A CANCER survivor who has watched her closest relatives diagnosed with the disease one-by-one hopes her traumatic experience of losing loved ones inspires others to support cancer research.

Mary Sayers' family was first affected by cancer when her older sister, Jean, found a lump in her breast. This was in 1993 when Jean was just 40, and she had a mastectomy.

Ms Sayers, 63, from Durham, said: "Jean’s diagnosis was a shock to the whole family, especially since she was young – but after a year Jean was well and back at work.

"Then in 2001 our father became increasingly unwell – he was 74 and had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Unfortunately, we were in for a shock when we found that he had stomach cancer. He died a week later.

“On the day that dad was diagnosed with cancer, Jean told me that she had found a lump in her other breast, which also turned out to be cancer. Jean had another mastectomy and more chemotherapy."

Around this time, the Government decided to introduce Cancer Networks and the Cancer Care Alliance was formed, searching for patients and carers to shape new cancer services. Ms Sayer joined the network, with the North-East becoming a pilot area for the Northern Genetics Service, which Jean was very interested in.

Before her death in 2006, Jean arranged a diagnostic post-mortem, which revealed she died of ovarian cancer, not breast cancer.

In the years that followed, Mary and her sister, Anne, 54, and Jean’s daughter, Helen, 46, elected to have genetic screening, with Mary and Anne finding they had BRCA2 gene mutations. Within weeks, Mary and her sister had their ovaries removed.

But by 2015, Ms Sayer was diagnosed with breast cancer, followed by her sister three years later.

She added: “Our story, though horrifying, could have been much worse if we had not benefited from the research which underpinned the setting up of the Cancer Genetic Service and the Family History clinics which look after people like us."

Ms Sayer hopes her story encourages families to join the Cancer Research UK's Relay For Life, which sees team members take it in turns to walk round a track while everyone else enjoys a carnival atmosphere.

As the event continues non-stop through the night, team members not on the track rest, eat, or sleep in their tents, which are set up close by.

As dusk falls, the atmosphere quietens as the Candle of Hope ceremony begins. The event is the most poignant part of Relay For Life when specially made Candle of Hope bags decorated with touching messages – in memory or in celebration of loved ones - are filled with sand and lit up with candles around the track.

Various additional fun activities including music from performers and stalls and games for families are also happening where everyone is welcome to join in and help raise further funds for Cancer Research UK’s work to beat over 200 types of cancer.

The money raised by Relay For Life helps to fund Cancer Research UK’s pioneering research to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

Jonathan Chambers, volunteer Chairman of Relay For Life in Middlesbrough, said: “We are delighted to have someone as positive as Mary to lead the lap of honour. She is an inspiration to everyone who meets her.

"During Relay For Life we celebrate life and pay tribute to those who have survived cancer but we also remember and pay tribute to those who have lost their lives to the disease.

“We would love to hear from anyone who wants to find out more about Relay For Life and how they can get involved. This is a unique event and everyone can play a part.”

To sign up,

visit cruk.org/relay