Yorkshire Army veteran with incurable cancer hails the power of 'small acts of kindness'

Father-of-three Lee Earnshaw is determined to 'pass it on' as he hails the small acts of human kindness which have helped his family after he was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Picture: Simon Hulme.
Father-of-three Lee Earnshaw is determined to 'pass it on' as he hails the small acts of human kindness which have helped his family after he was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Picture: Simon Hulme.

Facing an incurable cancer diagnosis, father Lee Earnshaw has been deeply moved by the compassion of his community and the power of simple acts.

An appeal by the Army veteran, hailed a hero for his service abroad, saw thousands donated within days this summer after he was told he may have only months to live.

Lee Earnshaw, 43 next week, had just returned from a cycling holiday where he rode 500 miles when he was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer in June.

Lee Earnshaw, 43 next week, had just returned from a cycling holiday where he rode 500 miles when he was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer in June.

He has seen what small acts can do, he says as he prepares to take his children on what could be a last family holiday, gifted by British Airways. And he is determined to pass it on.

“I refuse to be beaten,” says the 42-year-old from Doncaster. “Every knock-back I get, it’s just another speedbump on the road.

“And if I can help someone else, it makes a difference. If one person gives one act of kindness, it opens a door. Say hello, say good morning - buy someone a cup of coffee.

“Kindness is free, isn’t it? No matter what your challenge, look at what you can achieve.”

Lee Earnshaw, an Army veteran of 22 years, served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and Cyprus, rising to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major.

Lee Earnshaw, an Army veteran of 22 years, served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and Cyprus, rising to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major.

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Diagnosis

Mr Earnshaw, who left the Army after 22 years in 2016 having risen to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major, was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer in June.

Husband to Natalie, 43, and father to Joshua, 19, Owen, 16, and Niamh, 10, he had just returned from a holiday in the half term, cycling 500 miles.

A sore leg, expected to be a calf strain, turned out to be a warning sign. Amid the whirlwind that was to follow, he was told the cancer was advanced.

The medals awarded to Doncaster father-of-three and former Regimental Sergeant Major Lee Earnshaw when he served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

The medals awarded to Doncaster father-of-three and former Regimental Sergeant Major Lee Earnshaw when he served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

“I can’t even describe what it was like,” he said. “Having to tell my three kids.

“I’ve always looked after my wife and children. I’ve worked, since I was 15, I’ve always provided. I didn’t want to leave them in the lurch.”

Just weeks ago, there was a further blow, when a lesion was found on his brain.

He underwent revolutionary stereotactic radiosurgery at Sheffield Hospital, gamma ray treatment which takes just an hour and which saw him back at work the following day.

Lee Earnshaw credits wife Natalie, pictured together at their home in Doncaster, as his 'rock' through difficult times. Image: Simon Hulme.

Lee Earnshaw credits wife Natalie, pictured together at their home in Doncaster, as his 'rock' through difficult times. Image: Simon Hulme.

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Pride

But Mr Earnshaw had been presented with a stark choice by extended family and friends; launch an appeal himself to raise funds to protect his family or they would do it for him.

“It was difficult to ask for help,” he said. “I’m a proud man, and I’ve always provided for my family.

“In the end, it was the realisation that I didn’t want to leave Natalie and the children in a position where, financially, they were going to lose the house.

“We’re not rich, but we’ve been comfortable, and that lifestyle is going to have to change,” he adds. “I’m trying to build what I can, to help Nat in that first year.

“She’s my rock, my best friend, my soulmate. She tells me to cheer up when I need it.

“We are smashing it together. We’re a team - we always have been.”

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'Bringing it forward'

The appeal, although still short of its target of £30,000, has now raised over £26,000 while the family are leaving for Florida this week after being gifted a holiday by British Airways.

“It was humbling, to see the response,” said Mr Earnshaw. “People were helping without thinking, I can never thank them enough.

“How could you express something like that? How do you show the difference it makes? I want to bring it forward.”

Mr Earnshaw, while realistic about his diagnosis, refuses to let it colour this time. He wants to use it, he says, to share as much kindness as he can.

He is still working, as an operational manager at Amazon, and has now taken on charity fundraisers for mental health charity MIND.

More than that though, he is broadening his reach, giving keynote speeches at events, and working with around 150 veterans to help them transition into civilian life.

“These are people I’ve never met,” he says. “There’s no gain - but I refuse to be negative. I want to live a positive story. I’m hoping to help as many people as I can. It makes me feel good, it gives me something to aim for.

“And I refuse to give in. When it takes me it takes me, but I’m not going without a fight.”

Appeal

The Earnshaw family are to leave for Florida this week after their appeal came to the attention of British Airways through the Sunday People.

Originally launched in August, it has now raised £26,015 towards its £30,000 total, with the funds paying towards things such as a new bathroom which Mr Earnshaw will need for his condition, driving lessons, and making memories with the children.

Mr Earnshaw, who served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland during his 22 years’ service, has also paid to add on flights to Jamaica at the end of the Florida trip. It was the honeymoon he had always promised wife Natalie, but they were never able to take.

To donate to the GoFundMe appeal, click here.