October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. When Lara Streatfield died last year at the age of 40 after being diagnosed with breast cancer, her friends and family were devastated.
AASMA DAY talks to some of Lara’s school friends about how they organised a “Lap For Lara” to mark the anniversary of her death and raise awareness about the disease
Lara Streatfield was a courageous and inspirational woman who dealt with her impending death with the same strength and independence she showed throughout life.
That’s the verdict of Lara’s friends and family who are still reeling from losing her to breast cancer at the age of just 40 in September last year.
Lara, who grew up in Bilsborrow, near Preston, was a pupil at Our Lady’s Catholic High School in Fulwood before going on to study at Cardinal Newman College and the University of Sheffield.
Lara had a real desire to see the world and lived and visited many different countries, but she remained a Proud Prestonian at heart and regularly returned to the city to reunite with her friends.
Rebecca Moncrief, 41, who lives in Cottam, Preston, explains: “Lara had a real wanderlust and desire to see the world.
“She went to so many places including Argentina, Peru, Bolivia and Antigua and she lived in Mexico and other parts of South America for a while.
“But Lara had a really close knit group of friends in Preston and always remained a Proud Prestonian at heart.
“There was a group of us who were all in the same school year as Lara at Our Lady’s High School and we kept in touch and she would travel to Preston regularly for reunions.”
Stephen Canavan, also 41, who lives in Fulwood, was also a good friend of Lara’s, says: “We all met at the age of 11 and remained in good contact throughout the years.
“Lara was a wonderful person and was always there for her friends.
“Some people just touch you and affect your life and you don’t realise how much until they are not there.”
It was about two years ago when Lara returned to the UK from Mexico and was living in London that she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38.
Rebecca recalls: “Lara’s friend Hannah Cowling was diagnosed with breast cancer and was undergoing treatment.
“Then Lara went to get a lump checked out and unfortunately, not only was it cancer, it was an aggressive form and had already spread.
“Lara did later admit that she should have got it checked out earlier.
“I went with Lara to her first oncology appointment in Tooting and they told her the disease was very aggressive and had spread.
“Lara was very strong and took notes throughout the appointment while I was a mess of tears.
“The doctors were clear that Lara was facing long term treatment for the cancer.
“Lara was so fierce, independent and fearless, she had no time for self pity.”
Lara was thrown into a life of gruelling treatment including surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She had a mastectomy and reconstruction and continued to work at her job in IT at a television production company for six months until her symptoms worsened to such a point that it made it impossible.
By now the cancer had spread to Lara’s bones and she was in pain, but she remained resilient and alongside the conventional cancer treatment, she tried countless alternative therapies.
Stephen says: “The thing about Lara was that even when she was ill, she really embraced life.
“She was a very inspirational and fiercely independent person.
“Lara accepted her death was inevitable and made the most of every day of her life.
“She was always there to give people some light in their moment of darkness.
“Even when she was very ill, Lara was a great and supportive friend.”
Rebecca adds: “Even though Lara accepted she was not going to beat the disease, she remained in control.
“She researched every aspect of her disease and in the last 18 months of her life, she went to Switzerland a few times for pioneering treatment.
“It did not cure her but it gave her quality of life.”
As Lara’s condition deteriorated, she began making plans for the end of her life.
Ever organised and independent, Lara arranged her own funeral and even a party at her flat in London for after her death.
Stephen says: “The month before Lara died, she sent me a card for my 40th birthday.
“Even when she was incredibly ill, she was still thinking of others and it was such a lovely gesture.”
Rebecca remembers: “The last time I saw Lara, I think she knew it would be the last time she saw me.
“We went for a meal and she talked about after her death and told me I would know she was still there for me.
“Towards the end, she was very matter of fact and talked openly about her death.”
Lara passed away on September 11 last year and her funeral and cremation were held in Preston. People from all over the country and world attended and Lara had an amazing turn out.
Lara’s dad Roy and brother Nicholas related how Lara was completely in control of her own death and had a positive experience with her treatment.
