In times of adversity, true friendships become an invaluable source of strength and support. This holds especially true for Stephen Bennett, a devoted father from St Helens, who found solace and encouragement from his lifelong friends when his youngest daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with cancer. These friends, who had already faced their own battles with cancer and experienced the loss of loved ones to the disease, rallied together to offer unwavering support to Stephen and his family.
Among Stephen’s close-knit group of friends, David McKie and James Thomas had triumphed over testicular cancer, while brothers Alan and Shaun McKeegan sadly lost their father to lymphoma. Over the past 18 months, this tight circle of friends organized a series of events, including a mini music festival, a black-tie casino night, a sponsored swim, as well as numerous raffles and auctions, to raise funds for cancer research and support.
Stephen vividly recalls the chilling experience of holding a 3D print of the tumor that was threatening his daughter’s life. He reflected on the horrifying realization that this malignant growth had been silently growing inside her without their knowledge. An overwhelming sense of helplessness and guilt washed over him, questioning how Leah would overcome such a formidable challenge. However, thanks to ongoing medication administered at home, Leah, now 10 years old, has stabilized. She has even resumed playing with her football team and eagerly anticipates joining her 13-year-old sister, Phoebe when she starts high school in September.
David McKie, one of Stephen’s friends, faced his own battle with testicular cancer in 2018. Following a sudden swelling in his left testicle while on holiday in Turkey, David sought medical attention upon returning home. His testicle was promptly removed, confirming the presence of cancer. David, who works as an engineer, underwent three rounds of chemotherapy at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Liverpool to target cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes. Though concerned about his future fertility, David experienced the joy of becoming a father to two-year-old Harley after going into remission, reported Liverpool Echo.
David hoped that his own cancer journey would offer Stephen valuable insights and understanding as they navigated Leah’s treatment together. Having been friends since their primary school days, Stephen and David, along with their close-knit group, have consistently supported one another through life’s challenges.
Another friend, James Thomas, faced a similar battle with testicular cancer in 2020 and underwent treatment comparable to David’s. James, a self-employed builder and a father of two is now also in remission. Reflecting on his own cancer journey, James acknowledges the difficulties he encountered in processing the diagnosis. Yet, when he considers Leah’s resilience and her ongoing battle with this cruel disease, he is inspired to push himself further, including undertaking a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The culmination of their fundraising efforts will occur next month when this group of friends, consisting of seven members, embarks on their most demanding challenge yet—a seven-day hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. Two additional group members, Alan McKeegan (42) and his brother Shaun (40), will participate in the Race for Life and the Kilimanjaro challenge as a tribute to their father, John, who tragically succumbed to lymphoma in 2016.
Stephen expresses gratitude for the stability Leah has experienced over the past two years, thanks to ongoing medical treatment. He acknowledges the positive impact of scientific research in their lives, emphasizing that raising funds through their efforts will not only benefit Leah but also other children, adults, and their friends who have faced or will face a cancer diagnosis.
This inspiring group of friends stands united in their determination to make.