuveson MD, PhD, will include a focus on pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer and has two aims. The first is to create a model that can produce circulating blood proteins similar to CA19-9, which is the main tumour marker used in the clinical management of patients with pancreatic cancer. The second is to use this model to look for novel diagnostic biomarkers. The overall goal is develop these biomarkers as a test for pancreatic cancer detection and treatment monitoring.
The proposal for this research was peer reviewed by our Scientific Advisory Board and has been rated as internationally competitive or higher.
The research will be conducted in collaboration with Professor Martyn Caplin, who was Nicki’s consultant. He holds the position of consultant in gastroenterology and hepatobiliary medicine and lead neuroendocrine clinician at the Royal Free Hospital in London. The work will commence in August and will be based at Professor Tuveson’s new laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor, New York with close links to the team staying in Cambridge who are completing the first part of the work.
Dan Blake, comments, “I am thrilled that Nicki’s Smile has been able to fund a pioneering early diagnosis research project. Our aim is to improve the awful pancreatic cancer survival statistics and the key to this is innovative early diagnosis research. I am also delighted that Nicki’s consultant, Professor Martyn Caplin, will be involved to provide his invaluable input on neuroendocrine tumours.”
Alex Ford, Chief Executive, Pancreatic Cancer UK, adds, “I am delighted we have been able to finalise this grant, which is in line with the objectives of the Nicki’s Smile fund and provides us with a very effective blueprint for any international grants we award in the future.”
This grant demonstrates our commitment to funding the best quality research across the world. Although Professor Tuveson is based in the US, the results will be of benefit to all patients whether in the UK or elsewhere. This could provide a great step forward in driving early detection and therefore potentially improved prognosis and treatment.
My very close friend Matt Hersch, recently finished the gruelling Lands’ End to John O’Groats bike ride.
It was tough, physically and mentally, but Matt overcame all obstacles along the way to complete the daunting challenge!
Matt successfully completed the 1000 mile event in just two weeks and raised an incredible £9,000 for Nicki’s Smile. Matt has been an inspiration to many and spent over a year in training for this event. Matt is a Senior Clinical Project Manager for a pharmaceuticals company and lives in Cambridge.
Get Motivated! Be in touch to see how you can help to raise money for Nicki’s Smile!
Coverage from the Watford Observer:
A father-of-one from Bushey has been selected out of thousands of applicants to act as an Olympic torchbearer.
For Dan Blake, of Wendover Way, the chance to have such a pivotal role in run up to the games will be particularly poignant, he said, as he will be carrying the torch in memory of his late wife Nicki.
The 35-year-old said: “Nicki passed away 17 months ago at the age of 33 from pancreatic cancer.
“It was sudden, she had complained of pains in her stomach and back six weeks after giving birth to our son Joshua.
“At first her condition was put down to bending and lifting a newborn baby, and she was given anti-inflammatory medication.
“Then doctors thought it was gall stones. But an ultrasound and CT scan found that in fact she had pancreatic cancer.”
Despite undergoing many bouts of chemotherapy, endoscopies and targeted radionuclide therapy, the disease had spread from her pancreas to her liver and bones and she passed away on November 11, 2010.
Mr Blake’s mother Cynthia nominated her son for the torchbearer role, describing to organisers the heartache he and her grandson have endured since Nicki’s initial diagnosis and death.
Mr Blake said: “My mum relayed what a gaping hole Nicki has left in our lives. She also highlighted that I have been fundraising for, and trying to raise awareness of, pancreatic cancer.
“I have set up a charity Nicki’s Smile, which is acting as a fundraising arm of Pancreatic Cancer UK, and since it launched in February last year, £270,000 has been raised for the charity.
“Not enough people know about pancreatic cancer, in terms of research and development, it is an illness which has stalled. Breast and testicular cancer, there have been developments with regard to treatment, but because pancreatic cancer is so hard to diagnose, there has been no progress.
“We live in a developed part of the world, yet about 8,000 people a year are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and most will die from the disease. It’s ridiculous.
“I want to change that, if I can raise money for research, if I can make people aware of pancreatic cancer, if I can save a life, then everything me and Joshua have been through will all be worthwhile.
