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For every prick of the needle made to create a looped ribbon – the recognised symbol of cancer support and awareness – will pierce his heart with the memory of his brother-in-law Paul who died from the disease.
“We’re a tight-knit family but Paul and I were very close,” says Stephen, 27, from Wallasey. “When he died, I hid myself away and found it very difficult to cope with.
“I found a way through by running and, now, raising money for cancer research and support for people with the disease and their families.
“And by raising awareness so others don’t have to die like Paul, or go through what our family has.”
Stephen is one of four people running the Virgin Money London Marathon in April in aid of Maggie’s Merseyside, one of the charity’s many centres across the UK which provides support and advice for sufferers and those close to them.
And this Saturday (February 22) he and three colleagues at Tri State Tattoo Studio in Market Street, Birkenhead, will be offering cancer ribbon tattoos at £30, with every pound going towards Maggie’s and his Marathon effort.
“We are aiming for about 33 ribbons if we can which will raise towards £1,000,” says Stephen. “We will be working from 10am to 5pm and hope people will come to have a tattoo to help and show support of Maggie’s and the amazing work they do, or in memory of someone they know who had, or has had cancer.
“I have been given one of Maggie’s places to run in the London Marathon and am challenged to raise three times the entry fee, which means £3,000. I am putting £1,000 of my own money into that and hoping to raise the rest before April. The tattoos will go towards that and I’m really grateful for the support of the people I work with.
“Tattoos can take hours and I spend a lot of time talking to people, and so many have been affected by cancer, and I’m inspired by that. And it’s why offering the ribbon tattoos seemed like such a good idea.”
Stephen’s brother-in-law, Paul Leung, was 39 when he died from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an uncommon cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, in April 2018. The most common symptom is swelling in the neck, armpit or groin which is usually painless, although some people find that it aches.
“Paul had symptoms,” says Stephen, “but, like many men I guess, he ignored them.
“He had not long had a baby, a little boy.”
Stephen goes on: “Paul suffered badly. He survived only seven months from diagnosis and it was hard. It took its toll on the family too…we were all with him when he died.
“When he first passed away I didn’t want to be with anyone. I stayed away from everyone and hid, it was like a form of depression. I generally don’t talk about things, and I try to act as if it’s all okay. I had help from the doctor but after about six months I realised I needed to find better coping mechanisms. I knew I couldn’t carry on living like I was, so I started exercising more and running.
“I had always been active and enjoyed running, but I became more focused on it. I did a Cancer Research UK Race for Life in Birkenhead Park last year and decided I wanted to get more into running, it was good for me, and I said on social media that I’d like to do a marathon.
“A friend of mine, Sammy Barker, is one of Maggie’s fundraisers and suggested I apply for one of the the places they are given in the London Marathon and so I did and was successful. She is running in it too which is nice. Maggie’s gives people so much support – Paul’s family in Manchester went to Maggie’s there after he died – and so it seemed right to raise money for them.”
Stephen’s training is going well and he hopes to complete the race in around three hours.
“I know that’s putting pressure on myself,” he adds. “I’ve had a few injuries to contend with but I’m still on track and I’ve managed to chart around 19 miles so far, which is about as much as I’ll do before the marathon itself.
“Running makes me feel alive and I realised that we should be grateful for the life we have. Paul didn’t have long to be here, or to be a dad.
“It sounds a cliché, but to go out and run and run is nothing compared with what Paul went through, and I run, and will run, thinking of him. Just as I will think of him with every cancer ribbon we create on Saturday.”
You can support Stephen and Paul by having a cancer ribbon tattoo between 10am and 5pm this Saturday: Tri State Tattoo Studio, 43 Market Street, Birkenhead, CH41 5BS. 0151 647 2025.
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