Awe-inspiring stories from Cancer Research UK's drive to raise millions to help ... trends now
The 41-year-old mother-of-two with incurable breast cancer, running to give hope to others facing an uncertain future. The woman racing to boost funding for pancreatic cancer research – the disease that killed her mum on the day of her wedding. And the three siblings who, astonishingly, have had their stomachs removed to stop them developing a rare genetic cancer that has stalked their family – but haven't let it stop them from tackling tough, muddy runs to raise thousands.
These are just three awe-inspiring stories of participants in this year's Cancer Research UK Race For Life.
Now in its 30th year, more than ten million people have taken part so far, raising a staggering £920 million – and The Mail on Sunday is backing the drive, which helps fund cutting-edge research into the disease that affects one in two of us.
This year there are more than 450 events at nearly 190 locations across the UK, with women, men and children running, walking or jogging 3km, 5km or 10km.
Anyone can sign up (see panel on the right) regardless of fitness, background or experience – and participants include everyone from OAPs and mothers pushing prams to people with their pets and devoted joggers. You can race alone or in groups, and you certainly don't need to have had cancer or even know anyone who has.
But read on to hear about some of the inspiring individuals whose lives have been touched by the illness and how they've not let it stand in their way...
FORMIDABLE: Muddy Sophie Springford, who has breast cancer, after a run with husband Jamie
When mother-of-two Sophie Springford was told the devastating news that she had incurable breast cancer at 37, and given just two years to live, she vowed 'to live life to the full and make every day count, whatever my future'.
True to her word, she has defied the odds – earlier this month she was one of hundreds of runners who took part in the Pretty Muddy Race For Life in Norwich. The 5km obstacle course includes mud pits, climbing frames, tunnels and a giant inflatable slide.
By her side throughout was husband Jamie, a primary care medic, and their sons Isaac, 16, and Jude, 13, as well as three other families.
Sophie says: 'The cancer has spread to my bones – it's in my spine and hips – so I'm in pain every day and have to be careful.
'The obstacles that involved climbing and crawling I just walked around – I was chief photographer for those bits. But I got around the whole thing and together we raised more than £1,800 for Cancer Research UK.'
Sophie noticed a lump in her right breast in April 2018, a few months before her 37th birthday.
'I got it checked out immediately, but assumed the tests would come back negative,' she says. However, a mammogram and biopsy showed she had early-stage breast cancer.
Sophie underwent surgery to remove the lump but, a month later, as doctors were concerned it hadn't removed all of the tumour, she had a double mastectomy.
Then, at her six-month check-up, she showed doctors some small spots that had appeared on her chest around her surgery scars, and she was rushed in for more tests.
'I was told the cancer was in my liver – and that meant it was incurable,' says Sophie. 'It was horrific, but I couldn't just fall apart, as much as I wanted to – I had to carry on being a mum to my sons.'
Sophie was put on chemotherapy, hormone-blocking medication and palbociclib – a newer, targeted breast cancer drug that stops tumours growing.
'My liver is clear now and the cancer in my bones is stable. I've seen my 40th birthday, I'm watching my boys grow up, I've lived more life since my diagnosis than I did before – and I'm hoping for even more time with my boys.'
Sophie says she's taking part in the Race For Life for those who are also facing a difficult prognosis and to support research that might help incurable breast cancer patients in the future.
'I know mine will progress again,' she says. 'Even if something new is discovered, it's probably too late for me now, but I want to do my bit to help the next generation.'THEY DIDN'T SAY A WORD - I KNEW MY MUM HAD GONE
It was meant to be the happiest day of her life. But hours before her wedding on October 8, 2016, Lara Heaney received the news she had been dreading.
Her mum, Ann, had died that morning, just seven months after being told she had pancreatic cancer – which is almost always fatal if caught late.
'At 6am I was woken by the intercom in my flat. It was my dad, Andrew, and my younger brother, David,' says Lara, 36, a deputy manager at an aquarium in Newquay, Cornwall. 'They didn't have to say a word, I knew Mum had gone. I just said, "No, not today!" and burst into tears.'
Ann's presence was heavily felt throughout Lara's big day as she married highways manager Sean, 40. Lara says: 'Apparently Mum's last words were that the show had to go on. So, in her honour, we pulled together and vowed to make it special. And even though it was an October day, Sean and I walked out of the church into blazing sunshine – Dad turned to me and said, "That's your mum shining down."
'I knew we had to laugh, dance, drink and enjoy ourselves in Mum's memory. And, apart from when I first got the news, I didn't cry once in sorrow all day.'
THE SHOW GOES ON: Lara Heaney with her late mother Ann, who died seven months after her cancer diagnosis
TOUGH STUFF: Lara (centre) with friends Louise (left) and Lexi after their muddy fundraiser
Ann was only 59 when she died. She'd been given a crushing diagnosis that, with high-strength chemotherapy, she might see out nine months. Without it she might have only three months left. She opted for treatment, as her other daughter, Sarah, 40, was expecting a baby. Ann was desperate to see Lara's wedding day, too.
'It's been more than seven years since Mum died, and while I've never shied away from talking about her and our wedding day, it's only now that I've finally opened up about all that happened,' says Lara, now mother to five-year-old son Lowen.
Ann's premature death has driven Lara to support the Race For Life campaign in the hope that research will find better treatments for pancreatic cancer. Last year she completed a 5km event in Truro, Cornwall, and last weekend took part in the Pretty Muddy Race For Life.
Lara says: 'Lowen never knew Mum, but he and Sean cheered me on. Mum would