BEFORE Maria Welsh died, she was incredibly proud to see her daughter, Kyler, embark on a biomedical science degree course.

This summer, Kyler, 26, is due to graduate and take up the same NHS biomedical scientist role as her late ‘mam’, who died of metastatic breast cancer, aged 46, in July 2021.

Now to honour her mam’s memory, Kyler and her colleagues – who also worked with Maria – will be joining together to complete the Race for Life 5k at Herrington Park in Sunderland on Sunday, May 28.

And Kyler is calling on women and men across the North East to join them and celebrate 30 years of Race for Life by raising vital money for research. 

Kyler’s job, at the Pathology Centre for South of Tyne and Wear Pathology Services, includes helping to identify abnormal cells which could indicate if a patient has a blood cancer, such as leukaemia.

She said: “Partly because of my job, I know there’s new research going on constantly, so it’s important to keep the funding going. 

“It’s not worked out for my mam but it works out for so many others.”

Kyler Welsh, from Sunderland, to Race for Life in memory of her mam
Kyler Welsh, 26, whose mam, Maria, died of metastatic breast cancer in 2021, is urging everyone to sign up to Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life in Sunderland, Gateshead and Newcastle and raise money for life-saving research. Pictures by Barry Pells Photography

Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with headline sponsor Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, is an inspiring series of 3k, 5k, 10k, Pretty Muddy and Pretty Muddy Kids events which raise millions of pounds every year to help beat cancer by funding crucial research.   

This is the 30th year of Race for Life and participants will receive an exclusive medal to mark the milestone.    

Every year around 19,500 people are diagnosed with cancer in the North East ** and one in two people in the UK born after 1960 will get cancer in their lifetime.*** Money at Race for Life enables scientists to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer - helping to save more lives.   

Maria was already working at the Pathology Centre when Kyler joined the team.

Kyler said: “Mam was a mature student. She went off and did her degree when I was going to secondary school. She was a single mum and wanted to make a better life. 

“She did a master’s degree in biomedical science. Before she died, she got a senior job in the COVID-19 laboratory. She absolutely lived for her job, she loved it.”

Maria was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2017 after discovering a lump. Partly because of a family history of breast cancer, she opted for a double mastectomy and was successfully treated with chemotherapy. 

Sadly, the cancer returned and Maria was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in her bones in January 2021. 

Kyler said: “Mam was amazing, she was so bubbly and smiling and full of life. Everyone loved her to bits. She loved seeing her friends, she was so social, so giving, she would do anything for anyone.

“She loved spending time with me. Because it was only me and her, we were like best mates. Me and her just going to the shops was a good day for her. It was little things, we didn’t have to do anything special.”

Before she died, Maria had seen Kyler start work on reception at the Pathology Centre before being promoted aged 19 and then beginning her degree course.

The team works across three sites, at Gateshead, Sunderland and South Shields and their work includes haematology, blood transfusion and immunology. 

Since beginning her studies, Kyler has lost her grandmother and coped with the pandemic.

She said her mam would be over the moon to see her graduate this year: “She would be so happy, she would be dead proud of me.”

Like her mam before her, Kyler said working at the centre is her dream role: “I love the idea of helping people – this is like the perfect job for me.

“There are so many aspects to the job. It’s not just cancer patients, it’s deliveries, surgeries and helping unknown patients who come in unconscious.”

Blood tests carried out by Kyler and her colleagues can help indicate which treatments are needed by patients: “The quicker we give out the results, the quicker they’re getting treated.”

After Maria was first treated for breast cancer, she and Kyler and Kyler’s auntie – who had also had breast cancer – took part in the Race for Life at Sunderland together. Maria rang the bell as she crossed the finish line.

Last year, in Maria’s memory, Kyler returned to Sunderland to complete the 5k. She was supported by about 14 colleagues who wanted to pay tribute to Maria and together they raised more than £2,400.

Kyler said that Race for Life is a great experience for everyone who takes part.

“Even if they’re not affected by cancer, it’s a lovely day out and it’s so positive and fun. It’s a really good atmosphere.”

Kyler says she tries to live her life as if her mam was watching.

“Everything I do I try to do it for her. I try to think, what would she think of that? I’m proud to Race for Life.”

The first Race for Life event was held in Battersea, London in 1994, where 750 participants raised £48,000. It was so successful that the following year, the race was extended to six venues across the UK. Today around 450 Race for Life events are held every year and since it began more than £940m has been raised to fund life-saving research. Race for Life is today open to everyone, no matter their fitness level, background or gender.   

The Race for Life events Herrington Country Park, Sunderland, on Sunday, 28 May are open to people of all ages and abilities.  Women, men and children can choose from 3k, 5k and 10k events. There is also a chance to take part in Pretty Muddy – a mud-splattered obstacle course - and there’s a Pretty Muddy Kids option. 

Race for Life events also take place in Gateshead on Sunday, 18 June and Newcastle on Saturday and Sunday, 8 and 9 July.

Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson in the North East Michaela Robinson-Tate said: “We are grateful to Kyler and her colleagues for their support.   

“We’d love for as many people as possible across the North East to join us during our 30th year of Race for Life. Sadly, cancer affects all of us in some way.   

“We want to make sure that everyone can join the Race for Life movement. Our participants come from different backgrounds, with different stories, but with one thing in common – the determination to help beat cancer. Whether people are living with cancer, taking part in honour of or in memory of a loved one with cancer, or signing up to protect their own children’s future, everyone has a reason to Race for Life.   

“We’ve seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years thanks to the tireless efforts of researchers, but this can only happen with the continued support of fundraisers up and down the country.  

“Together we can bring about a future free from the fear of cancer. So we’re asking people across the North East: Who will you Race for?”  

Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with headline sponsor Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, raises funds for world-class research to help beat 200 types of cancer – including bowel cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, testicular cancer, brain cancer, children’s cancers and leukaemia.    

Chief executive of Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, Andy Curran, said: “We are extremely proud to have been chosen as the headline sponsor of Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life. This sponsorship will help encourage participation and raise funds for life-saving research to help beat cancer.”     

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