Scots pensioners in epic fund-raising drive for research into hereditary tumour

Two Scottish pensioners in two 20-yearold tartan Ford Fiestas are currently undertaking a 13,000-mile adventure to raise money for twins who have a rare genetic disorder that can prove fatal.

Jo Williamson (left) and Gordon Blair (far right) at John O' Groats with two friends and a Mongolia-bound tartan Fiesta.
Jo Williamson (left) and Gordon Blair (far right) at John O' Groats with two friends and a Mongolia-bound tartan Fiesta.

Jo Williamson, 68, and his team The Highlanders are taking on the Mongol Rally route through 22 countries to raise around £60,000 towards research on a cure for pheochromocytoma (phaeo), a rare tumour that took the life of his wife Sue in 2013.

This type of cancer can be hereditary and Jo’s adult twins Jennie Chinembiri and James Williamson, both 37, have been diagnosed with the SDH-B gene and there is also a risk their children could inherit it.

Williamson, from Auchterhouse, near Dundee, has teamed up with friend, retired Perth businessman Gordon Blair 73, to tackle the challenge, with money raised from the journey going to the Findacure charity funding research into the condition. The Highlanders set off from John O’ Groats heading to Siberia via the Gobi Desert on 7 July and expect to return in seven or eight weeks. They are currently in Azerbaijan.

Blair said: “Never having camped out for over 60 years, this was a challenge way out of my comfort zone. But if If I was offered a large sum of money to fly home now I would flatly refuse as this is one of the most satisfying tasks I have ever undertaken.”

Williamson’s daughter Jennie said she was “very proud” of her father and said he had raised thousands of pounds for charity.

She first started to show symptoms shortly after the birth of her daughter Anatswa five years ago.

She said: “My three siblings and I were tested in 2010 to see if the condition was hereditary and my older brother and sister were fine but James and I had this gene and they basically said we both had tumours.

“James had one removed from his stomach but we’ve both got tumours in our heads. Originally they said, ‘We could probably remove it’ then they told me they couldn’t do that.

“The doctors said it was slow-growing and would not really cause me a problem and they scan me every year to see if there are more tumours. Originally they thought they would stay benign but they now think they will turn malignant.”

A phaeo is one of the rare syndromes characterised by tumours arising from nerve tissue. They can be situated from the base of the skull to the pelvis.

If the benign tumours become cancerous and spread the result can be fatal.