Burnley duo tackling London Marathon for Brain Research Trust
Ready to tackle the 26.2 daunting miles through the nation's capital, the sister and widowed wife of a Burnley man who died last September after a four-month battle with an aggressive brain tumour are gearing up to run the London Marathon for Brain Research Trust.
After much-loved family man and passionate Clarets supporter Damian Stuttard died at the age of just 45, his wife Lisa Stuttard and sister Keira Crossley dedicated themselves to raising awareness around brain cancer and invaluable funds for potentially life-saving research, their efforts peaking with the London Marathon on April 22nd - a year to the day since father-of-three Damian was first diagnosed.
"It doesn't take away from anything that has happened, but it's the best thing we could've done," said Keira. "It's a family cause and it's been good for all of us, especially the children, because it gives us a positive focus."
Ensuring they are getting in plenty of rest ahead of the marathon, the pair have spent the last five months pounding the pavement, regularly logging 20+mile training runs and committing their Sundays to making sure that when the big day does come around, they will be ready.
"Training has gone well, but when you've got children and everything else in between, there's no planning involved!" Keira said, insisting that while she will continue running, she will not catch the 'marathon bug'. "It's hard when you're not a runner; you've got to cram a lot in. I take my hat off to people who run marathons all the time, I can't wait to get it done now!"
But fundraising for Brain Research Trust, a British medical research charity who offered them their final two places in the marathon, has spurred both women on.
With brain cancer research just the seventh-most funded in the UK, Damian himself expressed concerns at the paucity of financial support for brain cancer research, with the disease classified as a cancer of "unmet need" by Cancer Research UK, meaning that it has "realised only limited improvement in the past decade."
"Damian wanted to raise awareness of how underfunded brain cancer is: it needs a lot more investment," explained Keira, who said that the pair have smashed their £5,000 fundraising target. "It doesn't get the recognition it needs.
"We'll never know, but if earlier diagnoses can be developed, it might not have come to what it came to," Keira added. "The NHS are brilliant, but we need more funding to enable earlier diagnosis and treatment; eventually something will come - there'll be a breakthrough - and that's what we're hoping for."
With men statistically three times more likely to commit suicide than women in the UK, breaking the taboo around men talking about their mental health is also crucial for Lisa and Keira, especially given that Damian, who prior to his diagnosis believed he had been suffering from anxiety, sought help when he knew something was wrong.
"While the diagnosis was horrendous, it was not knowing what was wrong that kept him going back and talking because he knew something wasn't right," Keira said. "He listened to his mind and his body and he wasn't scared to talk about it.
"Being able to attach Damian's name to trying to make a change is key to keeping his legacy going," Keira added. "We feel we're doing everything he wanted to do, and we'll carry on doing it."
To donate to Keira and Lisa's cause, head to their JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/damoburnley.