Blog: Journey across the Atlantic helping to drive earlier diagnosis

On 3 May 2015 Lawrence Walters and Tom Rainey started an extraordinary challenge. For the best part of three months since then, they have been rowing from New York to Salcombe in Devon across the treacherous North Atlantic Ocean.

They are doing it entirely unsupported. And they are doing it to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity.

Their epic journey was inspired by Tom's father Luke, who died in 2012. Like too many families, the Raineys were torn apart by a brain tumour. Tom was determined to do something to help spare others that trauma. So the Ocean Valour adventure was born.

In our office at The Brain Tumour Charity, we have been following the latest news from the Ocean Valour blog or the rowers' families. We worried for their safety when storms surrounded them and we cheered when they finally broke free of a current that was sending them round in circles. None of us at The Brain Tumour Charity has tackled anything like it.

But their row is helping us to face a major challenge for our community: to double brain tumour survival and halve the harm brain tumours cause to quality of life.

As a step towards those goals, we want to reduce the time it takes on average to diagnose brain tumours in the UK. That's why every penny of the incredible amount Tom and Lawrence have raised will go towards our new research into diagnosis times for adults with brain tumours.

Four out ten people living with a brain tumour visited their GP more than five times before being diagnosed. Almost two thirds of all malignant brain tumours are diagnosed through an emergency presentation – higher than any other cancer. And if a brain tumour is diagnosed as an emergency, the outcome is likely to be worse.

Thanks to our UK-wide HeadSmart campaign, we have already brought down the time it takes on average to diagnose brain tumours in children – from more than nine weeks in 2011 to less than seven weeks today. That means fewer young lives lost and a better quality of life for childhood brain tumour survivors.

Now we want to do the same for adults.

We hear so many shocking stories from patients whose brain tumours went undiagnosed for years after they first consulted a doctor about their symptoms. Many made numerous visits to their GP or saw several different doctors before they were finally referred for a scan. Far too often, they have ended up being diagnosed after a desperate trip to A&E.

The money raised by Ocean Valour, and supporters like them, will help us to find out the real extent of the problem for the first time, why it happens and what can be done to make things better.

Tom and Lawrence's incredible journey across the Atlantic is driving us forward towards our goal – and it will help to keep us going long after they have reached dry land.