Dr Julie McDonnell was a novice to Campanology, the art of bell-ringing. She’s from Sussex England and in DEC 2015 she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She has a blood cancer, one of 137 different kinds of blood cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia. There is a lot to know when it comes to campanology and it takes a lot of strength and stamina, as sometimes ringing can take up to 3 hours. The time to ring a full peal depends on the number of bells and the weight of the bells. A person in good health would find bell-ringing challenging.
After her diagnosis, Dr McDonnell recruited fellow ringers to bring awareness to blood cancer in England and to make folks aware of two charities, in particular, the Anthony Nolan Register and Bloodwise. These organizations, among other things, assists in finding donor matches for stem-cell transplants for cancer patients. Anthony Nolan register had been helpful to Dr McDonnell.
Bell-ringers in Birchington England composed a full peal of method ringing called Julie McDonnell Doubles. The composition was written for 5 or 6 bells. Last summer (2016) Julie received her first true donor and she was off to more than bringing attention to her cause, she was raising funds. The donor offered £35,000 (close to $44,000 today) if she could get ringers to ring 100 quarter-peals of Julie McDonald Doubles by Christmas 2016. Julie started their funding appeal with a ring-walk from Wye to Canterbury. Long before Christmas, they had rung over 400 quarter-peals. And she was off with the launch of a new stem-cell-focused charity, Strike Back Against Blood Cancer (SBABC). Variants were written for Julie McDonnell Doubles which allowed for up to 12 bells in the peal.
Dr McDonnell had received one stem-cell transplant, and just before the ring-walk to Canterbury, she wasn’t doing well. She required and received a 2nd stemcell transplant. Just two weeks after her second transplant, the Nationa Health Service (NHS) in England advised the NHS in the other three countries in the United Kingdom to stop funding 2nd stem-cell transplants. Just a two-week delay in Julie getting her life-extending and she wouldn’t have received it. Fortunately, Dr McDonnell got the word out to the entire UK, what not funding 2nd stem-cell transplants actually would mean for folks on the ground by penning an article for The Ringing World publication (requires an account.) After that, the parliaments of Scottland, Northern Ireland and Wales voted to ensure that the funding would remain available.
The NHS England decision to cut funding for 2nd stem-cell transplants lit a fire in the sickly Dr McDonnell and although restricted to home, she started making phone calls to folks with money. Some days she made as many as 100 telephone calls. She also managed to have bells rung all over the world; the great bell at the Vatican, temple bells in India & Thailand and on the International Space Station. She got handbells rung in areas without church bells; the pyramids in Egypt, the Great Wall in China and the island of Barbados. Folks all over the UK and around the world; Hawaii, Cape Town, Miami and Sydney rang peals for the cause. One of the things that helped the fundraising along was that almost everyone has experience with cancer in one way or another, personally or because a family member or friend has had cancer. A donor has €1 million ($1,070,091). Since beginning her project, Julie McDonnell has helped raise £7 million for folks with blood cancer. Her next step is to get SBABC registered with the government as a legal charity. She plans to sit on the board of directors. Until then, the current money raised has been deposited with NHS and earmarked specifically for blood cancer stem-cell transplants.
A new challenge has been issued and a select group of ringers is planning to hit 2000 quarter peals for 2017. Dr McDonnell has committed to ringing in another challenge to celebrate her 50th birthday in Jun 2017. Sadly, Julie has said that her cancer has now metastasized.
Facts for this story were gathered from a story in the Church Times. The photo is from The Ringing World. Julie is in front, towards the center, with the heart-shaped pendant on her necklace.