The Relay saved my life

Maxine Kirk
Maxine Kirk

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Hundreds of people are getting ready to join in Portsmouth’s annual Relay for Life. Stuart Anderson spoke to Max Kirk about why she takes part.

If it wasn’t for the Relay For Life, Maxine Kirk doesn’t think she would be here today.

READY TO GO Runners gearing up for the Relay for Life

READY TO GO Runners gearing up for the Relay for Life

Known as ‘Max’, the 49-year-old has been involved in the Portsmouth fundraiser pretty much since it began in 1997, long before she was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2005.

She said: ‘It was very traumatic and it has changed my life. But I was lucky.

‘It is only now when I look back I realise how lucky I was.’

Before the Relay was launched, Max’s workplace was paid a visit by people from the Cancer Research Campaign, which later turned into Cancer Research UK.

They were trying to drum up interest in the event and it wasn’t long before Max got interested.

‘I had a friend who was also a work colleague, and her father was diagnosed a couple of weeks before they came,’ she said.

‘They showed us a film about Relay For Life in a company briefing, showing us the inaugural event from the year before, and my friend was getting really upset.

‘I said, well why don’t we support this and take part?

‘So we made a team.’

Max become a team captain of the new event, leading a group of friends in their fundraising efforts.

The Relay became an annual highlight for Max’s team as they strove to keep at least one person on the track over a 24-hour period.

In 2004, Max discovered a blood blister on the sole of her foot, and when she consulted a doctor was told she had nothing to worry about.

But the problem re-emerged at the Relay the following year, and turned out to be much worse than she had imagined.

‘It was raining really badly that year and we all got incredibly wet.

‘I felt this funny blood blister on the sole of my foot again and because it got so wet it didn’t dry out properly and it just didn’t feel right.

‘It wasn’t anything I could pinpoint.

‘I went back to the GP and she referred me to a dermatologist.

‘They said I didn’t have anything to worry about, but did a biopsy just in case.

‘It turned out to be a malignant melanoma and I was diagnosed with skin cancer.’

Treatment began, and it was months before Max was back on two feet.

‘I had three operations, two skin grafts and four-and-a-half months off work.’

Max said the Relay gave her the wake-up call she needed, and taking part had saved her life.

She said an old school friend of hers died in 2011 after she had a malignant melanoma which 
went undiscovered until it was too late.

‘It’s a killer,’ she said.

‘I firmly believe that had I not been involved in the Relay I wouldn’t have discovered it and I probably wouldn’t be here now.’

With a new-found appreciation for the fundraiser Max joined the organising committee and was back on the track the year after her treatment.

‘I was hobbling by the end, but I was there,’ she said.

‘Now I walk absolutely fine.

‘I’m never going to run a marathon but I don’t think that’s totally to do with my foot!’

Max said she and others participants who had been through cancer take part in a survivors’ lap of honour at the Relay.

‘You meet so many survivors,’ she said.

‘There are 50 or 60 of them who take part in it each year and my story is minute compared to what most of them have been through.

‘Everybody cheers for them.

‘As a friend of mine said, it’s the only time you get cheered for having cancer.’

Max was born in Yorkshire and now lives in Southampton and works for a clinical research company.

She said she hoped to be taking part in the Relay for many years to come.

‘The atmosphere is so electric and it’s also very emotional.’

Fact file

Portsmouth Relay for Life

What: A team event to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

When: The relay starts at midday on Saturday, July 11 at the Mountbatten Leisure Centre and runs for 24 hours. That’s the weekend before Portsmouth’s Race for Life, which takes place on Southsea Common on July 19.

Contact: E-mail Relay For Life committee chairwoman Maxine Kirk at maxine.kirk@sky.com or call 07748 114402.

Web: portsmouthrelayforlife.com

How to help: You can join an existing team, sponsor someone taking part or volunteer to help set up and co-ordinate the relay.

To register your own team visit http://relay.cancerresearchuk.org/ and search for Portsmouth.

The spirit of 1945

Organisers of this year’s Relay for Life have opted for an ‘end of war’ theme to mark the 70th anniversary of the Second World War.

Max said: ‘We have a theme every year and teams dress up their tents as well. There is a trophy for the best-dressed team.

‘People interpret the theme in so many ways and really let their imaginations run wild.

‘I’m going to attempt to dress up as a “lamp girl” - I’m sure we’ll see lots of old uniforms as well.’

The fundraiser takes place on the outdoor track at the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth.

Max said as many as 400 people take part each year, organised into teams of between eight and 15 people of all ages.

‘Kids, pensioners, anyone can do the Relay,’ she said.

‘You have to have one member of the team on the track at any time for the 24 hours.

‘But it’s not a race and you don’t have to run, even though we do have running groups take part.’

Last year the relay raised £84,000 and organisers have set their sights on £85,000 for this year’s event.

Max said the Relay always has a party atmosphere with music, entertainment and games taking place around the track.

Past years have featured egg-and-spoon, bra and knickers and three-legged races.

At 10pm there is a ‘Candle of Hope’ ceremony.

Participants and their supporters bring along air mattresses and sleeping bags and pitch tents in the middle of the track if they need a rest.

Max said the relay was an ‘amazing’ event which always left participants in high spirits.

‘You come away feeling so happy even though you might have been awake for the whole 24 hours,’ she said. ‘To me you can’t spend 24 hours in a more fun way.’

The Portsmouth relay is the longest-running event of its kind in the United Kingdom and one of the oldest in the world.