Sharleen & Cath’s Great Wall of China Trek 2016


Two of our wonderful supporters are taking on the challenge to trek the Great Wall of China in October 2016. These brave women are raising funds for Cancer Support Scotland and Head & Neck cancer patients in Scotland. Read their story here.

Hello, we are Cath, Sharleen & Kelly.

Cath & Sharleen are doing the Great Wall of China trek in October 2016 and Kelly will be here at home updating everyone on our challenge on Facebook and our Just Giving page during our adventure. So here we are, three women who until March last year were complete strangers. We have a common bond and it’s called HEAD & NECK CANCER.

Sharleen’s Story

My husband Alan was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer. He had a small lump on his neck just below his jawline and sometimes he choked on particular foods. These were his ONLY symptoms. The tumour was at the base of his tongue and he needed chemo-radiation to treat it and ultimately save his life! Onto a long roller coaster we stepped and Alan faced each of his treatments with strength and composure. As a nurse I switched onto autopilot and cared for him. However I quickly realised that I had no idea just how extensive, life changing and debilitating these cancers can be.

The public NEED to know about these cancers, the signs & symptoms and the gruelling treatment of them. Increasingly, men and women in their prime are being diagnosed with head and neck cancer. As we know alcohol, smoking and being overweight can all cause cancers. Alan has never been a smoker and was a social drinker. His cancer was caused by HPV 16 (Human Papilloma Virus). There is a vaccine for this type of HPV which currently only girls receive at high school. We hope to change that and see boys vaccinated in the future. Alan is slowly recovering and he has scans every three months to ensure the cancer doesn’t return. His second scan is this month and so far so good.

Cath and I have started training now. During the trip we will cover some of the 27 watchtowers of the wall, climb over old brick-made steps, trek through remote villages and farms, and pass 20 battlements to the ‘Heavenly Ladder’ – a near vertical staircase that climbs to the top of the mountain!

Kelly will be keeping you all up to date with pictures and daily video clips of our progress at and at

The funds we raise will help us with our aims :
1. Refurbishing a room in Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Patients use this room after diagnosis and throughout their clinic appointments.

2. Campaign for HPV vaccination for boys on the NHS.

3. Boost the HEAD & NECK BENEFIT FUND and help those patients most in need. May include short breaks, help with clothing etc.

4. We will also be making a donation to Cancer Support Scotland.

I have watched the man I love tackle this cancer head on and its not pleasant . Please help us wipe it out in Scotland.

Thanks for reading x

You can contact Sharleen at  

Cath’s Story

Hello there my name is Cath Clark, I’m an Aussie bird who has lived in Scotland for 45 years now. I have always been a slightly wacky, glam, fun loving person who believes in living life to the full and meeting challenges head on (no pun intended!). Having spent 35 years working with British Airways and working alongside the most amazing crew, I had always taken great pride in my appearance and loved my job tremendously. I loved the freedom and confidence which being a Cabin Services Director afforded me. In December 2009, I was diagnosed with cancer in my sinus and tear duct. I am writing to you to tell you about my experience with Head and Neck cancer and why I have undertaken the challenge to trek the Great Wall of China. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

After the initial diagnosis, I went into Rosshall Hospital in Glasgow thinking this would only be for a little operation to unblock my tear duct. However, after the operation I was told by Mr Ewan Kemp, my Ophthalmologist, that the tumour was cancerous. As a ‘grade four’cancer, this meant I would have to have my left eye and cheek removed to stop the cancer spreading. I felt I could not allow such an operation to happen to me. I know my capabilities and this was too much for me. I would not have been able to cope with the trauma and feel I would have ended up suffering a mental breakdown. I felt this would destroy my husband and sons lives, which I could not allow to happen. I decided to let the cancer do its own thing. This did not go down well with the very professional Mr Kemp, which I fully understood. He wanted to save my life. Mr Kemp referred me to Dr Ritchie, an esteemed oncologist from the Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow. Dr Ritchie explained that she could not give me Radiotherapy until my tumour had been removed. She was aware of my earlier decision and told me about Prof Gerald McGarry, an ENT specialist in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, who had pioneered operations on other patients. I was up for that so an appointment was made for me to see Professor McGarry, affectionately known as Indiana Jones!

My husband Bobby and I met this incredible man. Prof McGarry explained the procedure which he would pioneer and perform on me. My operation was arranged and was successful. Prof McGarry cut under the left side of my eye to the corner of my left tear duct and then down the left side of my nose, he then reconstructed under my eye and the bridge of my nose with composite material. This was the beginning of my real journey. I understood in advance the severity and associated side effects of my operation but, in truth, I was not prepared for the aftermath of the op and the difficult road ahead. Physically and emotionally, this was the most painful time of my life. I walked the floor every night in severe pain. The pressure in my head was unbearable and at times I felt my head could have burst. My nose and face were packed with swabs to support the composite, allowing it enough time to fully bond. I was unable to smell or taste anything for 8 months. Due to the Radiotherapy I lost my hair in three places which gave me big bald patch’s at the back of my head. I had my hair cut short and used lots and lots of hairspray to try and hide the bald patches! Despite suffering more than I had ever expected, I wanted to stay strong and positive for my family. I knew I had to beat the cancer. I had to survive. Prof McGarry and his team along with Mr Kemp monitored my physical progress very closely.

