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Courageous cousins take the fight to cancer this Christmas

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The pair are backing a major charity campaign

Inspirational cousins Amy Howard and Catriona Lynch say there will be tears of happiness and hope this Christmas – as they launch a life-saving charity campaign.

The pair from Edinburgh were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other during the pandemic and are both in remission.

Now they’ve been chosen to launch a campaign in Scotland to help save more lives.

They’re backing Cancer Research UK’s Play your Part campaign and encouraging Scots to get behind its rallying call to arms: “One in two people will get cancer in their lifetime but all of us can help beat it.”

Amy, 42, pictured above on the left, who overcame non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Catriona, 44, who has recovered from breast cancer this year hope their stories will inspire people to make a difference.

In October, they led a team known as Amy’s Army and raised more than £7,000 for life-saving research by taking part in Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life 5K in Edinburgh.

Amy said: “It felt like the bottom dropped out of my world when I was told I had cancer.

“But thanks to the amazing research over the past 50 years I’m through cancer and can look forward to Christmas. It will be a joy to celebrate with the people I love including my cousin Catriona who as well as supporting me brilliantly has been through cancer herself. Our cancers were not just treatable but curable. And we were both diagnosed quickly which meant treatment could start almost immediately. I know that’s not the case for everyone though. So much more work needs to be done to get to that stage one day when all cancers are curable.”

Mum of two Amy knows exactly how vital breakthroughs and discoveries are to help more people survive the disease. A keen runner, Amy first thought she may have Covid-19 when she had a high temperature, chest pain and shortness of breath. After Covid was ruled out, an out of hours doctor suspected Amy may have asthma. But Amy’s condition deteriorated and her GP referred her to the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh on 19 May last year for a chest x-ray. Lockdown restrictions meant Amy attended the appointment on her own.

Amy said: “After the chest x-ray, a radiologist came to see me.

“He asked if I had time to stick around for longer that day as he’d like to arrange a CT scan to look at my chest in a bit more detail. Later that day, he came back to explain he was pretty sure I had lymphoma. Just moments earlier I’d been looking at messages on my phone from friends chatting about furlough, redecorating, gardening, birthdays and now I was being told I had cancer.”

More tests showed two tumours, a 17cm mass in Amy’s chest which was putting pressure on her lungs and a smaller tumour near her liver. Amy had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. She started chemotherapy treatment just nine days after her first visit to hospital. She and her husband Dave, 41, were open with their twin nine-year-old sons, Michael and William from the start.

Amy said: “We found a useful book called Cancer Party which explains to children in a non-frightening way what rogue cancer cells are.

“The boys had incredibly intelligent questions about cancer and science. It meant when my hair started falling out due to the side effects of treatment it wasn’t so big a surprise for them. I’m so proud of the boys’ resilience. But explaining things to my boys actually helped give me a better understanding of it all too.”

Amy endured six rounds of chemotherapy as well as a blood transfusion during months of treatment. She also had 15 sessions of radiotherapy and it was an emotional moment when on September 22 last year she received a gift from her husband.

Amy said: “My husband had a necklace designed for me with two stars on it to represent our boys.

“The date I completed cancer treatment was also on the necklace along with just one word, ‘Thankful’ which I think says it all.”

Her support network rallied round as well, taking part in Cancer Research UK's Race for Life as Amy's Army (below).

Amy's Army.

Just two months later, on November 12 2020, it was a shock when Amy’s cousin, Catriona Lynch was diagnosed with breast cancer. When Catriona had first found a lump in her right breast, she had gone to Amy who had advised her to go to her GP. Catriona was supported every step of the way by her sister Joanna who is a doctor at Ninewells Hospital.

Catriona said: “I’m so lucky to my sister Joanna and Amy in my life.

“Amy and Joanna both came right over support me on the evening of the day I was diagnosed. Joanna is a star as she’s been a huge source of strength for us both through cancer. The fact we’ve both come through it has been a comfort.”

On 9 February this year, Catriona had a mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery at St John’s Hospital in Livingston. After tests showed Catriona’s cancer was hormone receptive, Catriona was advised to take the drug letrozole daily in tablet form. She also has monthly injections of a hormone therapy known as Zoladex to reduce the risk of cancer returning. By June this year, Catriona was well enough to return to work.

In Scotland, around 32,400 people are diagnosed with cancer every year.

Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of the progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years. The charity’s ambition is to see three in four people survive their cancer by 2034.

Cancer Research UK was able to spend nearly £30 million last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman in Scotland, said: “We are grateful to Amy and Catriona for their support. 

“Cancer is relentless but so are we. We will never stop striving to find better treatments, but we can’t do it alone.

“This past year proves, more than any other, the value of research and what can be achieved together. Just like science is our route out of the pandemic, science is our route to beating cancer.  

“That’s why we want to harness the ‘people power’ of our incredible supporters, because the progress we make relies on every hour of research, every pound donated and everyone who gets involved.  

“So, whether they donate, sign up to Race for Life, volunteer at our shops or pledge to leave a gift in their Will - with the help of people in Scotland we believe that together we will beat cancer.”