Brain tumour tragedy inspires RAF buddy to take on Great North Run
Three members of the Royal Air Force community are taking part in the world’s biggest half marathon to raise money for research into the disease that claimed the life of a close friend and colleague.
Veterans Squadron Leader Simon Webb, 48 and Wing Commander Lyn Webb, 49, along with serving officer Wing Commander Lizzie Norton will take part in next month’s Great North Run in Newcastle Upon Tyne, following the death of their close friend Wing Commander Kieran O’Sullivan, who Simon first befriended when they both were new recruits in the ‘Fighter Control’ branch of The Royal Air Force.
Lizzie, who knew Kieran almost throughout her entire service career, was a student when he was a junior instructor. Their paths crossed frequently over the following decades including at RAF Neatishead In Norfolk, RAF Boulmer in Northumberland and RAF High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire.
“Having done the Great North Run in 2005 and 2010, and after each occasion having sworn I’d never do it again, it is a testament to Kieran that I find myself getting ready to complete it once again for this great cause.
“I met Kieran very early on in my RAF career and our paths crossed frequently both professionally and socially. Always ready with a quick, witty response to anything life threw at him, Kieran was the sort of friend you wanted to be around. Partly because he was so inspirational, but also because he was such fun.”
“Kieran and I were very close friends, having first met in 1994 when we joined the RAF within months of each other and were in our early to mid-20s. We were both together at RAF Boulmer, RAF Neatishead and RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire and I also spent time on an exchange with the Royal Navy at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. Kieran was also posted to RAF Coltishall in Norfolk, RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, RAF High Wycombe and to the Falkland Islands, Qatar and Afghanistan.
“Our wives, Lyn and Beth also became good friends and although our postings often sent us apart, we would often spend time together on holiday, weekend breaks or visiting each other’s homes.
“It was such a shock when Kieran was diagnosed in late 2001 after he lost consciousness at the wheel of his car on the way home from a game of squash and found himself embedded in a tree. Kieran was diagnosed with a brain tumour and underwent surgery. The tumour turned out to be a grade 2 astrocytoma.”
Kieran remained healthy until 2014 when he had a seizure and was put on anti-epileptic medication. A year later and after another seizure, Kieran underwent further surgery, followed by a procedure to fit a shunt to drain fluid building up in the brain. He then began experiencing frequent seizures and headaches. A scan in November 2015 showed there had been rapid growth in the remaining tumour and Kieran underwent several weeks of radiotherapy and a whole year of chemo in Newcastle.
In September 2018, Kieran, was discharged from the RAF on the grounds of ill-health. He passed away on 15 November 2018.
“It will be particularly poignant running the Great North as Kieran himself ran it five times.”
Simon and his wife Lyn have been training for the Great North Run and completed the Milton Keynes half marathon earlier in the year, as well as the Race for Life at Willen Lake. They were inspired to raise money for Brain Tumour Research, having discovered that brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer… yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devasting disease.
“It’s unacceptable to think that Kieran’s death and the deaths of so many other young people could have been prevented, had more funding gone into finding a cure. Too many people are affected by this cruel condition; it’s a cause close to my heart.”
“We raised £1,500 by running the MK half and are now hoping to smash our new target of £2,500. More needs to be done to raise awareness, as well as challenging the government and larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours.”
Simon and Lyn will be among thousands of runners taking part in the annual Great North Run, on 8 September, with runners taking their marks in Newcastle city centre before setting off on the 13.1-mile course and finishing at the coast in South Shields.
A team of dedicated fundraisers will be taking part and raising money for Brain Tumour Research, which funds UK Centres of Excellence where researchers are focused on improving outcomes for patients and, ultimately, finding a cure.
Paula Rastrick, community fundraising manager for the Central Region, said:
“We are very grateful to Simon and Lyn for signing up for this iconic event in memory of their great friend. To take on this challenge, after suffering a terrible loss, is truly inspiring. Kieran’s story reminds us that brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. Together, with the help of fantastic supporters like Simon and Lyn, we will find a cure.”
Top image: Kieran O’Sullivan