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Running the London Marathon, 15 years after losing my husband to kidney cancer

28 March 2024

On Sunday 21 April, Nuala Brown, 54, from Reigate, will join tens of thousands of runners at the 2024 TCS London Marathon to complete the 26.2 mile course, in memory of her husband Michael. The month marks 15 years since Michael passed away from kidney cancer at the age of 44, leaving a huge hole in the lives of Nuala and their five children. 

Nuala, who works for the NHS, says: “We met when we worked for an advertising agency in London and were together for 17 years. We were very much in love. We’re such a close-knit family, and it was so hard when he passed. He was really healthy, never missed a day of work in his life, and then, in his late thirties, suddenly he has kidney cancer. I think more money should be going into research about kidneys and that’s why I’m running the London Marathon for Kidney Research UK.” 

Father with his five children on the beach, standing near the sea
Michael on the beach with their children

Michael fought cancer for as long as he could

On Christmas Day in 2004, Michael, who worked as a chiropractor, became alarmed after he began urinating blood. Nuala says: “At first, I told him not to be silly, it must be the red cabbage from our Christmas dinner, but it quickly became apparent that wasn’t the case. We had to go to hospital and suddenly we found out he had a nine-centimetre tumour affecting his kidney.” 

“Doctors managed to remove the tumour and told Michael to go and live a happy life with me and the children. However, when we went back for an appointment six months later, we were told that the cancer had spread to his other kidney and aorta.” 

“Doctors said Michael had six months to live, but he wasn’t having any of it. He was such a determined guy and wanted to be here for me, the children, and his patients. He nearly made five years!” 

We’re a very active family

Nuala is not only completing the London Marathon but has already finished a series of challenges, including marathons in Rome and Valencia, several half-marathons and a four-day hike to Machu Picchu in Peru.  

Nuala says: “We’ve always been very outdoorsy and sporty. Michael was an outdoors person and worked as a ski guide in his younger years. We’ve kept that through our children. One of our daughters has won the Henley’s Women’s Regatta and another has been called up to run at senior level for Great Britain, after representing the country as a junior athlete numerous times. They’ve all run, played squash, and swum for their counties. It’s a part of Michael in there and I’m incredibly proud of their accomplishments.” 

“I’ve had two back surgeries and was told I’d never run again. My last surgery was just before Michael’s passing, and the surgeon said you just cannot run. There’s something about telling an Irish woman you can’t do something! I know Michael would be laughing saying ‘that’s so you!’ That’s why I want to keep running. As our children have gotten older, I now have more time to race which is fun. You meet people and it’s interesting to hear their stories.” 

“Machu Picchu was amazing, but definitely pushed me furthest out of my comfort zone, as I’m petrified of heights and falling. Peruvians are a beautiful people and it’s such a spiritual place, it was fantastic. The best four days hiking ever! I thought I was quite fit because of all the running I do but my goodness I used muscles I didn’t realise I had.” 

Female wearing pink running vest hold a medal after running the Valencia marathon
Nuala at the Valencia Marathon

I’d like to help improve detection of kidney problems

Nuala’s fundraising will go towards research that will improve the lives of kidney patients, and she is particularly keen that people are diagnosed much earlier to enhance treatment options. 

Nuala says: “I hope things do change. In this country there is currently no routine screening for kidney problems. This is especially important where a parent is diagnosed, and the likelihood of hereditary disease is high. It does worry me that people aren’t finding out about problems unless they happen to be getting scanned for something else. For my children, their dad died very young so there should be something.” 

“My brother’s best friend also had kidney disease, and my brother donated his kidney to him. So kidney health is something very close to us all.” 

Crossing the finish line in Michael’s memory

When Nuala completes the London Marathon, she will be greeted by some familiar faces. She says: “Two of my children are off altitude training and one is in South America, but one of my daughters and one of my sons will be there to cheer me on.” 

“Colleagues from the NHS will be out there for me too. My career change was prompted by Michael’s passing and all the help we received. They were so supportive and went above and beyond for Michael and our family.”  

“He was the love of my life and I’m so glad I can do all of this in his memory.”  

Please consider supporting Nuala’s fundraising efforts: Kidney Research UK: TCS London Marathon 2024 (enthuse.com) 

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