“I lost my mum and grandad hours apart - now I have dedicated my working life to Cancer Research UK”

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“I wanted to do something so my kids wouldn’t have to go through what me, my sister, or my nan did.”

A woman who lost her mum and grandad to cancer on the same day has left her old career behind and is now working full time organising events for Cancer Research UK.

Abi Malcolm, from Sheffield, experienced two major events on June 23, 2016: she gave birth to her second child, but also received the devastating news that her grandad, Stanley Andrews, had been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer.

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A short while later, Abi’s mum and Stanley’s daughter, Jennifer Andrews, started suffering from debilitating stomach pain.

Betty and Stanley Andrews with baby BettieBetty and Stanley Andrews with baby Bettie
Betty and Stanley Andrews with baby Bettie | Abi Malcolm

She lost four stone in less than six weeks, and after her GP sent her for tests, found out she had cancer in her abdomen.

Abi said: “This was awful news, but at this point, the family believed it could be treated and mum was going to be OK.  We certainly weren’t worried about her dying.

“But, she deteriorated rapidly. I found her at home in intense pain and knew she needed urgent help. I called an ambulance, and they rushed her to the Northern General. 

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“They admitted mum for further tests and the next day we got the shocking news that she probably had just two weeks to live.”

Abi (right) with her sister Annalessia (left) and their Mum, Jennifer.Abi (right) with her sister Annalessia (left) and their Mum, Jennifer.
Abi (right) with her sister Annalessia (left) and their Mum, Jennifer. | Abi Malcolm

The family was told it was an aggressive and rare form of cancer called Retroperitoneal Leiomyosarcoma, which develops in the smooth muscle cells deep in the abdomen, and it had already spread.

Abi added: “Mum was only 58 years old. She doted on her family, was so close to her mum and dad, and loved nothing better than spending time with her grandchildren.”

Sadly, there were no treatment options for either of Jennifer or Stanley, so both were discharged to receive palliative care in the comfort of their own homes.

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Abi said: “All grandad wanted was to go home to die, he didn’t want to take up a bed at the hospital.

“They agreed to discharge him, and he came home on December 10, the day after mum. They both lived on the Wybourn estate, just 10 doors apart, so they weren’t far from each other. We got some comfort in that.”

The following morning, Abi got the call to go straight to the family home.

She said: “By the time we got there, which was just 20 minutes later, mum had already died. It was devastating.

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“I went across the road to nan and granddad’s to tell my uncle, and just as I went into granddad’s bedroom to see him, he took his last breath and died.

“It seemed so bizarre how they both went within hours of each other. They were very close.”

The family held a joint funeral for Jennifer and Stanley, just days before Christmas.

Abi said: “It was really tough for our family, especially for my nan. In one fell swoop she lost both her husband and daughter. Me and my younger sister, Annalessia, lost our mum and grandad. Our lives changed forever because of cancer.”

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Abi and her husband Shawn, aged 47, live in Stannington with their two children, Bettie, who is now seven, and son Stanley, aged nine - who are both named after their grandparents.

Abi Malcolm with her husband, Shawn, and their kids, Bettie and Stanley at Race for Life 2023.Abi Malcolm with her husband, Shawn, and their kids, Bettie and Stanley at Race for Life 2023.
Abi Malcolm with her husband, Shawn, and their kids, Bettie and Stanley at Race for Life 2023. | Abi Malcolm

“I couldn’t have gotten through losing my mum and grandad without Shawn. He was so strong and really supported me through everything,” Abi added. 

“Now, grandma Betty still loves to spend time with her grandkids, and is active and independent at 86 years old.”

In 2020, Abi joined Cancer Research UK’s events team, and has gone on to deliver Race for Life to thousands of participants at towns and cities across the north, including Sheffield, which has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds.

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Abi said: “I got to a point in my life where I really wanted a career where I could make a difference, to do something to give hope to other people faced with cancer.

Senior events manager for Cancer Research UK, Abi Malcolm, on one of many Race for Life days in 2023.Senior events manager for Cancer Research UK, Abi Malcolm, on one of many Race for Life days in 2023.
Senior events manager for Cancer Research UK, Abi Malcolm, on one of many Race for Life days in 2023. | Abi Malcolm

“I wanted to do something so my kids wouldn’t have to go through what me, my sister, or my nan did.”

During the Race for Life season, Abi will be on-site at sunrise, and will be the last one to leave.

She said: “Race for Life is such an inspiring day, filled with hope, positivity, and camaraderie.

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“Those taking part soon realise that they are not alone and that they are able to do something about the circumstance cancer has put them in.

“Seeing my own children and husband doing Race for Life is really special and has given Bettie and Stanley an important understanding of what it is to take part in a mass participation fundraising event, sharing the same cause with other people.”

Since it began in 1994, more than 10 million people have taken part in Race for Life.

As a senior area events manager with the charity, Abi hopes her story can inspire more people to sign up for Race for Life events - including at Graves Park, Sheffield, on June 8 and 9.

Race for Life events are open to all ages and abilities. People can choose from 3k, 5k and 10k events. There is also Pretty Muddy, a 5k mud-splattered obstacle course, which has a kids’ option.

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