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May honours Northern Ireland solicitor Leona Rankin who set up charity after fiance's cancer death

By Cate McCurry

A woman whose fiance died just weeks before their wedding after a 10-year battle with cancer has been given a prestigious award for a charity she set up in his memory.

Solicitor Leona Rankin lost Philip Wilson when he was just 36, seven weeks before they were due to marry.

Leona (30), who is originally from Coleraine but lives and works in Belfast, founded The Boom Foundation months after Philip's death to help her deal with the grief.

Philip was diagnosed with sarcoma, a rare cancer of the bone and soft tissue in 2003.

The Boom Foundation aims to raise money to help people who have been diagnosed with sarcoma and to raise awareness of the little-known cancer.

Leona, a solicitor at Carson McDowell, was this week honoured by Prime Minister Theresa May for her work to support people living with the disease.

Her hard work and dedication has so far raised £350,000, with the funds split between the Sarcoma UK charity and her own initiatives.

Because of her efforts, Leona has been named a Point of Light - an award that recognises inspirational volunteers.

Philip battled the disease for 10 years before passing away in march 2013.

Inspired by his life, Leona had the charity up and running by June that year.

In a personal letter to her, Theresa May said: "The Boom Foundation is changing the lives of hundreds of people living with sarcoma across Northern Ireland.

"Your tireless dedication to this cause is a wonderful tribute to Philip's life."

Leona said one of the most frustrating parts of a sarcoma diagnosis was the lack of knowledge that comes with it.

"While the health officials were incredible, they weren't sure of the prognosis," she explained.

"When The Boom Foundation was set up in 2013, my hope was that it would help patients in some small way and that gaps in the support system in Northern Ireland would be filled.

"Now, almost four years on, the charity has grown and has made a real difference to the lives of sarcoma patients in a way that I could never have imagined."

After the couple got engaged in the summer of 2011, Philip turned his attentions to the wedding and getting better. "He kept focused on getting better and pushing through the treatment... we never asked about how much time he had left," Leona said.

"It was all about his treatment, but we knew it was going to beat him."

For a while there was a glimmer of hope for the pair, with Philip entering remission. However, he was later given the devastating news that the cancer had returned.

After he went off work in September 2012, his condition continued to deteriorate over the following months.

Leona said: "We knew then it was getting bad. His bones were very brittle and he broke his arms with little movement.

"With sarcoma, the end of your life happens very quickly.

"After he died in March, we set the charity up by June. It happened very quickly."

Leona said she was "overwhelmed" at receiving the Point of Light award.

"Boom is a charity run by a team of four trustees and a small number of volunteers," she stressed.

"This award acknowledges the incredible work they each do in their own time, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their support and for all those who fund-raise and very kindly donate to Boom."

The charity's annual ball is taking place on November 25 at the Titanic Belfast.

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