“It’s difficult to lose your wife, we had so many plans. It’s difficult for Joshua to lose his mother – especially at such a young age. But we get by and we want something positive to come from Nicki’s death.”
At present the family are busy organising a fundraising magic event at Finchley Arts Centre on May 13.
But on July 23, Mr Blake will walk about 300 metres, carrying his torch, through Croydon.
Despite not knowing his route yet, the law student, who gave up his career in the city to care for Joshua, will be wearing a white shellsuit at the event.
He said: “I’m hoping to include something that will identify the charity, but it’s very strict.
“My family and friends will be cheering me along and I’m also hoping to get Joshua to walk alongside me.
“It’s a fantastic chance to be part of something really memorable and as I’ll get to keep the torch, I’ll be sure to pass it on to Joshua, so it’ll pass through the generations to come.”
Nicki’s Smile, which is a fund of Pancreatic Cancer UK, is delighted to announce that they have been chosen as XL Group’s UK Charity of the Year for 2012-2015.
XL Group is a global financial services company, specialising in Insurance and Reinsurance. They currently employ over 4,000 staff worldwide and around 700 in the UK. Over the next three years, it is hoped that the XL Group will donate over £100,000 to Nicki’s Smile.
Nicki’s Smile was set up in memory of Nicki Blake who lost her 2-year battle with pancreatic cancer in November 2010 aged just 33, leaving behind her husband Dan and 3-year old son Joshua. Over a year before she was diagnosed Nicki had been to hospital suffering from severe abdominal pain but the warning signs for cancer growth in the pancreas were not picked up and she was sent home. Had the doctors spotted the growth at this point Nicki may well have survived, however by the time they found it the cancer had spread and it was too late.
Pancreatic Cancer UK is the only national charity dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer on all fronts: through support, information, research and campaigning.
Pancreatic cancer is the 5th most common cause of cancer death in Europe and the USA and is one of the most lethal cancers in the UK. Over 8,000 people in the UK are diagnosed every year, of which fewer than 20% survive more than a year and less than 3% live for more than 5 years. Despite these horrifying statistics pancreatic cancer research remains very much under-funded. In recent months its profile has been raised following the deaths of Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs, however there remains a real problem with diagnosing the disease early enough for effective treatment to take place.
Dan Blake said, “We are extremely grateful to everyone at the XL Group in the UK who gave us and Pancreatic Cancer UK the opportunity to be their Charity of the Year. Our vision is to be a catalyst for improving life expectancy and survival rates for patients with pancreatic cancer by funding research into understanding how symptoms can be more accurately identified, thereby aiding early diagnosis. If we can make a difference to even one person, then Nicki’s death would not have been in vain.”
James Martin, Chair of the UK Charity Committee at XL Group commented, “We are absolutely thrilled to be in partnership with this extremely important organisation and look forward to working with Dan, Nicki’s Smile and Pancreatic Cancer UK to raise crucial funds and increase the profile of this great cause.”
Alex Ford, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said, “We are very grateful that Nicki’s Smile and Pancreatic Cancer UK have been chosen by XL Group’s UK employees to be their Charity of the Year. Pancreatic cancer research is very under-funded so this type of financial support is invaluable in the fight against this dreadful disease.”
Nicki’s Smile next fundraising event is ‘An Evening of Magic’, at the Finchley Arts Depot, 5 Nether Street, London, N12 0GA on Sunday 13th May 2012.
For further information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following the resounding success of the Nicki’s Smile Fundraising Dinner in November, we are excited to announce our next event ‘An Evening of Magic’, at the Finchley Arts Depot, 5 Nether Street, London, N12 0GA on Sunday 13th May 2012.
The event will start at 7.45pm and we are thrilled that the following well-known magicians will be performing:
Nicholas Einhorn Winner on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us
Tickets are only £20 per person and seats will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis,so please don’t delay!
To reserve your seats, email us at email@example.com
Tickets will be available for collection upon arrival at the venue.
Please do spread the word about this event and the work of Nicki’s Smile to all your family, friends and contacts in hope that we can continue to grow and raise much needed funds. Follow us on Twitter (@nickissmile) for more information.
We look forward to seeing you on 13th May for what promises to be a very enjoyable evening. Thank you for your continued support.
