When Elizabeth Birtles and her sister Sandra McIlvenny laced up their walking boots last weekend, their loved ones were forefront in their minds.
The Dundee family are passionate about making sure others don’t feel alone when dealing with cancer because of what they’ve been through.
Elizabeth, Sandra and younger brother Drew lost their mum May Allan to lung cancer when she was just 44.
Their dad passed away when they were children. They also lost their gran – who Elizabeth describes as “a second parent” – a few weeks before their mum.
Remarkably, the family went through all of that without vital support now available to others, making them determined no other family should face the same struggle they did.
Elizbeth explains: “My sister and I were both doing our nursing training when mum was diagnosed with cancer.
“So although we’d already chosen that career, our experience and what mum went through definitely influenced my path to becoming a Macmillan nurse.
“At the time mum had cancer there wasn’t the help and support there is now.
“We’d never heard of Macmillan and had no help or support other than her GP practice.”
‘Someone cares and is there to listen’
“My mum really struggled. It was horrendous for her, she was in pain and we looked after her as best we could.
“We were young and didn’t know what questions to ask or what help was available or how to access it – we literally had no support.
“To have someone there – they might not always have the answers or fix it – but even to know someone cares and is there to listen, is so valuable.
“I always felt an affinity with palliative care and choose it because I didn’t want anyone to go through what we went through.
“I wanted to make a difference – that’s what took me there and kept me there for many years.”
Over her 35-year career Elizabeth worked as charge nurse in Macmillan Day Care unit at Roxburgh House and a Community Macmillan Nurse.
When she took early retirement in March, Elizabeth, Sandra and friend Laura Fraser from Fife set themselves a goal – to get fit and raise money for others.
They launched their fundraiser on Mother’s Day and took part in the 26-mile Macmillan Mighty Hike last weekend.
“I walked in memory of all those I’ve been privileged to care for over my career, not only my patients but their family and friends too” says Elizabeth.
“Cancer effects everyone and I want to acknowledge that and give a little bit back. That’s really important to me.
“Our experiencing has made us appreciate each other. We know the value of life and the value of looking after one another.
“We did the hike to make sure everyone gets the best care that they can.”
The women walked the Rob Roy Way from Callendar to Killin, cheered on by brother Drew.
Elizabeth adds: “Sandra is a specialist surgery nurse at Ninewells and Laura is a practice nurse in Fife so they’ve been getting steps in during shifts at work. We’ve trained together when we can.
“Although we lost mum in 1986, she is still very much with us and part of us and we wanted to do it to remember her and Gran.”
To donate to Elizabeth and her team visit their JustGiving page.