Despite being told she has inoperable cancer, and that time is running out, Viv Pow continues to be an inspiration through her indomitable spirit and determination to help others. PETER BARRON met her for a walk in the park...

IT’S so bitterly cold in the park that the ducks and geese are hunkered down in an unhappy huddle on the frozen lake – but Viv Pow is striding past them in a defiant turquoise wig.

Four months have passed since Viv was told her cancer is back, and that this time it’s inoperable, with a prognosis that she may have two years to live.

But those who know the former police officer will testify that she is fiercely competitive. She’s never liked being beaten, and she doesn't intend to start now.

“I’m going to prove them wrong," she smiles. “That’s the challenge – I’m going to make it to 70 at least.”

Viv, who lives at Middleton Tyas, near Darlington, is 58 in March, so her target is still 12 years away, but she has a habit of defying the odds.

She was first diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012 and had surgery before embarking on a course of chemotherapy. And yet, just 16 weeks after her treatment ended, she completed the Yorkshire Marathon.

The cancer returned in 2014, leading to her entire colon being removed, and meaning she needed to be fitted with an ileostomy bag.

Three months later, she recorded a personal best time in the Darlington 10k and, as if that wasn’t impressive enough, she went on to run the Rome Marathon.

She became a committed bowel cancer campaigner, counselling others who needed to wear an ileostomy bag, and spreading her particularly infectious brand of positivity.

Running became a major part of her life, with marathons being conquered in Paris, Edinburgh twice, Kielder twice, London, and Loch Ness, as well as the Great North Run.

“I think I must have smiled the whole way round,” she said after the 2017 London Marathon, acknowledging the applause and cheers she received during the 26 miles.

Through her running, she’s raised approaching £20,000 for a range of charities, including Beating Bowel Cancer, Macmillan Cancer Support, MIND, and the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation.

Sadly, in June last year, Viv was given the news that she had inoperable stage four cancer, with a tumour in a lung, bones, pelvis, and lymph nodes.

Palliative chemotherapy is holding the cancer back for now, and Viv is determined to live life to the full.

“It’s about taking each day as it comes and remembering that life’s precious,” she says over a hot chocolate in the little rustic café in Darlington's South Park after she's completed a couple of laps through the trees and down past the lake.

Despite her illness, Viv remains a popular figure at the Saturday morning parkrun, although she’s been restricted to part-running, part-walking the 5k course recently because of the impact of the chemotherapy.

She still looks fabulous, but the side-effects of her treatment include thinning hair, which is why she’s wearing her brightly-coloured wig.

“Turquoise is my favourite colour, so why not?” she says. “You’ve got to have a bit of fun, haven’t you?”

And whenever Saturday mornings come, Viv knows she’ll never walk alone, thanks to the support of a devoted band of close friends she calls “The Marathon Marvels”.

Tracy Kirk, Amanda Garvey-Kovac, Jennie Gardiner and Tina Regan have all been inspired by Viv in one way or another. Tracy, Amanda, and Jennie have completed marathons, while Tina is quick to remind the others that she qualifies for membership of the group on the grounds of having done two half-marathons.

“It’s just nice to be part of something really special – and that’s what Viv is,” says Tina.

Amanda met Viv at the gym at Rockliffe Hall. “The next thing I know, I’m running the Rome Marathon two years later – she just has that effect on you,” she laughs.

Meanwhile, Tracy – a neighbourhood beat officer with the police in Darlington for 27 years – has launched a charity, called Viv’s Positivity POWER, with the aim of raising £2,500 for Cancer Research UK.

“It’s not just about raising money, it’s about raising awareness that, even when you have a life-limiting illness, you don’t have to stop living,” says Tracy, who’s signed up for the Brighton Marathon in April, and the London Marathon in October.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that Viv’s changed all our lives for the better. I never believed I could run a marathon, but it’s down to her that I’ve achieved things I never could have imagined. She’s amazing and we all feel privileged to have her as our friend.”

Viv is also loving being a relatively new grandma to Camilla, Matilda, and Rupert, and has the unswerving support of husband, Jeff – “my rock” – and sons, Sam and Matthew.

And she has every intention of playing her part in the charity’s fundraising drive. Forthcoming adventures include tackling Via Ferrata Xtreme – a three-hour challenge at Honister slate mine, in the Lake District, involving mountain edge exposure, vertical ladder climbs, overhang descent, Burma bridge, and cargo net scramble.

However, her most immediate challenge is closer to home. She insists she’ll complete the Darlington Parkrun again before too long without having to walk.

“It’s about squeezing as much out of life as possible and recognising that there’s a lot to be grateful for,” she says.

With that, the coffee cups are cleared in the South Park café, and The Marathon Marvels stand up to go their separate ways.

But not before they unashamedly treat the other customers to a joyful chorus of Always look on the bright side of life…

The theme tune of The Marathon Marvels could hardly be more appropriate.