15 Apr Meet The Man Walking through Essex on 3,500 mile walk to raise £200,000 for Cancer Research UK
Wanting to do something positive to help others after losing his wife to cervical cancer, Laurence Carter is undertaking an epic challenge to walk 3,500 miles around the coast of England and Wales. He is currently in Lincolnshire and aims to arrive in Essex in the middle of May, before continuing through Kent and finishing his walk in Sussex in June.
Laurence is over halfway through his challenge and has raised over £50,000 so far. He is working with Cancer Research UK to fund research into increasing uptake of cervical screening (which is at a 20-year low) and HPV vaccines. With better rates of screening uptake and a full HPV vaccination programme, cervical cancer can be wiped out for good!
Melitta and I met in June 1987 while we were both working in Malawi – Melitta as a volunteer at the Ministry of Agriculture, while I was an economist. I vividly remember the yellow dress she was wearing and her welcoming smile. By July 1989 we were married and our first child, Emily, was born in 1990, soon followed by Nic and Georgie. By then, Melitta and I had moved to several different countries before settling in Washington DC. It wasn’t always easy, especially with small children, but we both loved travelling and saw it as an adventure.
For many years, life for our little family and living in the US was everything I could have hoped for. Then in October 2012, Melitta went for a routine smear test. She had left it six months late – blaming holidays and a busy family life. ‘A bit of bad news,’ she said quietly when I came home that evening. ‘They’ve found signs of cervical cancer and I need an emergency hysterectomy, then chemotherapy and radiation.’ I listened in shock as she explained that doctors were hopeful it hadn’t spread.
As Melitta went through the gruelling treatment we rallied around her – the children helping, friends cooking meals and keeping up our morale. But the following July, Melitta was told the cancer had spread. There was nothing more doctors could do, except more chemo to extend what little time she had left. We were devastated. Melitta was the love of my life from the very first moment I’d seen her in that yellow dress, and now I was contemplating a future without her in it.
Over the next few months, the family spent as much time together as we could. Melitta wrote a note to each of the children to be read after she died. She was putting on a brave face – and so was I, but inside, it felt as if my heart was physically breaking.
By April 2015, Melitta’s health started to decline and she died surrounded by family that September. I was completely lost without her. I kept thinking if only I’d reminded her to go for her smear test. I decided I wanted to raise awareness for cervical cancer in her memory and then an idea struck me – a walk around the UK. Melitta and I had loved walking, so I knew she’d approve.
I’ve taken a break from my role as a Director at the World Bank to walk the 3,500 miles of the coast of England and Wales. To raise awareness that we can eliminate cervical cancer. All funds raised go to a Cancer Research UK-supported researcher who’s identifying ways to raise awareness about preventing cervical cancer. I started near Brighton in June 2018 and I’ve walked along the south coast, Devon, Cornwall and Wales, and am now in the East of England.
The tragedy is it doesn’t have to be this way, cervical cancer is the first cancer which can be eliminated, through HPV vaccination and good screening. Progress has been dramatic in the past few years. The main barrier is awareness.
I still miss my wife every single day, but knowing I’m making a difference gives me comfort and the strength to keep walking.