Oracle Cancer Trust has its roots in a charity founded by leading ENT surgeon Peter Rhys-Evans, who recognised the enormity of the challenge posed by Head and Neck cancer, and the need to address it.
In 1979 a gift of £10,000 was given to the Head and Neck Unit at the Royal Marsden Hospital by Mr James Filmer-Wilson, a businessman from Hong Kong in memory of his wife who had been treated on the Head and Neck Unit, but sadly died from cancer. Mr Henry Shaw who was then the head and neck consultant surgeon, Dr Michael Henk, consultant head and neck radiotherapist and Dr Arnold Levene, Head & Neck pathologist, decided to put the money in a separate trust fund which they called the Head and Neck Cancer Research Trust (HNCRT). At that time it was quite a lot of money and interest rates were high. The modest income from the investment helped to pay for various things on the Unit including travelling to give lectures etc.
In 1986 Henry Shaw retired and Peter Rhys Evans was appointed head and neck surgeon, joining two other surgeons on the Unit, Mr Nicholas Breach, Plastic and Reconstructive surgeon and Mr Daniel Archer, Maxillo-Facial surgeon. Henry Shaw continued as Chairman of HNCRT and the three surgeons, Arnold Levene and Michael Henk were Trustees.
Nicholas Breach retired in 1998, Arnold Levene who had retired a few years previously sadly died that year and Peter Rhys-Evans took over running the HNCRT, later becoming Chairman. Up until that time there had been no attempt at fund raising but the Trust funds were almost exhausted.
The following year the hospital data manager who collected all of their patient and treatment details for research papers, retired and the hospital refused to reappoint anyone in her place. Without this vital information they could not easily carry on with research studies.
Start of fundraising
Peter therefore decided to try and raise £500,000 to invest in order to provide an income of £30,000 to pay for a data manager. He wrote the first ‘Speak Out Appeal’ Newsletter and started to talk about their problem with patients who were very sympathetic. Within 18 months he had managed to raise £1,600,000, principally through 3 extremely generous donations.
Start of PhD research
This was far more than Peter ever imagined and he realised that they would be able to fund some PhD research projects. Since Peter started to work at the Marsden, he was fortunate to have invitations to lecture and teach abroad and went to Colombia and India on a number of occasions. In India head and neck cancer was very common, particularly mouth cancer from chewing Betel nut, and when Peter was there he met several very bright and keen young head and neck trainees who were desperate to have the opportunity to come to the UK to train and do research.
Peter became involved with an Indian charity raising money for patients to pay for cancer treatment, The Cancer Aid and Research Foundation, because there was no free health service and most patients had to rely on charity. Peter was made Honorary Patron of that charity and over the years they interviewed and recruited three trainees who were the first to come to the Marsden to do PhDs, sponsored by HNCRT/Oracle. One of them is now one of the head and neck professors at the Sloane Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, another is a professor in Mumbai and the third was appointed head and neck surgeon at a leading London hospital.
Over the past 20 years we have raised around £8m and have funded over 50 research projects. Well over 200 articles have been published during this time, sponsored by Oracle.
Birth of Oracle Cancer Trust
For the first 6-7 years of HNCRT Peter was very fortunate to have the help of many grateful patients in organising fund-raising events. However, Peter had a busy ‘day job’ at the Marsden and juggling the running of a charity with an annual turnover of £300,000 - £400,000 a year. Initially these events were put together informally, based on what we thought were good ideas and purely with voluntary help; financially, most were very successful.
It became clear, however, that with increasing scrutiny of financial support of charities and without a structural organisation that was needed for the Charity Commission, we could not continue, especially after the financial crisis of 2008 when fund-raising became much more difficult.
In 2011 the Oracle Cancer Trust was born with the now familiar logo. Jimmy Mulville has been President of Oracle since then, with Nigella Lawson, and Jenny Pitman as Vice Presidents. HRH Princess Alexandra, who was very grateful for our treatment of her husband, Sir Angus Ogilvie, was always a wonderful supporter and agreed to become Royal Patron, a position she held for six years when she reluctantly gave up much of her charity work and Patronage. Since then we have been enormously privileged to have Sir Michael Morpurgo and Tony Matharu as our Patron. In June 2017 we were pleased to join up with the Oxford-based charity ‘Heads Up’.