Belfast couple Cheryl and Kevin renew marriage vows during emotional cancer charity challenge
Cheryl Graham, (54) from Belfast, is currently receiving palliative treatment for cancer and was the inspiration for her husband Kevin, and sons Jamie and Luke, to take part in a Macmillan Cancer Support challenge to raise money for the charity that has helped their family
However, when Covid restrictions caused the event to be delayed, her family set out on an emotional 26.2 mile marathon walk on the same date. They completed a round trip on Saturday from St Bartholomew’s Church in Stranmillis where Kevin is Minister, to St Colman’s Church in Carrickfergus where the couple were married 25 years ago this year. Kevin asked Cheryl to be waiting at St Colman’s for him and their sons, to renew their marriage vows on the day.
Cheryl said: “We have been through so much as a family and we are incredibly close. I was told in November 2020 that I had 9 months to live if I didn’t have treatment or if the treatment I received didn’t slow the progression of the cancer. That’s why we didn’t want to wait for the rescheduled Macmillan event. When Kevin and the boys were plotting a new route, it was serendipitous that the round trip distance between the two churches was exactly 26.2 miles, and when Kevin asked me to be at the church waiting for him, Jamie and Luke to arrive, it was just perfect. How could I possibly turn down an excuse for a new dress!”
Cheryl was initially diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago and received surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy treatment. When she suffered a stroke in 2019, she had “a feeling that something else was wrong” - tests revealed that she had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in her left breast. Cheryl then underwent a mastectomy and just before the start of the pandemic she found out that she carried the BRCA2 gene. After an MRI and further tests, she was given the news in November 2020, her son Luke’s 18th birthday that cancer had spread from her breast to her lymph nodes, lungs and lower spine.
“Everyone reacts to these situations in their own unique way. I am so fortunate to have incredible love and support from Kevin, Jamie and Luke but also from extended family and friends. We are all absolutely determined to make every moment together count. I’ve always been into sport and fitness, as have the boys, so a 26.2 mile challenge for Macmillan seemed like a positive family goal. The charity helped me access information and services during my cancer journey, and our fundraising total is already over £21,000 which will be a huge help to Macmillan, particularly given the recent impact of Covid.
“I’ve had appointments cancelled due to pandemic-related issues. As I carry the BRCA2 gene I also have a greater risk of ovarian cancer, but more than a year on I’m still waiting for my first gynaecology appointment. The impact of Covid on cancer services has been huge – there are people who are not getting the treatment they need; there are people who have not yet been diagnosed. If the money we raise can help Macmillan to support others through this time, we will have done something good.”
Kevin said that Cheryl’s diagnosis came as a shock to the family and he found that the challenge gave him an important focus: “I did plenty of training for the marathon distance, getting out and walking every day. It has been important for my mental health and resilience - it gave me time to process things and the strength to cope with the present.
“News like this makes you think about what’s actually important. You have to re-evaluate everything. We’re such a tight, strong family unit and we plan to have as many special moments as we can in the time we have together. It was a joy to spend so much time with Jamie and Luke on the walk, talking, sharing and enjoying each other’s company. And of course, Cheryl and I renewing our vows after 25 years, particularly during a big family endeavour like this, was a very personal and important affirmation of all that is good and positive in our lives at this moment.”
Cheryl added: “Thinking back on the day I suppose the best thing, apart from the renewing of my wedding vows and sharing the moment with my two boys, was seeing the amount of money that their marathon hike has raised. The generosity of family and friends means that others living with cancer can be assisted and supported in their journey by Macmillan Cancer Support.”
Tania Bailie, area fundraising manager for Macmillan in Northern Ireland says that the family have raised an astonishing amount of money for the charity: ”We are so grateful to Kevin, Cheryl, Jamie and Luke and to all of the kind and generous people who have supported their challenge. The money they have raised so far could enable 60 people in NI to access a Macmillan Grant to help manage the cost of living with cancer. The Graham family’s incredible fundraising will make a huge difference to people here.”
The Graham Family’s fundraising page is available at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/grahamfamily2021