'I ate badly, drank loads, then had a stroke - now I'm about to finish something incredible'

A man from Southport has spoken about his health struggles as he prepares to run his last marathon in nearly 30 years.

Neil Shallcross suffered a stroke in 2012, the same year his wife Yvonne was diagnosed with tongue cancer. During this "extremely difficult time", Yvonne was given only six months to live but thanks to surgeons at Aintree Hospital's Maxio-Facial unit, she's still here today.

Unfortunately, Yvonne suffered "quite a severe stroke" in 2022, with Neil now supporting her day-to-day activities. As he does so, the 63-year-old has put a halt to his running and fundraising efforts, something he's been passionate about since the late 1990s.

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Talking to Neil about his wife's diagnoses and his fundraising efforts, the 63-year-old said: "Yvonne was diagnosed with tongue cancer in early 2012 and was initially given six months to live. This was an extremely difficult time, but courtesy of the amazing team of surgeons at Aintree Hospital Maxio-Facial unit, led by Prof Simon Rodgers, she is still here today.

"We were supported throughout by the team at Aintree and a group called Head and Neck Cancer (HaNC) – a support group for people going through the same diagnosis. I decided to raise some funds for head and neck cancer research at Aintree Hospital by setting myself a challenge of running ten 10Ks in a month, and ten half marathons."

Despite somewhat giving up the running and fundraising to care for his wife, Neil who works as Ceremonial Crew at Moisters (Co-op) Funeralcare, will be donning his running shoes once again for colleague, Steven Davis who was diagnosed with cancer last year. Neil explained: "I am pleased to say that after a tough year of treatment at The Christie Hospital in Manchester he is now in remission, and I am running the Manchester 10K to raise some funds for the centre where he was successfully treated. This will probably be my last run, and I can't think of a better reason than raising money for such a brilliant place."

In the late 1990s, supplementing the money raised from his mixed doubles darts tournaments held for charity at the Koronet pub in Southport. Originally, it started with Neil walking from Liverpool Pier to Southport Pier, but as friends joined it grew bigger and bigger.

Neil said: "The following year a few more friends joined, and it became an annual event. We walked from various places back to Southport always ending up at different piers including in Wigan, Parbold Hill and blackpool-tower>Blackpool Tower.

"I always chose a different charity each year and have walked in the region of 500 miles over the years. Fundraising recipients have included the RNIB Sunshine House School, Queenscourt Hospice, the children's ward at Southport Hospital and many more."

In 2005, Neil decided to take a break from charity walks after the Koronet pub closed its doors. Five years later, Neil suffered his first stroke, as well as "a few TIAs which came completely out of the blue with no warning."

TIAs, or Transient Ischemic Attacks are called "mini strokes", a serious condition where the blood supply to your brain is temporarily disrupted. "I hadn’t been looking after myself very well, I had a poor diet and was drinking a lot," Neil added.

"My consultant at Southport Hospital suggested I should try and lose some weight and do some exercise. I later saw an advert in the Southport Visitor, looking for people to do the Great North Run to raise funds for Queenscourt Hospice, and I decided to apply."

In 2011, Neil started training for his first half marathon, where his "love affair" for the hospice started and ever since, the 63-year-old has raised £26,000. He's also attended the Great North Run in Newcastle for 12 years, competing in his last in 2023.

With a group of his wife's friends, Neil walked from Liverpool Pier to Southport Pier once more and held a charity evening, raising around £5,000. He's also an events volunteer at Queenscourt Hospice and last year, won their version of Strictly Come Dancing.

You can donate to Neil's fundraising efforts for the Christie Charity by visiting his JustGiving page.