Friends sing their hearts out in 16-hour karaoke marathon in support of Bishop's Stortford couple battling leukaemia
Two former Herts and Essex High School students sang their way through a 16-hour karaoke marathon in support of their old school friend and her partner, who is suffering from leukaemia.
Alanna Saunders, 28, and Natalie Brown, 29, have so far raised £2,660 for Blood Cancer UK following their fundraising effort on Saturday (Jan 8), which was set at 16 hours to represent the 1 in 16 men who develop the disease.
They travelled back to the town where they grew up, from Bristol and Chesham respectively, to perform a variety of hits via a live YouTube feed that saw donations pledged as they sang.
The young women were keen to support their close friend Amy Gannon and her fiancé, Joel Atkinson, who became ill at the start of the pandemic with what doctors initially diagnosed as arthritis. It was only when he collapsed at home and was rushed to hospital last summer that it was discovered he had blood cancer.
The money Alanna and Natalie have raised will go towards further research and help raise awareness of the disease – the fifth most common cancer in the UK – and its symptoms.
Speaking after their heroic singing efforts, Alanna said her voice had just about recovered. "I don't know how we did it! Even at the end we were still going strong. It was only when we stopped that our voices started to go," she said.
The challenge was held at Bishop's Park Community Centre, and the singers were joined by Amy and her mum, Jacqui, and Joel's mum, Claire, who popped in with Prosecco to offer support. "It was incredibly nice of them to make the effort, it meant a lot and it was an emotional part of it. We had other friends and parents come to support us and our boyfriends were there and some of Joel's friends as well."
Joel and Amy's four-year-old daughter, Isla, got in a request for her favourite song, Little Mix's Confetti. "We had a lot of views on YouTube with a lot of people commenting throughout the day and requesting songs, and we were able to give shout-outs as well to people donating," added Alanna.
The friends wanted to support Joel and Amy having watched them navigate an extremely difficult two years. Joel, 30, was originally told he had arthritis when he started suffering aches and pains, which was put down to the physical demands of his job as an electrician.
But as his condition worsened, it was eventually discovered following an MRI scan that he had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL). It was as he was being rushed to hospital following a collapse that he learned over speaker phone in the back of the ambulance that he had blood cancer.
The couple featured in the Indie over Christmas in a bid to raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms.
Said Alanna: "Amy's been our friend ever since secondary school and Joel's been in our lives ever since she met him six years ago. Joel's always been incredibly supportive of Amy and everything she's been through.
"We always knew she was in the best hands and has the best support network in him. We can see how incredibly happy Joel makes her and have always admired his dedication and love for his family, their health and happiness.
"When speaking to Amy, prior to diagnosis, we'd regularly hear how bad Joel's arthritis and back was getting, but this always confused us as he'd never suffered an injury and no prescription drugs seemed to ease this. Being young and not really knowing anyone else with this, we just accepted this is the way it is.
"However, I wish we knew the symptoms of blood cancer earlier so we could have raised our concerns and helped them push for an earlier diagnosis. This is why we're now trying to raise more awareness, as we've learnt blood cancer is something that tends to be diagnosed at an emergency stage, as happened with Joel. There needs to be more awareness of symptoms and more understanding that this really can happen to anyone."
She added: "Due to Joel's chemo, his immune system is very compromised and therefore we've been so limited to what we can do to help and support. We came up with the idea of 16 hours of karaoke as recent statistics from Blood Cancer UK state that one in 16 males will develop blood cancer.
"Since promoting our event, we've had people reach out to us and tell their similar stories, as had Amy whilst sharing Joel's story with others. If we can get people talking and raise awareness whilst also supporting an amazing charity then we're achieving something."
To donate to Alanna and Natalie's fundraising campaign visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/alanna-natalie.