Teenage cancer patients to get tour of airbase

A TEENAGE cancer sufferer is set to enjoy the flying experience of a lifetime as a new charity service takes off at RAF College Cranwell

Nineteen-year-old Jack Meeks from Bourne is one of nine young adults who will have the opportunity to put his illness behind him as he takes to the skies in a new group service launched by UK charity the Willow Foundation.

On Saturday April 28, the Willow Foundation will extend the reach of its service by providing a confidence-building experience with RAF College Cranwell for a group of younger adults living with serious and life-threatening illness.

The launch of the group special day service builds on the success of the charity’s individual special day model to offer an additional benefit. Those participating in group special days will have the chance to identify with other young people in similar circumstances and rebuild self-confidence and a sense of normality.

Over the last 12 years Willow has arranged more than 8,500 special days for 16-40 year olds, touching the lives of, and providing psychological and emotional support to, more than 30,000 people. Every Willow special day aims to provide beneficiaries and their loved ones with a break from the realities of their diagnosis and treatmen

With more than 17,000 younger adults diagnosed with a serious and life-threatening illness in the UK each year Willow wants to reach out to support many more of them and has therefore developed a programme of group special day experiences.

The first group special day has been organised in partnership with RAF College Cranwell, Lincolnshire, with patients who have been referred from the Teenage Cancer Trust.

It is the first of a programme of group special days this year which have been designed with input from referrers and their patients.

The teenagers and their families will have the chance to take to the skies for up to an hour, take control of an aircraft or even try out some aerobatics with the Flying Club at RAF College Cranwell or experience flying in a flight simulator under RAF pilot instruction. They will get a guided tour of the RAF base and training college and have a special dinner with guest speaker, former RAF pilot, John Peters.

Sandy Sandilands, commanding officer of the Base Support Wing at RAF College Cranwell said: “RAF College Cranwell are delighted to be able to welcome the Willow Foundation to enjoy an aviation experience here at the oldest military aviation academy in the world. We look forward to providing a unique, exciting and challenging experience for those young people and their families being supported by Willow.”

Jack, who is being treated at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, is looking forward to taking part. He said: “When I heard about the day I really wanted to sign up because it was a chance to do something different and exciting. I had wanted to join the forces as a career but my illness prevented me but I’m still really interested in the RAF.

“When you’ve been ill it’s hard to keep up with your friends so one of the best bits of the day will be the social side, meeting other people who’ve been through what you’ve been through.”

Willow Foundation chief executive Jeff Kaye, added: “This is an exciting new development for Willow as a charity and we would like to thank RAF College Cranwelll for all their support. We are extremely proud of the difference we have been able to make to the lives of thousands of individuals and their families over the last decade. We now feel the time is right to extend the reach of our service further.”

The Willow Foundation was founded in 1999 by former Arsenal goalkeeper and TV presenter, Bob Wilson and his wife, Megs as a lasting memorial to their daughter, Anna, who died of cancer aged 31. Every special day aims to provide beneficiaries and their loved ones with a break from the realities of their diagnosis and treatment.