Jane Tomlinson

Athlete and charity fund-raiser
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The Independent Online

Jane Emily Goward, radiographer, fund-raiser and athlete: born Wakefield, West Yorkshire 21 February 1964; MBE 2003, CBE 2007; married Mike Tomlinson (one son, two daughters); died Leeds 3 September 2007.

No-one has ever responded to a cancer diagnosis with more energy and pizazz than Jane Tomlinson, who was 26 and had two small children when she was diagnosed. In the subsequent 17 years she continued working and bringing up her children and raised over £1.5m for cancer charities.

Diagnosed with a relapse and metastases in 2000, she took up athletics and went on to win the cancer research Race for Life in 2001, raising £3,500 for charity. The following year she ran the London Marathon while undergoing chemotherapy. This led to a small article in the Yorkshire Post, and she subsequently had the nation's media knocking at her door.

After that she did two more marathons in London, one in New York, three triathlons, and two Iron Man contests: these consist of a 2.5-mile swim, 100-mile bike ride and a full marathon. She received the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award in 2002. She was twice given the Helen Rollason award at the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year ceremony, and named Woman of the Year in 2006.

She was appointed MBE in 2003 and CBE in 2007, cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats, and also cycled the 42,000 miles from San Francisco to New York, crossing the Rockies on the way – a journey that made her previous cycling achievement, 1,900 miles from Rome to Leeds, seem like a training run. With her husband, Mike, she wrote three books: The Luxury of Time 2005, You Can't Take it With You (2006) and How Good is That (due next April).

"Everyone reacts differently to a terminal illness," she said last year. The athletics and fundraising, she said, gave her a sense of control. They also gave her goals, which substituted for being unable, through illness, to climb up the ladder in her career as a radiographer.

The charities she raised funds for included Macmillan Cancer Relief, SPARKS, Damon Runyan Cancer Research, the Yorkshire Cancer Centre, Martin House Hospice, Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice and Hannah House. This list, and the list of her achievements, is not exhaustive.

Jane Tomlinson was raised in Liverpool, the daughter of an NHS dentist. She married Mike Tomlinson, an IT consultant two years older than herself, in the mid-Eighties. It was after her cancer diagnosis that she began to train as a radiographer.

In August 2000 she was told that a cure was not possible; the average survival for people with her type and stage of breast cancer was six months. She found it a struggle to get to Christmas that year; she had made a tapestry waistcoat for her husband which she took to a tailor to make up, and pointed out the shop to her mother in case she was dead by the time it was ready.

In the following years she had a double mastectomy and several courses of chemotherapy; she ate normal food, enjoyed a glass of wine and did not take supplements or use alternative treatments. She was happy to be an inspiration to other cancer patients without being regarded as some sort of athletic miracle. "It is very easy to be defined by the disease," she said. "I don't want to be described as a 'cancer sufferer'."

For the San Francisco to New York ride, her family travelled ahead in a camper van with supplies. She liked ham or cheese sandwiches and bananas, and carried energy bars and liquids on the bike. She took copraxamol for the pain, warfarin to thin her blood to stop the Portacath (a device placed under the skin and used to deliver chemotherapy) in her arm from blocking. She took a hormone treatment to keep the disease stable, and blood pressure tables to help with the cardiac problems caused by herceptin, a drug for treating breast cancer.

Too ill to stand on her bike pedals, she could nevertheless push on them from a sitting opposition. She told an interviewer for The Sunday Times Magazine "I won't say 'I'm doing this as well as I can because I've got cancer'. I'm doing it as well as I can because I'm Jane". She told another newspaper, "I like to set myself targets. My illness doesn't allow me to move along in my career so this is another way."

She was adamant that the endurance work was not keeping her alive. She did it because she enjoyed it, but didn't believe in punishing herself and felt that every patient is different. "Have your nails done if you enjoy it."

She felt she had a very good reaction to the chemotherapy, and that it allowed her to keep going. Her doctors were supportive and never tried to discourage her from running or cycling. They co-operated in fitting her treatment around various athletic events, and trying to stabilise her for short periods so that she could compete.

She worked until the last few months. A centre at St James's Hospital, Leeds, is named after her.

Caroline Richmond

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