With amazing timing, I was invited to the second annual Tobi's Ball on Saturday night - a black-tie fundraiser for Norwich-based charity, It's On The Ball, which works to raise money and awareness of testicular cancer. It took place just days after I suddenly spotted a load of publicity for a special Channel 4 programme fundraising for cancer research and celebrating reaching the point where as many people survive cancer as succumb to it. A huge landmark in cancer research and the development of treatment, and how better to acknowledge this amazing change than by helping to raise awareness of a lesser publicised form of the disease and raising money for such a good cause? Anyone who has lost anyone to cancer, or who has suffered themselves, will know how hard it is to watch someone you love go through that. The fact that this charity in particular was set up by a group of men who had all suffered and survived the disease makes it all the more important to me, because the chairman of the charity is in fact my boyfriend's dad. Vince was diagnosed with cancer twice - yes lightning does strike twice - but bravely fought it and won the battle both times, long before I knew him. Knowing how much my own father means to me, and to my family, I know that we are all very grateful he had the expert medical care he did and that it was spotted early enough so that he could be here today for his son and his own family.
The ball was hosted by Sprowston Manor, in Norwich, and the entertainment could be found in the ballroom marquee, which was draped with icicle fairy lights with blue lighting and was decked out with fantastic decorations - my favourite were the choice of vases filled with mini chocolate footballs, as the charity is particularly targeting footballers. The whole evening was organised with a certain level of cheekiness which really added to the atmosphere, and it was amazing to think this was only the second time it had run - it was so polished and well-organised. We luckily arrived just a minute or two before the apocalyptic thunderstorm hit, and thank goodness we did as the people coming in after us were drenched! Dressed in our finest, we were looking forward to an evening spent doing something a little bit different - the ball promised drinks, a three-course meal, a raffle, live entertainment including musicians, a singer and disco, an auction and some great speeches - not bad for £40 a ticket, especially when you know that money is all going to such an amazing cause.The entertainment kicked off with welcome drinks and some live music by two very talented musicians on the saxophone, clarinet and various other instruments, before wedding singer Tommy Winn, who has now proved a huge hit two years in a row, took to the stage. Kicking off the ceremony was professional footballer Paul McVeigh who compèred for the evening and talked us through everything from the menu to some great games that livened up the crowd and later, the auction. He was very popular and had a great way with the crowd, who he had in stitches for much of the night. There were lots of great ideas for fundraising games which had us competing to win prizes from bottles of wine to cash prizes, and I loved the way the donations were in built into the evening - it was really nice to donate money while having a bit of fun. After three-course dinner - which also made me chuckle because the starter and dessert were both ball-shaped - of stuffed balls, chicken and passionfruit tart with sorbet, we were all pretty stuffed, but were treated to coffees and homemade shortbread - a lovely touch!
The meal was followed by the auction, which sported prizes including a signed Barcelona football pennant, a spa package, some signed football shirts and Formula One goodies. A pretty amazing spread and really good fun to watch the auction unfold and people got more competitive and even started bidding wars on their own tables! It was really fun and probably one of the highlights of the night, particularly as they managed to raise over £3,000 from the auction alone thanks to some very generous bids. It's times like that when, as Mark and I said to each other, it makes you wish you were rich enough to be able to slap down a grand on the table and give it all to charity - what a great feeling, to know you made such a difference to the total at an event like this! But we know we all made a difference that night, whether it was paying for the ticket, buying raffle tickers, playing the games or even having professional photos taken in exchange for a donation to the charity. We made sure we did everything and it was money well spent, plus we all had an amazing time!After the dinner and auction, there were the speeches, led by Vince as chairman. His speech was perfect - short, simple, but really hit you hard and I found myself welling up as he spoke of a young lad, Alfie, who I had met only a few weeks previously. Alfie lost his dad to testicular cancer, and his mum has been left a very young widow thanks to the disease. The pair both hugely support the charity, but couldn't be there on Saturday because they were walking the streets of Norwich, raising awareness by taking part in the Stand Up To Cancer walk. Truly inspiring and, as I'm sure you agree, the perfect example of why this charity's work is so important - with more research and awareness, the lives of countless fathers could be saved so that they can be there to watch their sons, and daughters, grow up. Throughout the evening, the organisers had also created a slideshow of photos from various other fundraisers held throughout the year which was displayed on the back wall. The night continued with a lot of dancing, chatting and great music - I don't think I've ever seen such a packed dance floor for the entire evening before!
I'll finish with a bit more information about It's On The Ball - the charity aims to support patients and their families by providing support packs and a buddy-system to the newly diagnosed, plus there is financial assistance available to help with travel and accommodation costs for those required to travel to London for specialist treatment. They also hold several events throughout the year to help raise awareness at locations including The Forum and University of East Anglia in Norwich. While other fundraisers are held throughout the year, Tobi's Ball contributes a huge part of the money needed by the charity - with over £7,000 raised at last year's event and expectation that this year's will beat that total. This year, the charity was named Charity of the Year by the Norfolk Football Association which has hugely helped to raise awareness and funds for It's On The Ball. Word is spreading thanks to the hard work of the trustees and volunteers, but more still needs to be done. So why not get involved somehow? Help raise awareness like I am now and make a difference. Even the tiniest donation will make a difference to the work of It's On The Ball, but there are other ways of getting involved - why not just take their pledge to check yourself, or your boyfriend, every month? Just running through their check-list for a few minutes every month could help you notice instantly if anything changes and the earlier the diagnosis, the greater chance of survival.
Do you know someone who has been affected by testicular cancer? Have you been to a charity ball - what was your favourite part?