Gerry Armstrong from Carlisle has survived cancer three times. He now devotes much of his energy to raising money - more than £35,000 so far - for charities including Cancer Research UK and Hospice at Home Carlisle and North Lakeland.
Gerry Armstrong

He was first diagnosed in 2006 when an itch in his ear was investigated. Tumours were found in his neck and tongue. Gerry, originally from Ireland, underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy and was in hospital in Belfast for nine months.

“It brought me to see things differently,” he says of the experience. “It was a wake-up call that brought me to charity work.”

Since then, with support from many people and businesses – “I’m only a small cog in the wheel” – Gerry has taken part in many fundraising events.

These have included the Coast to Coast bike ride, the Great North Swim, about 12 half marathons, eight parachute jumps and five bungee jumps.

He says: “I’ve always been reasonably fit, although I’ve no six-pack! After my cancer treatment I improved my fitness level. I wouldn’t be a coffee morning person. I’d rather do things like parachute jumps and bungee jumps. It scares the living daylights out of me. But there’s a buzz with it. I used to skydive when I was in the Royal Air Force in the 1970s.”

Gerry moved to Carlisle in 2009. In 2016 he was cycling at Derwentwater when he fell off and injured his shoulder. An x-ray at the Cumberland Infirmary revealed a tumour in his left lung.

“If I hadn’t had the fall, the story might have been different,” says Gerry.

He underwent a successful operation to remove part of the lung. But during a check-up seven months later, cancer was found in the other lung. Gerry decided not to undergo further treatment, putting his faith in God and keeping to his fitness regime.

Three months later doctors were pleasantly surprised to find the tumour shrinking. Gerry was given the all-clear at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle last year.

Cancer Research has been instrumental in Gerry’s treatment, and in keeping his spirits up. “They would always ring me to see how my treatment was going,” he says.

Gerry is very grateful to all who have joined in his fundraising exploits and to those who have donated. What does he think about when pounding the streets in training and in events like tomorrow's?

“I think of my brothers and sisters. That’s the word I use for people who have got cancer. If I’m getting aches and pains, I think of them lying in hospital. The pain and anguish. And the loneliness is a terrible thing. People keep their distance. They don’t know what to say to you. I home in on that.

“For every mile I’m running, I’m raising money for a good cause. That’s what gives me a lift. Things are getting better and better. It would be great some day if they come up with a cure and wipe cancer out. Hopefully some day that will happen.”

* To sponsor Gerry visit

In 2011 Sophie Kelly from Frizington, her dad Ken and her then partner Scott were in a serious road accident on the A66.
Sophie Kelly with her late father Ken

Sophie, a health and safety apprentice at Sellafield, recalls: “We were going to Manchester and my dad was driving. At Threlkeld a car pulled out and stopped in front of us. My dad swerved and hit another car head on.

“My dad had a fractured right hip, broken right ankle and a sprained left ankle. He needed a hip replacement. I tore my spleen. I was bed-bound in the Cumberland Infirmary for two weeks because of the impact on my back.

“Scott tore his spleen as well. He had to be resuscitated. He was airlifted to the RVI in Newcastle by the Great North Air Ambulance (GNAA).”

Sophie made a full recovery and has since raised about £6,000 for the GNAA. She has completed events including the Great North Swim, Manchester 10k, the Three Peaks Challenge and "countless cake sales".

In November 2015 her dad passed away. Sophie set out to raise even more money in his memory.

She is now a registered volunteer for GNAA, raising awareness of its work as well as much-needed funds.

Tomorrow's run will be Sophie's first half marathon. She says: "10k is the furthest I’ve run before. Training’s going alright. I’m not really a natural runner. Hopefully adrenaline will keep me going.

"I just want to raise people’s awareness about the Great North Air Ambulance. At 18 I didn’t have a clue what the air ambulance was or how much money they need. You don’t know you need the air ambulance until you need it."