To honour Lara’s life and memory one year on, a group of her old school friends organised “Lap For Lara”, a bike ride of the Guild Wheel and Lara’s friends and family from all over the country gathered in Preston to take part in the event.
Around 60 people took part in the bike ride - including Lara’s dad Roy Streatfield and his wife Gill, Lara’s stepmum.
Lara’s friend Hannah Cowling, who also had breast cancer and is now doing well, also came to Preston from London to take part in the day.
Lap For Lara was organised by Lara’s friends Rebecca Moncrief, Stephen Canavan, Kristen Rawstron and Joanne Beesley who all went to school with her.
At the start of the bike ride on Hoyles Lane, Cottam, they erected a marquee tent filled with pictures of Lara where people could read about her story.
The marquee also contained information and leaflets about two charities which helped Lara during her illness - The Willow Foundation and Yes To Life.
The Willow Foundation gave Lara a much needed break during her treatment with a Willow Special Day - an overnight stay, theatre trip and meal in London with her good friend Hannah Cowling, who was also living with breast cancer.
Hannah recalls: “The distraction from illness and a chance to laugh was enormously therapeutic bringing some joy to an otherwise very difficult time.
“Lara and I talked a lot about that day.
“It now has a special poignancy for me because it helps me remember Lara being happy and enjoying herself.”
As well as the Lap For Lara Guild Wheel bike ride, a commemorative netball match in Lara’s honour was organised by Joanne Beesley. Lara was part of the netball team at Our Lady’s and the team won a lot of trophies during their reign.
As part of Lara’s legacy, information was provided during the day to promote preventative checking for cancer.
Rebecca explains: “We came up with the idea of organising Lap For Lara and the other events to mark the anniversary of her death while talking to her family at the funeral.
“Lara was such a social human being and she would have wanted something positive to come out of her untimely death.
“She would want to encourage people to get any medical concerns checked out and not delay seeking medical advice.
“If anyone has any concerns about anything unusual in their body, they should go and get it checked straight away.
“No one should ever have to look back and say: ‘I didn’t have the time.’
“There is no point in waiting. You can always find excuses to put things off.”
Stephen says: “Despite the typical appalling Lancashire weather, Lap For Lara was a truly wonderful day and a fitting tribute to one of the most beautiful and inspirational people I have ever known.”
Roy Streatfield, Lara’s dad, who lives in Florida, came to Preston and took part in Lap For Lara with his wife Gill.
He says: “It is so hard to put a life of 40 years into a few words that are worthy of our precious Lara.
“She was independent, very conscientious and studious, enjoyed travelling and had a giving and generous spirit.
“Lara was well loved and respected by her family, friends and colleagues.
“We still find it incredulous that her life was cut short by this terrible disease before she had chance to fulfil all her dreams and potential.”
• Lara left donations in her will to the charities which supported her during her illness.
Every year, 14,000 young adults are diagnosed with a serious illness. The Willow Foundation aims to be able to offer a special day to every one of them.
Willow is the only national charity working with seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40 to fulfil uplifting and unforgettable Special Days.
These Special Days allow them and their families to reconnect and refocus on each other while enjoying an activity of their choosing.
Founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper and TV presenter, Bob Wilson and his wife Megs, Willow is a lasting memorial to their daughter, Anna, who died of cancer aged 31. Anna’s love of life and the enriching experiences of her own Special Days were the charity’s inspiration.
Since 1999, Willow has fulfilled more than 11,000 Special Days for young adults living with life-threatening conditions such as cancer, motor neurone disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease.
• For more information, visit: www.willowfoundation.org.uk. To find out about leaving a legacy in your will, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01707 259777.
Yes To Life was another charity that supported Lara.
It is an independent charity which provides support, information and financial assistance to those with cancer who want to take an integrated approach using the best of orthodox and complementary and alternative medicine.
• Call the helpline on 0870 163 2990 or visit: www.yestolife.org.uk. To donate, text: YTLB10 to 70070.