A Manx mum-of-two, who has helped raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for Cancer Research UK by leading the island’s Relay For Life, has been awarded a prestigious international honour.
Nicola Walkingshaw, 37, who is also a breast cancer survivor, has been selected as a Relay For Life Global Hero of Hope by the American Cancer Society.
Nicola, who has participated in Relay since 2011 and was Event Chair between 2013 and 2015, joins an elite group from around the world to receive the honour.
The lawyer, from Douglas, will now act as a Relay For Life ambassador, sharing her story of overcoming cancer and her experience of leading the fundraising event with others in the fight against cancer.
Relay For Life is a global overnight fundraising festival for cancer research and takes place in over 20 countries including the United States and Australia. The Isle of Man has held an event since 2010 at the National Sports Centre in Douglas where teams of between eight to 15 people - of all ages, levels of fitness and from all walks of life - take it in turns to walk round a track while everyone else enjoys a wide range of fun activities on offer. Team members not on the track take turns to rest, eat, or sleep in their tents, which are set up in the middle of the site. The event includes a lap of honour for cancer survivors and a Candle of Hope ceremony in memory or in celebration of loved ones.
Nicola first entered the relay with her family to honour her late mother who lost her bowel cancer battle in late 2010. She was a team member in 2011 and 2012, and was Event Chair for three years between 2013 and 2015 where she shaped the event into the high value, trailblazing fundraiser that it is today. During her three years as Event Chair, Isle of Man Relay raised almost £300,000.
Nicola said: “Although Mum sadly died later in 2010 followed by my nana just one month later due to a cancerous brain tumour, each time I volunteer for Relay, I know that I am doing something to make it better for all of those families relying on research to save their lives, or those of their loved ones.
“After taking part in the event, I saw some huge opportunities to reach out to our community and to get local involvement increased, to maximise fundraising and put the event on the local map. I knew that engaging with the community to fight against cancer would turn such a hugely negative time in my life into a massively positive experience.”
Nicola and her committee grew the event with corporate sponsor and media partner engagement, recruiting local businesses for provision of supplies, refreshments and entertainment at the event, as well as increasing the number of teams to over 50, and participants to almost 1,000.
During her third year as Event Chair, in June 2015, Nicola was herself diagnosed with breast cancer. She was treated with chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiotherapy between July 2015 and February 2016 and has just finished a course of herceptin, and will continue to take tamoxifen for the next ten years.
Nicola, who continues to volunteer as committee support for Relay, said: “My family, particularly my husband and children made my life worthwhile before this ordeal and throughout treatment they were all I focussed on. My family and friends rallied round and each in individual ways took care of my mind while doctors took care of my body. I continued to organise and chair Relay in 2016 whilst undergoing chemotherapy and actually it kept me busy and gave me the motivation to keep going, although being exhausting mentally and physically!
“Cancer has affected too many members of my family and for the benefit of my son and daughter, now aged just 8 and 5, I want to change the outcomes for theirs and future generations.
“I am absolutely thrilled to hear about the ongoing discoveries that scientists are making every day and I am confident that the work of a charity like Cancer Research UK is absolutely necessary for that to happen.
“Some of the treatments I have had are 'new' drugs which weren't available years ago. To know that discoveries are being made daily which could change the course of life for future cancer patients is incredible.”
Supporters like Nicola enable Cancer Research UK to fund the work of scientists, doctors and nurses who are dedicated to beating cancer by understanding its causes and investigating how best to prevent, diagnose and treat it.
Isle of Man Relay For Life is free to enter this year and money raised funds research in the North West, where people from the Island are treated.
Cancer Research UK’s Senior Fundraising Manager Paula Jones said: “Nicola has not only helped to raise Cancer Research UK’s profile massively but has also increased health awareness on the Isle of Man by making cancer a topic people are more open to talk about.
“Nicola has been inspirational in uniting the Manx community to support Cancer Research UK. I could not think of a more perfect cancer survivor and voice for the Global Hero of Hope.
“Through her amazing leadership and vision, Nicola helped to triple Relay for Life fundraising in just three years, raising £128,500 in her third year in office and almost £300,000 during her time as Event Chair. The 2015 event ranked second in Cancer Research UK’s Relay For Life events.
“We are in awe of Nicola’s determination and commitment to raising vital funds to help beat cancer sooner.”
The Isle of Man Relay for Life takes place at the National Sports Centre, Groves Road, Douglas for 24 hours on 26 August starting at 12pm. This year the event is FREE to take part and is sponsored by PokerStars with 3fm as media partner.
To enter a team go to: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/support-us/find-an-event/charity-walks/relay-for-life.
Photo - Nicola Walkingshaw during her cancer treatment with husband Allan, son Brody and daughter Lily.