Royal News

Dad praised by Prince William for helping save lives is now fighting for his own

A dad praised by Prince William for spearheading a drive to save lives on the Thames is now fighting for his own survival.

Mark Towens, 39, led a mental health project after being alarmed at the number of suicides in the river, where he works as a harbour master.

William was so impressed he visited the initiative personally when it was launched in May 2019.

He wore a lifejacket to join Port of London Authority worker Mark on board a boat.

But neither the Duke nor anyone else involved in the project knew Mark had been secretly battling skin cancer for three years.

The disease has now spread to his brain, and he has been told he could die within weeks unless he has a pioneering treatment costing £150,000.

A fundraising campaign has already raised £95,000 in less than a month.

And Mark – husband to wife Claire and dad to kids Jamie, 11, and Katie, eight – said: “This treatment would mean I’d go from having no chance to having a chance.

“Because I don’t seem ill, it’s hard to get my kids to understand. We’ve told them it’s cancer and I’m very unwell but we haven’t got to dying yet.

“I want to see my kids finish school, teach my son to drive, see my daughter get married. I want to see what they end up doing with their lives.”

At first Mark did not want to ask strangers to pledge money for the treatment, an immunotherapy known as tumour ­infiltrating lymphocytes.

The process is not available on the NHS but data from abroad suggest up to 80 per cent of people see the growth of their cancer slow.

Mark only agreed to let sister Joanne start fundraising because he did not want to remortgage his house and leave his family deep in debt.

He said: “We gathered as a family and tried to work out how we could pay for it.

“To go from nobody knowing to telling the world was quite difficult. I thought we’d get a small contribution towards it. Then this happened and it has been overwhelming.

“My son asked if he could give me £3 from his piggy bank. That was a killer.”

Mark was first diagnosed with skin cancer in 2005 but had been free of the disease for 12 years when it returned.

He was told it had spread to his brain at the end of June following an MRI scan at Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

He said: “I was told I only had a few months. I’ll be lucky to make it to Christmas.

“The bizarre thing is I feel generally pretty good.”

If Mark is able to raise the money, he could travel to the US or Israel to begin treatment within weeks. He said that if he doesn’t make it he hopes his project will be what he is remembered for.

His team has worked on infrastructure around the river to make it harder for vulnerable people to access it.

Mark has also helped secure £250,000 to deliver a campaign across the London transport network to help the public intervene when someone is likely to attempt suicide.

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He said: “If you see someone who doesn’t look quite right, asking if they are OK can be enough to break the cycle and stop them jumping.

“We knew Prince William had an interest in mental health issues so I wrote to him and asked him if he’d be prepared to assist us in launching the strategy. It was a major boost and he was really supportive.”

When he visited the project, William talked to families who had lost loved ones in the river, some of them through accidents.

He told staff: “Their stories are reminders of how important all your work is.”

Mark added: “I was determined to get this done because if things don’t work out for me it’s almost a legacy project.”

To donate, visit uk.gofundme.com/f/marks-last-hope

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