Musician faces down own difficulties to take to the ivories in a three-hour charity fundraiser

published on 10 Apr 2019

Joan with daughters

Despite advanced macular degeneration, Guisborough Salvation Army pianist Joan Welburn, 90, took part in a three-hour piano-athon for Cancer Research UK.

Joan selected around 170 tunes to play throughout the three-hour period at The Salvation Army church (Westgate TS14 6AW) where she is the accompanist and where she regularly delights the congregation with after-service musical contributions. She divided her programme into various segments with something chosen for all, including a selection from the musical Oliver!

She revealed the inspiration behind the fundraiser is her youngest daughter, April Claire McGilligan, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer aged 38 but has successfully battled to reach her 50th birthday.

April Claire’s family credit the improvements in treatment to her longevity and wanted to do all they could to raise funds to ensure she, and others facing a similar diagnosis, continue to benefit from latest research and to spend precious more years with their loved ones.

Joan said: “The hardest thing of all was holding April Claire’s hand and hearing her say she had cancer. I was thinking ‘She is my daughter and I don’t want her to die’. I didn’t realise then that she’d survive three lots of cancer and that is the amazing thing. April Claire’s very clever and keeps going. I’m very proud of her.

“As a family we don’t let ourselves despair – we do allow ourselves to cry. Life is a challenge but I have firm faith in God, even as we face April Claire’s illness.”

Of her own accomplishments in supporting the family cause, Joan is humble. Few realise that she is registered severely sight-impaired/blind and faces challenges with her greatly reduced sight. She said: “My grandson always told people ‘granny plays out of her mind’ which was the title of the fundraiser!”

Friends and family created and sold baked goods and refreshments so that people could enjoy a snack while they listened to Joan’s programme of music. With donations taken on the day, Joan has so far raised more than £700, with other fundraising events by the family to contribute to Cancer Research’s work.

Joan’s eldest daughter, Cressida Tomlinson, said: “We’ve all been inspired by April Claire’s positivity since she first battled against breast cancer, and even after she lost her son unexpectedly last year. Despite Mum being registered blind and facing the challenges that come with greatly reduced sight, she was determined to be part of our family fundraiser – we’re so proud of her.”

People can donate to the family’s fundraising efforts.