A man from from Talgarth has dedicated 2024 to fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support by taking on extreme challenges, including climbing Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn in the same week.

Andy O’Brien is set to take on the alpine climbs this summer.

Mont Blanc on the French/Italian border is the highest mountain in Europe at 4,805.59 m  / 15,766 ft.  The Matterhorn, which straddles the border between Italy and Switzerland summit is4,478 metres (14,692 ft) above sea level.

Poor weather conditions have prevented Andy from scaling Mont Blanc twice in the past, but he is determined that this will be third time lucky. Andy will be supported by a couple of friends – Aaron Thomas, who is leading the expedition, and Nathan Sanders, as he attempts to scale both summits in a week.

Andy is keen to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and despite some injuries, he has already taken part in extreme events in Wales to raise money for the charity that offers emotional, practical, financial, and physical support to people living with cancer.

It was Andy’s approaching 50th birthday, and some straight-talking encouragement from his wife, that spurred him to train and to take on the physical and mental challenge of ultramarathons. Ultramarathons are any races, on any terrain that are longer than 26 miles 385 yards or 42.195 kilometres.

Living near the Brecon Beacons has proved especially useful in his training. 

Andy said: “My dad was a man of the mountains – and I have always loved hiking. To be honest, I don’t especially enjoy running as I have had eight knee surgeries and reconstruction procedures which are mostly the result of playing rugby and hi-contact martial arts.

“I’d recommend trail running though. It is a good sport because nobody judges you if you walk and you make time up on the downhills!”

Surprisingly, it has been the seemingly more gentle Macmillan challenges that have really tested Andy. In 2023, he took on the Macmillan Gower Peninsula Mighty Hike for the first time. This is a 26-mile coastal walk that has some challenging hills but the dramatic coastline of the hike enjoys incredible views over Rhossili Bay and Worms Head.

Looking back at the Mighty Hike Challenge, Andy said: “I completed the Gower Peninsula Mighty Hike. In my mind, I thought it would just be a nice walk, but it was the hardest of events! The hike took place in a heatwave, so it was very difficult, even though the scenery was beautiful. We were looked after really well and it was so well organised that I would definitely take on a Mighty Hike challenge again.”

Andy has been a successful charity fundraiser and to date has raised £10,000 for Cancer Research UK, £8,000 for Samaritans and currently has raised more than £2,500 through Mighty Hikes for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Sadly, within just two weeks of moving to their new home in Talgarth in August 2023, Andy became all too aware of the devastating impact that a cancer diagnosis can have, as Andy’s wife Dione received the news that she had breast cancer and underwent surgery.

Speaking about his wife’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, Andy has nothing but praise for her treatment. He said: ”The NHS have been amazing. There have been no delays and my wife has gone from diagnosis to surgery in just five to six weeks.

“At every step, as with my late sister and other family members, Macmillan have been there, advising, hand-holding and supporting her.”

In January, Dione began the OPTIMA Trial which aims to find out if using a test called Prosigna can help make safe and accurate decisions about whether or not chemotherapy treatment is needed for certain participants with ER-positive, HER2-negative early breast cancer.

For three weeks from Monday to Friday, the couple made the near 100-mile round trip between Talgarth and Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff, for Dione to undergo radiotherapy. 

They will continue to make round trip once every three months for the next five years for Dione to receive her injection. Dione will continue to take medications for 10 years.

In February, Andy took part in the Brecon to Cardiff Extreme event. Despite have sustained injury prior to the event, and crossing some extremely difficult terrain, Andy ran an impressive 24 miles to Merthyr before his injuries made it too difficult to continue. His next ultra event is the Vale Coastal Ultra on Saturday, April 6.

Speaking about Andy O’Brien’s fundraising challenges, Macmillan Relationship Fundraising Manager, Nicola Newhams, said: “In fundraising we like to aim high but Andy is taking this literally, with two mountain challenges in the one week. This is not an easy fundraising challenge and we wish him and his friends who are supporting him with these difficult climbs a safe and successful time. 

“We especially appreciate that Andy and Dione have had their own health challenges over the past few months and it hasn’t been the easiest of times to fundraise for us.

“More than three million people in the UK are living with the devastating impact of a cancer diagnosis and it is down to the generosity of spirit and tenacity of our amazing fundraisers like Andy that Macmillan can be here to do whatever it takes to support people living with cancer.

“At the moment Andy is half-way through reaching his £1,000 target for Macmillan Cancer Support. If you would like to support Andy, please visit his JustGiving page and donate whatever you can afford.”

If you have been inspired to take on a Mighty Hike Challenge for Macmillan, please visit Mighty Hikes | Macmillan Cancer Support. There are 15 Mighty Hikes taking where you can take part in either a full or half marathon across some of the UK's most breath-taking landscapes!

There are many, more sedate ways to raise money for Macmillan to help people living with cancer. Please visit their website for fundraising ideas www.macmillan.org.uk