It’s a major challenge taken up by Bertrand Pollet in tribute to his wife Véronique, who died of leukemia a year ago: nearly 5,800 km by bike between Norway and Spain. Through this personal ordeal, this man developed a major project to raise awareness of marrow donation, carried out between July and December 2023. The objective is twofold: to raise awareness and encourage the practice of bone marrow donation, and to raise funds for the research.
But Bertrand Pollet does not see it as a sporting challenge: “The only preparation I imposed on myself before starting was to lose weight. I took a lot of it while supporting my wife through her illness,” says the man who was already cycling before starting out.
For him, it is above all a mental challenge. Because if traveling 70 kilometers a day for five months is a grueling adventure, it is even more so when it is punctuated by early meetings across the seven countries crossed (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France and Spain) to meet Europeans.
By working hand in hand with EuroVero, the trip was made possible. This association, created by Véronique’s best friend the day after her death, aims to organize cycling trips across Europe to raise awareness about bone marrow donations. Bertrand is the ambassador. “There would have been no logistical support without them. I proposed the idea of an itinerary and meetings organized by the association were added to this schedule. » This is the heart of the project to raise public awareness of this gift, which is still too little known.
But this is also what made the trip more difficult: “We had to respect the schedule developed with EuroVero and therefore meet deadlines. We are far from the classic bicycle trip where it is possible to ride at your own pace.” A job that pays since the German bone marrow donor center confirms a large number of people registered in its register. In France, many people were also reached through conferences.
A contrasting vision of giving between different European countries
Throughout his meetings and discussions, he was able to compare practices in the countries he crossed. He notes the lack of communication in France on bone marrow donation compared to other European countries: “In France, the term “bone marrow donation” is frightening because it is confused with the term “spinal cord”, which suggests to a painful puncture in the spine,” explains Bertrand Pollet. However, it is in fact a sample either from the blood, in the majority of cases, or from the posterior bones of the pelvis. “We should rather speak of “stem cell donation”, as in Belgium. » he continues.
Another major difference: the age limit for registering in the bone marrow donor register. “In France, it is possible to register only up to 35 years old while you can give up to 60 years old. In Germany you can register up to 55 years old. » Also more sensitive to donations, there are today several million Germans registered, compared to 300,000 in France. Once registered, the volunteer may be asked to donate his cells, if he is compatible with a patient in research. “One in 7 people on the register makes a donation. So when we encourage 7 people to register, it’s a life saved,” rejoices Bertrand.
But the meetings were not the only objective. Throughout his journey, Bertrand Pollet raised funds for the national associations of the countries he crossed. For the French association Laurette Fugain, Bertrand Pollet collected €3,000. Finally, this journey wanted to highlight the work of the researchers on the journey’s YouTube channel.
Strong emotions on the Camino francès
The route is not chosen at random. It corresponds to the route of EuroVelo 3, a cycle route nicknamed the “pilgrims’ cycle route”. “I had my sights set on him for a while,” says Bertrand. “With Véronique, I had experienced very powerful moments in Santiago de Compostela. Those were my last memories of her in good health. I made a promise to myself to go back. »
The spiritual dimension of the pilgrimage was not at the origin of his journey. But he does not remain insensitive to Camino francès: “It took me several days to recover from this part of the trip. I felt the weight of the history of all the pilgrims, as if each had left a part of themselves, he describes. On this portion, I met a Korean woman, without religious conviction, who had the same feeling. Without understanding why, she cried in every cathedral visited in the Camino Frances. »
Upsetting encounters which can be explained, according to him, by the sincerity of the pilgrims who begin a real personal journey, despite the cold of November. Among them, the new ambassador of the EuroVero association: “I rode with a Romanian Orthodox woman who was going to Santiago de Compostela. By discussing the association, she became aware of the cause. So much so that she became an ambassador and continues to ride today on behalf of the association. » On the cycle routes of Europe, the torch has indeed been taken up!
Bone marrow donation
Bertrand Pollet’s journey reminds us how essential it is to register in the registers to be able to give certain patients a chance of recovery. Although the file of marrow donors is worldwide, the probability of finding the rare gem for a patient is very low: there is 1 chance in 1 million of having two compatible individuals. For more information and to request registration as a bone marrow donor, go to the biomedicine agency website.