AN INSPIRATIONAL mum of two has been chosen to sound the horn to start Cancer Research's Race for Life in Haydock.

It will be an emotional moment for Gemma Crossley when she stands on the start line of the event as it will mark the milestone of being two years clear of bowel cancer.

It will also be a time for reflection as she remembers Dame Deborah James, the woman who helped save her life.

Deborah James - known as Bowelbabe - was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2016 at the age of 35. She was a tireless campaigner and fundraiser, and it was one of her social media posts that prompted receptionist Gemma to go and see her GP to get her own symptoms checked out.

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Leigh Journal: Gemma was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2020Gemma was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2020 (Image: Cancer Research)

Gemma, 41, from Golborne, said: “If it wasn’t for Debs, I’m not sure when I would’ve been diagnosed.

“I’d spent years with bowel issues, which I’d always put down to irritable bowel syndrome. I had never thought it was cancer. Then a post from Deb was a real red flag for me. 

"I went back to the GP as the pain was getting worse and I had noticed some bleeding. It was then that they found a lump, and I was referred straight away. I owe Debs so much for that post.

“It was an awful and isolating time for me going through it all during COVID. My husband, Andrew, couldn’t come to anything with me. He had to stay outside while I had chemo, and he couldn’t visit during my stay in hospital for the surgery. I was all by myself, it was dreadful, but I’m alive.

“Bowel cancer can affect anyone. Get to know what’s normal for you, and if you’re worried about changes, speak to your GP. I had stage three lower rectal cancer and I had no idea. So getting checked might just save your life.”

Leigh Journal: Rocking the head shave following chemotherapyRocking the head shave following chemotherapy (Image: Cancer Research)

After getting the bowel cancer diagnosis in December 2020, Gemma underwent five weeks of radiotherapy at The Christie in Manchester, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy and extensive surgery at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan - which left her with a permanent colostomy bag.

By July 2021, doctors told Gemma there was no sign of cancer, and that autumn she took part in her first Race for Life event.

Two years after getting the all-clear, more than 1,000 people will be taking part in the year’s 5k Race for Life at Haydock Park Racecourse on Sunday, July 2, where Gemma will be cheering participants on.

Leigh Journal: Gemma participated in her first Race For Life after she got the all clear in 2021Gemma participated in her first Race For Life after she got the all clear in 2021 (Image: Cancer Research)

Gemma, who is mum to Jack, 16, and Mia, 15, said: “Race for Life is such a great cause.

“The money helps so many people. By contributing to the research that’s being done now, we can help improve the future.

"If people hadn’t donated to Race for Life in previous years, I might not have had the treatment that I had to save my life. By taking part, you can help the scientists develop more treatments and have fun at the same time.”  

Across the country, Cancer Research's Race For Life events helps to raise millions of pounds in the fight to beat cancer by funding crucial research.  

This year, people are being offered the opportunity to sign up to Race for Life in memory of Dame Deborah James, after she passed in June 2022. In her final weeks, Deborah worked to establish the Bowelbabe Fund for Cancer Research UK, which has now reached a staggering total of £11.3m.