Sunday Lunch Club’s latest fundraiser is close to founder’s heart

Jo Wheelwright-Horne, Stratford
Jo receives her BEM from Lord Lieutenant for Warwickshire Tim Cox alongside Alex and her daughter Grace

Jo Wheelwright-Horne was inspired to establish Stratford’s now hugely successful Sunday Lunch Club after experiencing the loss of her mum to a brain tumour.

After eight years and more than £100k raised for local charities, Jo now finds herself rallying the Club’s members to support another cause close to her heart – her husband’s cancer battle.

Alex, 59, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma last year after his dentist spotted a worrying patch in his mouth and immediately referred him for a biopsy.

More tests detected tumours and the news that his condition is incurable has left the couple devastated, but determined to work as hard as ever to raise much-needed funds for the Rigby Unit at Stratford Hospital, where Alex is being treated.

Jo receives her BEM from Lord Lieutenant for Warwickshire Tim Cox alongside Alex and her daughter Grace

The initial target is to raise £5,000 for a new blood analysis machine, which can reduce the wait for results from two days to just two hours.

Jo said: “After speaking to the Rigby Unit head nurse she suggested that they could really do with a blood analysis machine – so my goal this year is for the Lunch Club to raise enough money – £5,000 – to buy one for the unit. But I intend to continue to fundraise for the Rigby Unit throughout the year.

“The impact of Alex’s diagnosis and treatment has been huge on both of us. And it’s been so hard to tell the family. His liver is in poor health so they only want to do chemotherapy once, at the moment he is on watch and wait. We live our lives for three-month periods between his blood tests. At the moment, thankfully, they are stable.

She added: “It was hard to tell Alex’s parents who live in Scotland, especially as his mom has seen two of her family members pass away from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, but we are hopeful that modern medicine has moved on since then.”

Jo’s journey with fundraising began – and continues – with Brain Tumour Support, following her own mum’s death to the disease. The charity is now the biggest beneficiary of Sunday Lunch Club proceeds with more than £37k raised.

Since its inception, Jo has enjoyed seeing The Sunday Lunch Club grow to 900 members, aged between 18 and 80, and has supported a wealth of other local charities, including Warwickshire Air Ambulance; Myton Hospice; Shakespeare Hospice; Amicci Dog Rescue in Worcester; Avon Cat Rescue, in Welford, MIND and Molly Ollys in Warwick. Fundraising has also paid for six defibrillators for Stratford.

Last year Jo was proud to be presented with a British Empire Medal by the King as well as a clutch of local awards recognising her voluntary contribution. And she was recently named among the finalists for Ladies First Professional Development Awards.

All this is even more remarkable against a background of battling her own long term health challenges, including Chronic Pulmonary Disease, Ankylosis Spondylitis and Ménière’s disease, which have all been further aggravated by the recent stress.

But for now, her focus is on helping her husband of eight years navigate the toughest of all journeys ahead, however long it may be.

Jo Wheelwright-Horne, Stratford
Jo with Alex at the palace last year

She said: “We are both finding it so hard to function and have sought the support of counselling. We do our best to live for today as we just don’t know what’s around the corner. He could live for five years or 20 years, it all depends if it spreads as it is a blood cancer.”

“I didn’t cope well with my mum’s death at all and I became very depressed. It all happened so fast I decided though my grief I wanted to help other people which is why I set up the lunch club and decided to raise money for Brain Tumour Support.

“Alex has always been very supportive of the club and enjoys the meetings and seeing friends. It seems fitting that their support will have been, again, inspired by someone very close to home, but which will also help countless others in the years ahead.”

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