26 Mar 2024

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song 

Ruth was my North, my South, my East and West  

Steering my boat through the calm but sometimes stormy waters of life  

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song  

I thought that my love would be beside me for ever…I was wrong.  

Poem written by Malcolm Knight and read at his wife Ruth’s funeral

 

Ruth and Malcolm’s wedding

Malcolm Knight met his beloved wife Ruth at a rowing club in Thames Ditton, Surrey. After their wedding in 1988 they embarked on a life of adventure, activity and friendships, much of it focused on rowing and boats and their love of being on the water. 

Ruth enjoyed a varied career in sales, promotion and business, including time spent as a ‘Laker Lady’ for Laker Airways. As well as being an active member of her local rowing club she cycled from London to Paris in 2000, and ran the London Marathon and other half marathons. Ruth walked the length of the River Thames three times, and completed many other long walks with groups of friends including the South Downs and the Pilgrims Way.   

She was also a regular blood donor. And it was through this in 2019 when Ruth was 69 that she first discovered a symptom which would lead to her eventual diagnosis with leukaemia. Her routine donation was halted because it was discovered she was anaemic. 

Ruth punting

“She was advised to go to her GP and have a full blood count,” said husband Malcolm, 70, a retired Metropolitan Police officer who lives in West Molesley, Surrey. “To our shock she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a type of cancer in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not grow to maturity. We were immediately referred to Kingston Hospital under Dr Atwell who initially put Ruth on a ‘watch and wait’ list. She had symptoms of tiredness but nothing else at that point. She was told to contact them again if this changed.” 

For the next four years Ruth pushed through her tiredness and continued with all her fitness activities. But in the spring of 2023, she felt more lethargic. She was given more blood tests and eventually put on the immunotherapy drug Lenalidomide. Blood donor Ruth also started to benefit from the generosity of others just like her and receive regular transfusions of donated blood.  

After eight months Dr Atwell discussed with us both that Ruth was not responding as they had hoped and referred her to Kings College Hospital where we saw Dr Gandhi,” said Malcolm. “A bone marrow sample was taken and in September we were informed that there was a marker on her cells that indicated that her MDS would mutate into acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) at some stage, but they did not know when. 

“The proposal was to commence treatment sometime soon with two courses of chemotherapy and a third prior to a stem cell transplant – the doctors said they wanted to treat a ‘small fire’ before it becomes a ‘roaring furnace’. We were devastated to hear the prognosis but were hopeful of being able to beat it – we’ve both done so many physical challenges and saw it as another to be taken on and beaten.” 

A date was set in November for the stem cell transplant, and a search started for a donor through the Anthony Nolan Trust. Ruth continued to be active, even organizing a gala dinner at the rowing club. But she was becoming more and more tired, and her blood counts continued to drop despite her treatment. 

“On the 3rd November another bone marrow sample was taken at Kingston Hospital and taken to King’s Hospital in London for testing. On the 8th November Ruth received a phone call asking us to come in the following day as they needed to talk to us urgently. We went to Kingston Hospital and saw Dr Vishal Jayakar who informed us that the mutation had occurred and Ruth now had AML. She was booked in on 13th November to start treatment – the ’nuclear bomb of chemo’ as described by Dr Jayakar.  

“During her treatment Ruth was very lucky as she had a private room and a personal friend as a nurse! One of our rowing club friends was the staff nurse who oversaw the three sessions of chemo a day for five days. Touchingly our friend came in on her day off to administer the main chemo as she was one of only three staff certified to carry this out.  

Ruth with her sisters

“When Ruth finished the treatment she had to be in total isolation because the chemotherapy had done its job and left her severely immunocompromised. My 70th birthday was on 4th December – we cancelled all our other plans and celebrated with a cream tea in her hospital room!”  

In the meantime, five possible stem cell donors had been found. Ruth recovered sufficiently to return home on 18th December. But after her temperature rose suddenly the next day, she was readmitted to hospital. Ruth was given another bone marrow biopsy and then given the devastating news that the AML she had developed was known as Type TP53. It was so aggressive that there was no form of treatment.  

“It was so quick,” said Malcolm. “The staff brought a bed for me into her room for one last night in hospital, and then the next day, 20th December, she was released home for palliative care under the Princess Alice Hospice and district nurses.  Ruth’s condition rapidly deteriorated over the next few days and a hospital bed was delivered to our house on Christmas Day. I continued to care for Ruth with support from the nurses however in the early hours of the 29th December she sadly passed away.  

Ruth had to be busy, always doing something – baking, organising, volunteering, walking…always on the move! She always kept going, always kept fit even when she felt tired. We were together 37 years. She was a wonderful lady and I miss her terribly.” 

Ruth rowing with Malcolm

Ruth and Malcolm’s life together was marked by activities on the water. They rowed in Henley Royal Regatta every year, and when Malcolm retired they designed and built a canal barge on which they travelled 1200km through France. Malcolm was also part of the build team on Gloriana, the Queen’s Row Barge which led the 2012 flotilla to celebrate Her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee. Malcolm himself holds several rowing world records including single handed non-stop of the River Thames, a total of 165 miles in 43 hours. So it is fitting that Malcolm has chosen to take his favourite activity and use it to create a special memorial to the life he shared with Ruth. He’s chosen to raise money for the research work of Leukaemia UK, hoping that one day there will be a treatment for AML TP53.  

On Saturday 11th May 2024 – the weekend before what would have been Ruth’s 70th birthday – Malcolm will aim to complete seven rows of 7km each. He is inviting friends, family and anyone wanting to support his memorial to Ruth to attempt an activity in any multiple of seven – for example running seven miles, swimming for 70 minutes.   

“We’ve done so many challenges to help others over the years together,” added Malcolm. “Leukaemia was just another challenge and we set out to beat it together until we got the terrible news. This time it’s me on my own doing the challenge. The money will go to Leukaemia UK to research leukaemia which devastates lives. For us it was seven weeks from the diagnosis to the sad conclusion – incredibly fast which has shocked everyone. We MUST do all we can to find a treatment for this form of AML.”  

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