Our story starts from humble beginnings and is of the personal crusade of Dr Anthony Leathem and his wife Patricia in their joint quest for a future free of breast cancer.
Today, Against Breast Cancer funds pioneering research into new treatments, tools for earlier diagnosis and advice to reduce the risk of recurrence and secondary spread. Working with expert scientists we want to increase the survival rates of all breast cancer patients and ultimately, discover a vaccine against breast cancer.
From small beginnings
Thirty years ago Anthony was a pathologist at the Middlesex Hospital (later University College London); his wife Patricia a breast cancer theatre nurse at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital. Upset by the number of post mortems he carried out each day on young women with breast cancer, Anthony started carrying out research into breast cancer survival. He had his UCL salary and the backing of the Dean, but no budget for the research itself. Undaunted, the couple took the matter into their own hands – literally.
Patricia wrote to schools, chambers of commerce and women’s organisations. She involved her friends in collection days outside supermarkets, and set aside a room in her Oxfordshire home to produce all the fundraising materials. She says: “When I held the first cheque for £50, I thought the thrill would last me a lifetime.”
Sweet smell of success
Patricia then planted her entire allotment with sweet peas and sold them at her front door accompanied by leaflets explaining the research. “It went phenomenally well”, she remembers “and when the flowers ran out, we switched to ginger cakes.” News of Anthony’s research and the couple’s stellar fundraising efforts soon spread.
Doctor at the tube
What really caught the public imagination and put the charity on a national footing was the sight of Anthony in his white lab coat outside Oxford Circus Tube Station rattling a tin for his own research. An amazed passer-by went straight to Fleet Street and the press did the rest. Reporters and TV crews descended on Anthony and Patricia’s Long Wittenham home to find out more about this extraordinary couple and what they were fighting for.
In their first year they raised £15K. In 1987 the Lancet published results of Anthony’s research which had identified a chemical difference between aggressive and non-aggressive breast cancer cells. Following the worldwide interest generated by this research breakthrough, the couple dipped into their joint salaries to set up a charitable fund. In 1993 Against Breast Cancer was born with Patricia as Director. In 1998 she was voted Oxfordshire Woman of the Year.
We’ve come a long way
The goodwill, generosity and tireless efforts of our volunteers, patrons, donors and supporters have enabled researchers at the University of Westminster and the University of Oxford to carry out novel research to improve breast cancer detection and survival by funding their salaries, equipment and lab space.
Our collection of biological samples and diet and lifestyle information from breast cancer patients was completed in 2015, and will provide a vital resource for understanding risk factors associated with secondary spread and for research into diagnosis, treatment and vaccine design.
In 2018, one of the charity’s main research teams moved into the brand new Centre for Cancer Immunology at the University of Southampton, with further research bases maintained at Oriel College, University of Oxford, Barts Cancer Institute, London, and the University of Sheffield.
Patricia and Anthony continued as Trustees of the charity until recently and remain a continuing source of inspiration and advice to the research teams.
Today, Against Breast Cancer fund research projects to the value of £4 million, and its researchers have continued to make advances in their search to prevent secondary spread, increase survival and ultimately discover the Holy Grail – a vaccine to prevent the disease. But our story can only carry on with your continued support.