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Bury St Edmunds Relay for Life begins with hundreds joining the 'emotional rollercoaster'



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Hundreds of people are taking part in an 'emotional and poignant' 24-hour relay to raise thousands of pounds for a vital cancer charity.

Relay for Life is under way in Nowton Park, Bury St Edmunds, after a two year break due to the pandemic with fund-raising teams of family and friends completing laps around the course.

The event, which aims to raise at least £20,000 for Cancer Research UK, began with cancer survivors following a lone piper Stuart Jones for the opening lap.

Among them was Jean Lovell, 80, of Bury St Edmunds, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago and was taking part part for the first time.

The great grandmother, who lost her mum to bowel cancer and her sister is recovering from bladder cancer, said: "I find it so moving to see how many people who survived.

"We need to talk about it (cancer) because people don't talk about it enough.

Jean Lovell. Picture: Paul Derrick
Jean Lovell. Picture: Paul Derrick

"If you are offered a test, go for it. It was a routine mammogram that saved my life."

As the cancer was in both breasts, she had to have a double mastectomy.

Jean, a retired nurse, said: "I was only off work for about three weeks. I had to push myself. It's like if you've got an apple and there's a bad bit, you cut that out.

"I'm still the same person – just minus some bits."

The launch of the first lap of Relay for Life Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Paul Derrick
The launch of the first lap of Relay for Life Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Paul Derrick

She wrote about her journey with cancer and shared it with her colleagues to help with their training.

"I've always been a positive person and I do my best not to let things get me down," added Jean.

About 239 people registered for the event including 62 survivors, whose names were read out before the first lap.

Benjamin Bragg-Hart, Martin Hart, Nicola Bragg-Hart and Finley Bragg-Hart. Picture: Paul Derrick
Benjamin Bragg-Hart, Martin Hart, Nicola Bragg-Hart and Finley Bragg-Hart. Picture: Paul Derrick

Survivor Nicola Bragg-Hart, 33, of Bury St Edmunds, was walking with her family.

Aged just 18 months, she was diagnosed with a Stage 3 Wilms' tumor in her right kidney and endured a year of chemotherapy as well as surgery to remove the kidney.

She was walking with her dad Martin Hart, 58, who has been in remission since 2013 from non hodgkin's lymphoma of the skin.

The teams enjoy the relay. Picture: Paul Derrick
The teams enjoy the relay. Picture: Paul Derrick

The mum of two said: "It feels very poignant especially now having two of my own, seeing them go through that 18 months stage and thinking about what my parents would have gone through is unimaginable.

"It gives you a lot of perspective with events like this when you see all the survivors and team members having seen someone go through cancer.

"It feels like a real celebratory event for those who have survived but also to honour those who have lost their lives to cancer."

The event raises money for Cancer Research UK. Picture: Paul Derrick
The event raises money for Cancer Research UK. Picture: Paul Derrick

Her team including sons Benjamin, six, and Finley, three, was 'Chippy Tuesdays' inspired by the family's Tuesday visits to Peyton Plaice fish and chip shop on the Howard estate.

They have already raised just over £1,500.

Nicola, a professional performer who has appeared on the West End, was due to sing at the event.

Another group of fund-raisers was 'Friends Forever' made up of two teams with about 25 members from Haverhill, Linton and Mildenhall.

They were inspired by friend Mark Sanderson, of Linton, who has survived cancer several times.

Emma Davis, of Haverhill, said: "It's such an amazing event and it brings it back to what it's all about – it's emotional and inspiring."

They have generated nearly £3,500 as a team, which includes two other cancer survivors Sue Hammond, of Haverhill, and Jane Whybrow, of Sudbury.

The relay includes themed laps such as bubble time, heroes versus villains, Christmas and the movie Grease.

Visitors are welcome to the event which features food vendors and fund-raising stalls.

Relay for Life's co-chairs David Cianciola and Matt Darkins. Picture: Paul Derrick
Relay for Life's co-chairs David Cianciola and Matt Darkins. Picture: Paul Derrick

A key part of the relay is the Candle of Hope ceremony at 9pm when personalised bags are illuminated with candles to remember those whose lives have been affected by cancer.

Matt Darkins, co-chairman of the relay with David Cianciola, said: "We really have missed this.

"It really is an emotional rollercoaster."