Fighting it together

From left to right are Nicky, Keeley Fitzpatrick, Sharon, Holly Brailey,  Rose, Olivia Glasspool  and Carryann
From left to right are Nicky, Keeley Fitzpatrick, Sharon, Holly Brailey, Rose, Olivia Glasspool and Carryann
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Fresh-faced and carefree, these four friends shared plenty of laughs as they survived the trials and tribulations of school.

Firm mates since they first met at Oak Park School in Havant, they’ve come a long way since they left in 1986.

More than 20 years later it’s perhaps not so unusual that they’re still friends.

But it is remarkable how they’ve all been touched by cancer in one way or another.

Sharon Brailey, Nicky Fitzpatrick, Rose Gray and Carryann Browning share a connection that can’t be broken.

While 42-year-old Sharon has survived a terrifying brush with ovarian cancer, Nicky has lost three members of her family to the disease.

On the day Sharon was diagnosed, Nicky was at her sister Mandy’s bedside, holding her hand as she lost her 34-year battle with a brain tumour.

Through it all, Rose and Carryann have been there to support their friends – but they haven’t escaped cancer’s clutches either. Rose’s mum survived after having breast cancer but Carryann lost her cousin Melanie Glasspool to the disease last year.

Now the foursome – who all live in Havant – will use what they’ve been through to help others. They’ll take their places on the start line at this year’s Race for Life to raise money for Cancer Research.

‘Over the past couple of years all of us individually have suffered the effects of cancer so it feels so right for us to enter the Race for Life together,’ says Sharon.

‘We all want to turn something which has been so negative in our lives into a massive positive.’

Joining them will be Nicky’s daughter Keeley, 11, Sharon’s 12-year-old daughter Holly, her mum Jean Dean and sister Kerry Dean, plus the daughter of Carryann’s cousin, Olivia Glasspool, six.

For Sharon, being told she had ovarian cancer in April 2011 came as a massive shock. The mum-of-two had abdominal pains and feared she might have appendicitis. But the reality was so much worse.

‘Within two weeks I’d had a scan and within six weeks I’d had a full hysterectomy,’ says Sharon.

‘The whole thing lasted eight weeks from start to finish.’

She adds: ‘The survival rate for ovarian cancer isn’t great. I had heard about it but I was quite ignorant. I thought “It won’t happen to me”. Since I’ve had it and looked into it I’ve been amazed about how many people are diagnosed with it each year.’

With the support of her family and friends, Sharon tried to stay positive.

‘I had my moments when I was on my own but not in front of the children or anyone else,’ she says.

‘I was elated when I got the all clear.’

On the same day Sharon found out she had cancer, Nicky was saying goodbye to her big sister Mandy Cursons, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was only 12.

‘When she was diagnosed my parents were told that she would only have 18 months to live,’ explains Nicky, 42.

‘She had an operation and a shunt put into her head and she carried on as normal. All the doctors couldn’t understand how she survived.’

Sadly Mandy’s condition had deteriorated in 1997 and an operation to remove part of the tumour left her disabled. Mandy had gone from living an independent life to being fed through a tube and needed constant care.

And in April 2005, cancer struck again – this time when Nicky’s dad David was diagnosed with terminal lung and liver cancer.

‘It was a really big shock,’ says Nicky. ‘He went at the age of 63. We always expected it with Mandy. With dad it was all so quick.’

Following on from Mandy’s death, Nicky lost another sister, Deborah Cursons, to cervical cancer in 2007.

So after all they’ve seen their friends go through, Rose and Carryann jumped at the chance to be by their side for this year’s Race for Life, which takes place on Southsea Common on Sunday July 22.

‘I’m ecstatic that Sharon’s come out the other side,’ says Rose. ‘She’s been amazingly positive, she always has been.

‘Nicky’s been through hell these last few years. I’m happy that Sharon has come through it but I’m devastated for Nicky.’

Nicky adds: ‘Cancer makes you look on life differently. I used to be a worrier but once I lost my dad I realised life’s too short. You’ve got to live life to the full.

‘I’m going to look at Race for Life as an uplifting experience. I’m doing it for other people so hopefully they don’t have to go through what we’ve been through as a family.’

Anyone who wants to sponsor the women can do so via raceforlifesponsorme.org/class-of-86