* To sponsor Sophie visit

Sophie is organising a charity night at the Solway Hall, in Whitehaven Civic Hall, on Friday September 28. Rock for the Great North Air Ambulance features The Northern Threads, The Buyers Club, Luke Matear and Rogues. Admission £15, including pie, peas and gravy for pre-paid tickets. Call 07702 099920 or buy from the Civic Hall.

Tom Easterby from Wetheral works in the media department at Newcastle United. He is running this weekend in aid of Carlisle's Eden Valley Hospice.
Tom Easterby

"It’s a special place for me," says Tom. "It’s where my mum, Mary, spent the final weeks of her life in June 2012.

"My friends Dave and Vicky Kirby ran back-to-back 10-mile races in mum’s memory to raise money for the hospice. When Vicky’s father Dave Leary passed away in 2015, I wanted to return the gesture. So here we are. After pulling out injured last year, this will be my first half marathon.

"I took fitness for granted when I was a teenager. It was only after three bouts of knee surgery that I realised I’d have to work a little harder than normal to live an active life.

"A running novice, I went along to a Saturday morning Parkrun in Newcastle and found it a very welcoming environment. It didn’t seem to matter how fast or slow you were – which was just as well.

"I ran the Great North 10k in July and was taken aback by how friendly the running community is. An arduous plod was made enjoyable by the encouragement from fellow runners and those who came along to watch. I’ve been told that the Great North Run atmosphere is even better so I’m looking forward to sampling it for the first time.

"There have been plenty of times in the last few months when I’ve ‘hit the wall’, mentally as much as physically – when you feel your legs won’t carry you any further, and eking miles out of your creaking joints seems much tougher than it should be with the big day looming large.

"But those snags seem so trivial in view of the bigger picture. I think back to that summer six years ago, when I would visit my mum at the hospice each day. It was the saddest of times but the care she received, and the support my family and I got, was wonderful.

"She is one of so many whose final days were made as peaceful and comfortable as possible there. The team confront what must often be the grimmest of realities on a daily basis and do so with warmth, reassurance and kindness. A fundraising run is the very least I can do.

"I’ll be thinking about her and Dave at the start line tomorrow – by which time, hopefully, 13 miles won’t seem like so far after all."

* To sponsor Tom visit

Last year Gemma Karim from Brampton made the heartbreaking decision to end her pregnancy when a scan revealed the baby would not survive.

She says: "We had a scan in Carlisle at nine weeks and were told the baby was fine. But when we went for our 12-week scan, things were not fine.

"They told me and my husband Joel that the baby might have Down’s syndrome or Turner syndrome. We both agreed we’d love the baby the same. They gave me a card for ARC [an antenatal support charity] and made me an appointment for the RVI in Newcastle in a couple of days’ time.

"But at the RVI they told us the baby had a very serious brain condition called Alobar Holoprosencephaly and, it was highly likely, a severe chromosome disorder. They told us the baby would either die before birth or very shortly after.

"We had to make the heartbreaking decision to end the pregnancy. If it were not for ARC I wouldn’t have been able to go to the crematorium service we had. ARC also have forums where parents in similar situations can chat. That's very helpful and comforting.

"We had tests done on the placenta and found out the baby was a little girl who we named Ruby.

"In the meantime I fell pregnant again and we have since had a beautiful little girl named River. We have six children. And of course Ruby."

Gemma is running tomorrow to support ARC. She is not expecting to set a record time but she is determined to complete the course.

"I’m not a runner. I meant to train much more than I have, but River is six months old and quite demanding of my time. I will do my best to raise my £500 target for ARC as it’s vital they can continue to train health professionals to treat grieving parents with respect and dignity, something we didn’t get at Carlisle.

"I raised £400 last year for Sands [Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society] by walking up Skiddaw. I had never even dreamed we might have to go through anything like this and had never heard of anyone else going through it. It's a very taboo subject."

* To sponsor Gemma visit