Around this time last year, retired Leeds banker Andy Tasker was wondering if he would see another spring. He tells Neil Hudson why
When Andy Tasker went into hospital last year for treatment of a relatively common bowel condition, his life changed forever. Doctors told him he had bowel cancer. The news was devastating.
“All kinds of things went through my head,” recalls Andy, 61, who is a married father of two with two young grandchildren.
“I remember going home and looking out of the window at the flowers and thinking, I might not be here to see them next year.”
Andy, who is a member of the City of Leeds Pipe Band, was given swift treatment for the condition thanks to the Colorectal Unit at St James’s Hospital. Within two weeks had undergone a minor operation, with a major operation not long after.
“I’m immensely grateful for what they did,” he says. “They were unbelievable. From the moment I went in to see one of the consultants, Mr Saunders, right up to my operation and beyond. They identified I had bowel cancer but they said the symptoms would not have arisen for another two years. From the initial diagnosis, the speed they worked at was incredible. Within five days, I had MRI, CT scans and blood tests, then minor surgery within two weeks and major surgery within six under Mr J Hance.
“When you first find out something like that, you go to pieces. I remember driving round to each of my children to tell them the news.
“That was absolutely horrendous. I was just crying. You start to look at things differently, to think about how you can get everything in order, to make sure everyone is going to be alright, to get your money in and sorted out.
“Every emotion you could possibly think of, you go through. The operation took seven and a half hours and the morning after the operation, I woke up and couldn’t believe how many tubes were there.
“Three days later, I was walking around the hospital grounds. I just couldn’t believe where I’d come from, from the diagnosis to three days after operation.”
He adds: “You are never clear until the five year line but I am here now and I am so grateful for what they did. I cannot thank them enough.
“Not just that but the speed with which they did it but the professionalism they showed me throughout.”
So, not one to let an opportunity slip by, Andy and his bandmates at the City of Leeds Pipe Band decided to do something about it.
“We were up at Blair Atholl in Scotland last year and we asked the Vale of Atholl pipe band to come down at some point, which they did for the St Patrick’s Day weekend earlier this year.
“We said we would put on a Highland night at the Civic Hall, it was only going to be pipes and drums and a Ceilidh but we decided to have a raffle as well and we ended up getting some prizes from companies like Asda, Leeds Building Society and M&S. We did not expect to raise a lot but we actually got £1,000.”
The money will go to the Colorectal Unit at St James’s Hospital.
Sharon Link, head of fundraising at the Leeds Hospital Charitable Foundation, says: “We are blown away by the generosity shown by Andy and it was an incredibly special moment for us to celebrate his achievements with the Pipe band and Lord Mayor this week.
“All of the vital work we do here in the cancer centre would not be possible without the ongoing generosity of our donors and we send out a huge thank you to Andy and those who have donated to his cause.”
Andy comes from a long line of pipers and one, Angus MaKay, was first piper to Queen Victoria, a link which saw him perform at Balmoral Castle just a few weeks ago.
He says another relative helped Bonnie Prince Charlie from the field at the Battle of Culloden and hid him for three days on the Island of Raasay, an island between the Isle of Skye and the mainland of Scotland.
He first became interested in piping while attending the funeral of his uncle at Blair Castle near the village of Blair Atholl in Perthshire, Scotland.
“I was handed his chanter [part of the bagpipes which makes the melody] and I thought I would give it a go. I joined Pontefract and District Pipe Band and learned for nine months but had to leave due to work and other commitments.
“That was 25 years ago. I joined Leeds after I saw an advert for new members in 2014. So, I had a bit of a gap before picking it back up again.”
Andy joined the City of Leeds Pipe Band three years ago and has taken part in more than a few large scale events.
The City of Leeds Pipe Band was formed in 1960 by a small group of former members of the Scottish Regimental Association of Yorkshire Pipe Band.
Colloquially known as The Yorkshire Jocks, they are used to being in the limelight.
They have performed in at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the Tour de Yorkshire, on the Flying Scotsman and even appeared in Guy Ritchie’s film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and last year supported singer Andre Rieu at Leeds First Direct Arena.
One of their members has played the bagpipes on Mount Kilimanjaro, another used his skills to help him pass his music GCSE and Andy is in the process of trying to play his pipes at every castle in the UK.
The group meets in Scholes and Headingley twice a week for practice, has around 30 members with ages ranging from eight up to over 80.
Contact the group via their website: www.leedspipeband.org.uk or call Richard on 07539 203 897.
In the UK, around 3,500 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer every month and 1,300 people will die of the disease
It is the nation’s second biggest cancer killer but it is treatable and curable if caught early
Simple ‘at home’ screening tests are available from your GP and are given out automatically to over-60s
Signs of bowel cancer include blood in poo, a change in daily motions, extreme tiredness or a lump in your tummy
If in doubt, contact your GP for further advice