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Myeloma Awareness Month: 1999 graduate raises over £50,000 for potentially life-saving blood cancer research

Physiological Sciences alumnus Peter McCleave was diagnosed with myeloma, an incurable blood cancer, in 2017. Since then, he’s been on a mission to boost awareness and funding to provide hope to patients like him.

25 March 2024

Peter’s latest fundraising efforts have seen a phenomenal £50,000 donated to Newcastle University for a cutting-edge project that employs advanced genetic and computational technologies to bring us ever closer to a cure.  

North East Myeloma Genome Initiative

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that affects around 6,000 new people in the UK every year. There is no known cure for myeloma, current treatment aims only to prolong life with the disease.

The way patients experience this disease varies greatly, primarily due to unique genetic changes in each patient's myeloma cells. These genetic differences play a key role in determining the severity of the disease, yet our understanding of myeloma genetics is still limited. 

With the help of Peter’s fundraising, Newcastle University will be able to launch the North East Myeloma Genome Initiative, a cutting-edge project that employs advanced genetic and computational technologies to analyse the genetics of people with multiple myeloma: bringing us ever closer to a cure.  

The project will be led by Aneta Mikulasova at Newcastle University’s Biosciences Institute. Aneta has more than 10 years of experience in cancer research and her expertise lies in the detection and interpretation of structural genomic variation in cancer using next-generation sequencing technology.

Of the project, Peter said:

“Partnering with my alma mater, Newcastle University, I’m excited to be supporting a research project whose aim is to unlock the genetic codes that underpin blood cancers.

“If the root cause can be identified then the whole conversation around blood cancer treatment will be turned on its head; from what we experience today where management of often terminal diseases is best case, to new treatments and maybe even cures.”

Raising £50k: A family affair

It was a real family effort to raise the £50,000 needed to get the North East Myeloma Genome Initiative off the ground.

Peter utilised all his connections gathered over the past six years of fundraising to welcome 300 people to an exclusive charity ball in Chester in mid-March 2024. Ticket sales, along with a photobooth and raffle (which included prizes like signed Mike Tyson gloves and a holiday!) contributed to the money raised from the evening. Peter said:

“Without sounding too cliched, the ball was beyond what we could hope for. We welcomed over 300 people on the night – the biggest event the venue had held in the past three years! Everybody was on top form, dressed up in all their fineries and the dancefloor was packed from the start.

It was touching that people travelled from all over the UK to attend and support me on the night, and to see how generous people and companies were when donating prizes for the raffle. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The venue for Peter
Peter and friends in tuxedoes at the ball

Image credit: Yasmin Thomas (@yasminthomasphotography)  

Peter’s mum, June, has also been working hard to help with the fundraising. A retired English teacher, June has been writing and selling books in local garden centres and retailers with 100% of the proceeds going to Newcastle University to fund the research.

The first of June’s books is called ‘Just a Village Kid and Other Ramblings', a semi-autobiographical story about growing up in the 1950's in Great Broughton, and this was followed by children’s novel 'The Adventures of Pandora Pettigrew Puss Wuss', about a pampered Persian cat who lives in The Magical Moorland Manor in Groatland and seeks adventure in Whitby. To date, June’s books have raised an incredible £3,500 for the research project.

And despite living on the other side of the world in Australia, Peter’s brother Tim has also been doing his bit. He recently shaved his head and gave himself a comical ‘Friar Tuck’ hairstyle’ to collect sponsorship towards Peter’s campaign. Not only has Tim’s efforts helped Peter reach his £50,000 goal, but it’s also inspired really important conversations in his local community in Australia about myeloma.

Peter’s story

Peter was diagnosed with myeloma, an incurable blood cancer, in 2017 at the age of 39. A stem cell transplant could provide Peter with many more years of life with his myeloma under control, however his Macanese genetic heritage – combined with English and Irish ancestry – makes finding a donor match difficult. People from ethnic minorities like Peter only have a 37% chance of finding a stem cell donor, compared to 72% for white Europeans.

Shortly after receiving his diagnosis, Peter launched the 10,000 Donors campaign, with the hope of encouraging more people to join the stem cell register and hopefully find himself a match. In total, Peter has inspired over 112,000 people to join the stem cell register which has led to 21 confirmed matches, saving the lives of patients in need.

More recently, Peter has turned his attention to promote stem cell donation amongst people from ethnic minority backgrounds, with the Gob For Good campaign garnering the support of big names like DJ Trevor Nelson, actor Adrian Lester and popstar and presenter Alesha Dixon.

Upon his diagnosis in 2017, Peter was given seven years to live, but the new drug discoveries and developments that have taken place in the past six years means that he can now hope for at least another five years – giving him and his family hope of more time to find a cure.

What’s next?

The £50,000 target set by Peter was to get the North East Myeloma Genome Initiative off the ground. Now, he’s turning his attention to securing the longevity of the project with a steady stream of fundraising. He said:

“Raising the £50,000 took longer than I thought and the campaign was a real education in the reality of fundraising. You can’t keep going cap in hand to the same people over and over again!

“Coming up soon, I’ll be working with South Shields-based company OddBalls to produce a range of charity underwear that will provide the steady income we need.”

It is estimated that a total of £200,000 will be needed to ensure the longevity of the North East Myeloma Genome initiative.

Alongside his fundraising efforts, Peter has continued to raise awareness of myeloma and the importance of being a stem cell donor, speaking at schools across the country. He said:

“At the moment, I’m doing okay health-wise. My myeloma count is steadily increasing but I’m still having regular chemo and I’m able to manage my side effects well. Having all of this activity to focus on really helps to keep me motivated and deflect from the bad times.”

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