Hundreds will put their best foot forward for Action Cancer’s Moonlight Walk in Belfast tomorrow night. Three people tell Judith Cole what it means to them
‘The rugby players backing my cousin’
Nigel Andrews (25), an environmental consultant who lives in Holywood, has recruited eight rugby players to do the Moonlight Walk in support of his cousin who is currently fighting cancer. He says:
I was listening to Radio Ulster and I heard Lucy, the Action Cancer events manager, speaking about how she was looking for people to come and take part in the walk. But she was also looking for more men to get involved. That caught my attention. I wanted to support it as my cousin is currently fighting breast cancer, and because I play for Holywood Rugby Club I thought I could recruit a few guys to take part with me and fill that gap.
With a purpose behind the walk in terms of raising awareness on behalf of my cousin, I thought it was a great opportunity. Action Cancer is the only Northern Ireland charity that offers free scans for women and they don’t get any help from government, they rely solely on the public. There are nine of us doing the walk — and I thought we might as well do it in a more extreme fashion so I’ve got pink afro wigs for us all and pink T-shirts, and I’m hoping to get pink tutus.
Somehow, I managed to persuade the guys it would be a good idea — but, actually, they didn’t need too much persuading when they heard about the cause. My cousin is just 28. She has young twins who are 18 months old.
At Christmas she went to the doctor with a lump. The doctor said it was probably nothing but advised her to get it checked out at hospital.
She had a scan and was told that they needed to remove the breast. After the results of the scan came back she had the surgery within just four or five days, and she just finished six months of chemotherapy last week.
To look after two young kids isn’t easy when you have full health, but for my cousin it was incredible that she also had to cope with receiving such a shocking diagnosis followed by surgery and chemotherapy — and all at Christmas time. But you have to get on with it and battle it, and she has done that with such amazing and admirable bravery.
She’s a great inspiration and that’s why I and many others in the family want to raise as much money as possible so that many more scans can be paid for through Action Cancer.
My cousin is probably relieved that she went to the doctor in the first place to get checked out — and that’s the message that needs to be told.
‘The walk is on what would have been mum’s birthday’
Kate McMaster (51), from Belfast, is walking with Team Betty in memory of her mother who died of cancer this year. She says:
Although we’re still grieving for our beloved mum, we know she’d be very proud that we’re raising money for the great cause that is Action Cancer. Mum was such a special person and a hard worker all her life and to be able to do the walk as a tribute to her is very fitting.
We’re Team Betty — me, my elder sister Pamela, Pamela’s daughter Carla, my daughter Claire and LJ, or Lorna Jane Fletcher, who’s Pamela’s son’s fiancée.
The walk is taking place on a very significant date — what would have been mum’s 85th birthday. She passed away in February this year and it’s still very raw for us, so it’s been great to have something to focus on. Our weekly training sessions have been a chance to talk about mum and recall happy and funny memories.
Our brother, Philip, who’s the eldest of the three of us, is a minister. He lives in England but came back home to officiate at mum’s funeral service which was very nice as he was able to put a very personal touch to it.
Mum was a very interesting character. Originally from Dublin, she was born in 1925 and had a tough upbringing. She had three older brothers and her own mother was very ill for much of her childhood and died when mum was just 14. They were a Protestant family and her father was a sexton in the Church of Ireland.
After her mother died mum was sent away from home to some distant cousins in Lisburn because her father and brothers felt she had to get work and live in somewhere. So young, she made that journey on her own and established a new life for herself in Northern Ireland. It was sad because she lost touch with her family — her brothers moved from Dublin in England and all the family ties were broken.
Mum was a great example of hard work, both in her job as a domestic assistant at the Ulster Hospital, where she was employed for some 30 years, and at home near Stormont bringing up her family.
When my sister and I got married and moved on, mum and dad relocated to Dundonald. She was known by many people in the community for being jolly and upbeat.
Dad passed away in 2002 and because mum was becoming more isolated on her own, we got her moved about three years ago to sheltered accommodation closer to my house in east Belfast.
It was good because she took part in little events that were held for the residents such as the Salvation Army lunch club. She enjoyed it because she was a good singer and she could take part in the songs, and she also attended a group at Age Concern once a week.
But just after Christmas there were a few indications that things weren’t quite right with mum — she was becoming confused. The doctor took blood to run some tests but within just a day she went downhill rapidly and we had to take her hospital. After some tests we were told that she had lesions on her brain which explained her confusion. He said that due to the size and number of them there wasn’t any treatment they could offer. We were told the lesions were probably a secondary cancer which meant there would have been cancer in another part of her body.
It was such a terrible shock for us because at Christmas mum had been her usual self, making her own food, taking her medication and taking part in the activities at my house.
Now we were being told that it was just a matter of time and that all they could do was make sure mum was comfortable.
She was quite light-hearted about it in hospital, and would say things like ‘It’s my time to go, I’ll be leaving soon’. She would recite songs and she said she regretted not seeing her grandchildren get married.
Mum passed away on February 23, just about six weeks from when we found out she was unwell. But in doing the walk we wanted to dwell on the positive. If the funds we raise through mum’s memory go towards screening and helping to detect cancer earlier then that will make it worthwhile.
The things that console us are that mum and dad both had long lives and were active, independent people. Cancer affects all ages and people can suffer very early in life and be ill for a very long time. We know there are people much worse off — we had our mum for 84 years and our dad for 78 — so let’s hope that the walk will raise lots of money to help fight this dreadful disease.
‘My aunt Hilary was so vibrant and happy’
Christina Elliott (18), a health, social care and leisure student from Belfast, is doing the Moonlight Walk in memory of her aunt Hilary who died two years ago, aged 40. Christina says:
One of my friends found out about the Moonlight Walk and thought it would be a great thing to do. When she asked if I’d like to do it I immediately said yes. It’s for such a brilliant cause.
I’m doing the walk in memory of my aunt Hilary, who passed away in April two years ago — she’d just turned 40. She’d had breast cancer, which was a terrible shock for the whole family, and she had some treatment after that.
After the treatment she was fine, and you expect that that will be that. But the absolute worst happened and the cancer returned. She seemed to cope ok with the news but I don’t know if that was her putting on a brave face, which would have been typical of her. On the outside, she appeared to be coping with it — inside, she must have been devastated. Tragically, she didn’t recover from it the second time.
My aunt Hilary and I were very close. What stands out the most for me is her happiness, the joy she spread wherever she went.
There was a lot of joy at her wedding, just a week before she died. Hilary was Scottish so there were a lot of kilts. Close family and friends were there — it was quite a big wedding, and then there was a party afterwards when even more guests arrived. She looked stunning, in a cream dress. It was a really lovely day.
She’d met my uncle William in Scotland and then they moved back to Northern Ireland.
I stayed over at their house in east Belfast at weekends, and we went to the cinema together from time to time — she was great company.
So it was very hard to see her go through her illness. When I heard the news that she’d gone I didn’t know what to do, I was completely shocked. Nobody expected it so soon. The whole family was dreadfully shocked but we all support each other and try to get through it. We remember Hilary the way she was — vibrant and happy.
By doing the walk I want to raise money to help other people, and raise awareness of this disease. Action Cancer is doing a great work to provide screening and promote early detection campaigns.
Action Cancer is the only Northern Ireland charity offering breast screening to women aged 40-49 and 70+ in order to complement the NHS. The Action Cancer Moonlight Walk begins at 10pm on tomorrow at Stormont. Visit www. actioncancer.org for more.
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