Burnley pair raising for Brain Research Trust in memory of beloved father-of-three
Gearing up to tackle the London Marathon in 2018, the wife and sister of a Burnley man who died after being diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour earlier this year have dedicated themselves to raising funds and awareness for a neurological charity.
Having experienced the impact of brain cancer first hand after father-of-three Damian Stuttard sadly died in September after a four-month battle with the illness, Damian's sister, Keira Crossley, and his widowed wife, Lisa, are determined to use their story to raise the public profile of neurological conditions and shatter the taboo surrounding mental illness in men.
On April 22nd, 2018 - exactly a year and one day since Damian's diagnosis - the pair will be running their first ever marathon and, channeling Damian's own passion for charity, they will be raising funds for Brain Research Trust, a British medical research charity, who offered Keira and Lisa their final two places in the marathon.
"We met up with Damian's brain surgeon to make sure there was nothing else we could've done for him, and she was heartbroken at how the politics affect how underfunded brain cancer research is," said Keira, who explained that Damian himself had been concerned at the lack of financial support for brain cancer research.
"She was talking about different things they are developing, like blood tests that could pinpoint brain cancer a lot quicker, so it made us want to carry everything on for Damian," Keira added.
"We thought we'd take Damian's passion for fundraising on," Keira continued. "But it's not all about fundraising - it'll keep Damian's legacy going. It's a focal point for the family to help distract us from the grief; it's a mental health thing."
For Damian's loved ones, the mental health angle is imperative. With men around three times more likely to commit suicide than women in the UK, Damian was a keen champion of addressing mental health issues and of opening a dialogue for men in particular to confront anything that troubles them by talking to others and seeking help.
"When Damian was initially taken in to Royal Blackburn Hospital, he'd been suffering from what he thought were mental health issues that had been going on for a couple of years, and it turns out the tumour was growing in the part of his brain that controls emotions and thought processes," said Keira. "That was his big symptom.
"Mental health in men is a massive taboo, and if you'd ever spoken to anyone who knew Damian - because he thought he was suffering from anxiety - his mental health was his biggest concern for his final two years," Keira added. "And that was what led to being diagnosed: by talking about everything.
"He really wanted to get that point across that men can be open and talk about suicidal thoughts and all these things that are brushed under the carpet. If something doesn't feel right, it isn't right, and if people keep talking, things can be sorted out a lot quicker."
They say that a lot of running a marathon is mental, and for most people taking on the daunting prospect of 26.2 miles is significant in itself, but for Keira and Lisa the London Marathon itself has an even more special edge to it.
"He was taken in [to hospital] on Saturday the 21st of April and on the 22nd was the London Marathon," said Keira of Damian - a lifelong Clarets fan and former season ticket-holder at Turf Moor. "He'd had his scans and we were waiting for the consultant, and we were talking about the marathon.
"I said 'I'll do that next year,' and he said, 'Look Keira, anything is possible, you can do anything you want to do,'" Keira added. "Just after that the consultant came in and dropped a bombshell.
"We're excited and nervous, it seems a little surreal I suppose," Keira said. "But we've got to do it.
"It's not a lost cause, it's a good cause."
Keira and Lisa will be running the London Marathon on April 22nd, 2018. A Facebook page detailing their fundraising efforts and links to pages on which you can donate will be available soon.