Well it’s now 2012 and I can’t believe two months have passed since our successful launch fundraising dinner. We have raised over £150,000 to date, but we haven’t stopped there! Some amazing fundraisers are flying the flag for Nicki’s Smile this year:
- Matt Hersch is cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats in May.
- Emma Geller is running the Milton Keynes half marathon on 4th March.
- Lisa Rockett is running the London Marathon on 22nd April.
They are all incredible feats and we are very grateful for their support. For more information on these events please visit the Get Involved section of our site. We are planning some exciting events for later this year and we will be in touch with more details in the very near future.
On the evening of Sunday 20th November 2011, we held our inaugural event, a fundraising dinner at Sopwell House in St. Albans. Three hundred and thirty people attended including Maureen Lipman CBE, Strictly Come Dancing favourite, Rachel Stevens and stand-up comedians, Ian Stone and Mark Maier.
Nicki’s Smile was set up in memory of Nicki Blake. Nicki was a young wife and mother from Bushey who taught at Little Green Junior School in Croxley Green. She lost her twenty month battle with Neuroendocrine Pancreatic Cancer, the same rare type of cancer as Steve Jobs, in November 2010, aged just 33, leaving behind her devoted husband Dan Blake and 3 year old son, Joshua.
Dan Blake set up Nicki’s Smile in memory of his wife, together with Pancreatic Cancer UK, the only national charity dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer through support, information, research and campaigning.
After the event Dan Blake said, “The launch fundraising dinner was an amazing success and I’m delighted that we raised over £100,000. To date Nicki’s Smile has raised an astounding £150,000 and the money will be used to fund vital research into early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with the aim of improving survival rates that have been dormant for a generation. The goal is to ensure that in the future, pancreatic cancer’s awful survival statistics are improved. Better understanding, early diagnosis initiatives and improved treatment options can make this a reality.”
Professor Martyn Caplin, Professor of Gastroenterology and Neuroendocrine Oncology at the Royal Free Hospital, London, where Nicki was treated said, “The evening was a wonderful tribute to Nicki Blake and how bravely she fought her pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. It is the memory of Nicki and other similar courageous patients that drives our research team to strive for advances in earlier diagnosis and better treatment so that future patients with these rare cancers can benefit with longer survival.”
Maureen Lipman, CBE, commented, “I am delighted to be associated with such a worthy cause. I really hope that the money raised by Nicki’s Smile will prevent other families suffering the same pain as Nicki Blake’s loved ones. Pancreatic cancer research is very underfunded so charities such as Pancreatic Cancer UK and Nicki’s Smile are vitally important in the fight to improve survival statistics.”
Rachel Stevens, commented, “As a mother I can’t imagine the anguish that Nicki Blake went through when she thought that she might not be around to see her gorgeous son Joshua grow up. I hope that the research funded by Nicki’s Smile will one day prevent this from happening to another family.”
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In Nicki’s memory we’re trying to make a difference for the future – to ensure that more people can successfully fight pancreatic cancer. For Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month Nicki’s Smile has joined with a range of other charities across the world to make a worldwide statement about pancreatic cancer. The current statistics in the UK are shocking:
- UK pancreatic cancer survival rates are the worst of any major cancer and lag behind many other European countries as well as the US, Canada and Australia.
- 8000 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK every year
- Pancreatic cancer receives less than 1% of overall research funding for cancer in the UK, whilst causing 5% of cancer deaths.
- Less than 3% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK will survive more than five years. These figures have not changed for 40 years.
- Nearly 50% of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed as a result of an emergency presentation to hospital – and research shows that pancreatic cancer patients visit their GPs almost twice as often as other cancer patients before being diagnosed.
Help us this month to raise awareness and improve these pancreatic cancer survival statistics. Through your donation to Nicki’s Smile we can fund dedicated pancreatic cancer research in the UK and take action to raise awareness of the symptoms.
Someone has kindly donated 2 corporate tickets to Arsenal v Stoke on Sunday 23rd October. Club level seats, includes pre-match food & drink and dessert served at half-time. Arrival time is 11.30, kick-off 1.30. Highest bidder wins – Please spread the word. Closes 5pm Tuesday.
All proceeds to Nicki’s Smile!