When I was well enough, I was fitted for my Radiotherapy mask, something I had never even heard of before. I felt totally unprepared and I was terrified. My tumour was very close to my Pituitary gland, so the precision and accuracy of the beam was utterly crucial. This meant that for 5 days a week, for 7 weeks, I had to go to the Beatson, put the mask over my face, have it stapled to the table (to ensure I remained still), be left in the room alone, keep my eye pointed away from the beam (to avoid cataracts) and persevere through the treatment. The mask, which had been moulded to fit my face exactly, was very claustrophobic. The mask felt suffocating and disorientating and on one occasion I suffered a panic attack. In hindsight, it was a necessary evil but being strapped down, unable to see, frightened and alone was a truly horrific experience; but it saved my life.

After my Radiotherapy came another blow. In my post-op check, a full body scan revealed a lump on my fallopian tubes. I had to undergo another surgery to remove my tubes. After all of this, at a point where I felt totally exhausted and beaten down, I started my skin grafting treatments on my face. By this point I had completely lost my confidence. I had horrendously low self esteem and questioned every decision I had to make, no matter how trivial. My physical journey was well underway but my emotional scars were as raw as my surgical wounds. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t go out. I felt alone, like no one would understand. I felt broken. I felt I had let my husband down. I felt disfigured. My darkest thoughts still haunt me to this day. Even now, writing this page to help other patients, I find reliving this time in my life unbearably hard. It is a difficulty words cannot express. In this time of fear, loneliness and heartbreak I discovered there was no head and neck cancer support group in Scotland; no one for me to turn to, no one who could understand and no one who could show me that there would be life after this cancer. Unlike with most cancers, the effects and scars of head and neck cancer cannot be covered by your clothes or by your make up. They are visible for everyone to see, to stare at and to judge. My cancer was emotionally debilitating and physically scarred me, but the real heroes are those who have been far more affected than I; people who have lost an eye, have Laryngectomies, have lost the ability to speak, have lost extensive parts of their face and worse still, those who have lost their lives. We will walk for all of them.

I am one of the lucky ones, I survived. Throughout all of this time I was incredibly well looked after by the various clinical teams I encountered. Physically I was improving. I realised that what I was going through was NOT unique – there were other patients suffering too, who were they talking to? I wanted something positive to come from my nightmare, so I spoke with Prof McGarry, my ENT specialist nurses, Amahl Mathie, (my fairy godmother!) and the lovely Lesley Sabey, and persuaded them to help start a Head and Neck Cancer Support Group in Scotland. I was introduced to another patient, Nelson McFarlane, and together we founded the Heads Up Support Group for patients and carers. Now in its third year, Nelson, myself, and some wonderful friends (Kel, Lynne, and Eiric) have pulled back from the support side of the group to allow us to focus on raising awareness. Whilst Heads Up continues to flourish and look after our patients offering much needed support, Heads Up Awareness, has been afforded the time to push forward in our endeavours to promote understanding and education of the public on the necessity of regularly checking yourself, ensuring early diagnosis for the best possible outcome. I do hope the message from my experience of having cancer is : if you see or feel something on your head, neck, mouth, face or body that is not the norm, please make time to see your doctor and get it checked.

Having come through my journey, challenging and heartbreaking as it has been, I am here. I am alive. I saw my son get married. I got to meet my beautiful grandson. Now it is time for me to start another journey…one which includes hiking boots, walking poles and various other items like sleeping bags, biodegradable toilet paper and blister packs that are completely alien to this city girl! Prof McGarry gave me a second chance and saved my life. Now I’m stepping completely out of my comfort zone (and my stilettos!), to tackle the Great Wall of China Trekking Challenge to help RAISE AWARENESS and vital FUNDS for Head and Neck Cancer Patients in Scotland and Cancer Support Scotland. 

You can read more about our mission on our Facebook pages but in short, we need your help, we need your money and together we need to stamp out this cancer! Come on guys get behind us, lets make a difference and make it happen. Thank you, Love Cath.

To support Cath, Sharleen and Kelly visit their Just Giving page at

To read all about their challenge and adventure as it happens like their page at 

Or you can text code GWAL73 and amount to 70070

Good luck ladies and thank you from everyone at Cancer Support Scotland.


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