By Jackson Howarth, Freelance Writer, British Science Festival 

One of the most heart-warming events at this years’ British Science Festival will be a eulogy.

The Eulogy of Toby Peach’ has been seen by thousands, including audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In amongst a flurry of 5-Star reviews, you will repeatedly hear words like “uplifting”, “heart-warming” and “fabulous”.

I recently spoke to Toby to find out what to expect. He said that like all eulogies, “The Eulogy of Toby Peach is a celebration of life”. Aged 19, and again when he was 21, Toby was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. He explained that when faced with his own eulogy, and the subsequent realisation that it hadn’t happened, he seized the opportunity to read his himself. 

Toby explained that it can be hard to find hope when cancer is so often portrayed as a fight. But one source of hope for him became science.

He started reading about the discoveries behind his survival, and found that it’s only been 70 years since trials with chemo began. “70 years ago, I wouldn’t have stood a chance, and I wouldn’t be able to acknowledge that I’m alive because someone took a step to work something out.” Likewise, Toby laughed as he told me that “when I had a stem cell transplant, I found out that in 1950, the process had been discovered because someone was trying to freeze bull’s sperm.”

He continued: “The scientist in me has helped understand and process my experiences, and to appreciate everything. Being a bit of a geek does help me acknowledge why I am alive, and being able to reflect on the science can give you hope. There are reasons why we will get better and better.”

One contribution, echoed repeatedly by the thousand-odd scientists who have sat in the audience is that: “Eulogy presents a unique opportunity to experience the human side of science.” Toby recalled that after seeing the show “one scientist had remarked about how easy it was to get caught up between budgeting and Petri dishes, and lose sight of the real impact they have on people’s lives.”

‘Eulogy’ is therefore an opportunity to join Toby on an inspiring, outrageous, and uncompromising journey, as he attempts to answer the question of why he is still here. There are many lesson’s to be learnt along the way. For all of us who have been and will be affected (Toby is quick to remind me that 1 in 2 people now develop cancer) it is a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon what he called the biggest taboo in an already taboo subject — hope.

The power of ‘Eulogy’, to entertain, to comfort, to teach, and to put science into perspective, is a wonderful example of the impact that citizens and non-traditional experts can have in the world of science. Toby’s story is a special example of what the BSA and the British Science Festival are all about — opening science up to everybody. By attending ‘Eulogy’, you can be part of this mission, and simultaneously get involved in Toby’s hope-inspiring process. For anyone who has not yet booked, I strongly urge you to do so. You won’t regret it.

The Eulogy of Toby Peach’ will be performed on Wednesday 6 September, 20.00 – 21.00, at St Andrew’s Church in Brighton City Centre. All Festival tickets are free but you must book in advance.

Also, if, like Toby, you are interested on the science behind his experiences, the day after ‘Eulogy’ you can come along to the ‘Treating leukaemia: the cell therapy revolution’ where Farlan Veraitch will explain why it couldn’t be a more exciting time for the field of cell therapy. This event will be on Thursday 7 September 14.00 – 15.00, in C122, Checkland Building, University of Brighton.

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