Golf professional promises to fulfil friend's dying wish to fund cancer research

Monday 15 July 2019

Sarah Bennett with Wendy Lodder

A woman whose friend died from a rare type of cancer has vowed to carry out her wish to fund research into the condition.

Wendy Lodder, an England Golf under 18 east region volunteer manager, was diagnosed with advanced thymic carcinoma in October 2016.

Cancer of the thymus gland, which is in the chest between the lungs, is very rare and affects less than 10 people a year in the UK.

Wendy was referred to the Cancer Centre at Guy’s where she had two major operations, and received chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment.

In July last year, she held an event with her friend, Sarah Bennett, at the Three Rivers Golf and Country Club in Chelmsford, Essex, which raised £10,000 for research into thymic cancer. 

More than 100 people attended in purple – Wendy’s favourite colour – including six-time world champion snooker player, Steve Davis, and two-time Ladies European Tour winner, Joanne Mills, who flew in from Australia as a surprise.

Sadly, three months later Wendy passed away, aged 52, without finding out how the money would be spent.

Sarah, 50, a PGA Fellow Professional and head coach at Three Rivers, said: “Wendy knew that the research wasn’t going to benefit her but she wanted her legacy to help other people, so I’m determined to carry out her wish.

“It’s exciting to know that the money raised is going to help experts at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London to better understand this rare cancer, which will ultimately lead to improved treatment options for people with the condition.”

Not much is known about the genetics of thymic cancer so researchers are using a special machine to separate tumours, enabling them to collect cancer cells without damaging the DNA.

Dr Daisuke Nonaka, a consultant histopathologist who is involved in the research at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “This is a very delicate procedure but it will potentially help us to analyse the thymic cancer cells in greater detail than ever before.

“We are hoping to discover any genetic alterations, such as a mutation, that will shed a light on how we can target therapy for this type of tumour.”

As well as continuing to fundraise, Sarah, from Chelmsford in Essex, is encouraging people to take action if they feel unwell. 

She said: “Early diagnosis is key, which is the case for any type of cancer, so it’s important that people understand the symptoms and don’t delay seeing a doctor.

“Wendy became increasingly aware of pain in her chest and back, as well as suffering from breathlessness and anaemia, but she put it down to getting older, going through the menopause and a poor diet.

“She tried to carry on as normal but it got to the point where she couldn’t even put her golf shoes on. She didn’t know it at the time, but the tumour had broken her sternum and spread to her lung and spine.

“The team at Guy’s Cancer were brilliant and got onto it straight away. She certainly had the best treatment possible, but I’m hoping this research will mean there will be even more options for future patients.”

Sarah won the prestigious PGA Toby Sunderland Award for her charity work last year. She will host another golf event at the Three Rivers Golf and Country Club later this month in memory of Wendy.

She said: “It’s going to be a very different event without Wendy there, but I want it to be really positive. We will celebrate her life and the colossal amount of money we raised last year.

“Golf was Wendy’s life and passion and nothing kept her stronger than working with her young squad, even during her treatment. She was awarded the prestigious England Golf Volunteer Manager of the Year award for her commitment and devotion to the game she loved.

“It’s poignant that Curtis Knipes, who was one of our squad players two years ago and who Wendy worked with, has made his way to The Open this week, which is a very special moment.”

The research to improve the treatment of complex cancers like Wendy’s is made possible by generous donations to Guy's and St Thomas' Charity.

Dr Majid Kazmi, Chief of Cancer Services at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “We are incredibly grateful to Wendy and her friends, such as Sarah, for raising money for Guy’s Cancer. Their generosity helps fund vital research that will improve our understanding of rare and difficult to treat cancers, and will ultimately benefit more people in the future.”

Thymus gland tumours are rare but symptoms might include:

  • chest pain a cough that won’t go
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty swallowing
  • hoarseness of the voice
  • loss of appetite

Last updated: July 2019

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