Hope is the lifeblood of survival

HARD at work at the "sharp" end of the health service, blood transfusion service manager Dr Moira Carter has always been acutely aware of just how essential every single drop is.

• Moira Carter and friends will enter MoonWalk spirit by dressing for success

Whether it's keeping tiny babies alive OR treating accident victims, from the moment the donor walks in the door to the point where their blood reaches hospital beds, she knows each step in the process is a vital component in saving lives.

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When two close friends found themselves battling breast cancer and needed blood products as part of their treatment, Moira understood exactly how important each drop of blood is.

For one friend, there was good news - today she is fighting fit. For the other, sadly, the outcome was the worst it could possibly be.

Which is why Moira - and thousands of determined women like her who have been touched by the scourge of cancer - are preparing to stride out in a fortnight for an all-night marathon walk which will pay sincere tribute to those who have faced it head on, and provide hope for the ones who will battle it in the future.

"Every single blood donation can touch three lives," points out Moira, who works at the Scottish National Blood Donation Service at Lauriston Place.

"Quite often breast cancer treatment actually requires less blood than other forms. But people couldn't survive most cancer treatment without blood, they become dependent during chemotherapy. They need to be supported by blood and blood components.

"People help us by giving blood. It's my turn now to give something back."

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Moira will pound the streets of the Capital on June 11, side by side with an estimated 10,000 women - and quite a few men - as they push themselves to the limit at the sixth MoonWalk Edinburgh.

Some will take on the full 26.2 miles, others a less demanding but still impressive 13.1 miles. And all are likely to have embraced this year's Moulin Rouge theme to its fullest, dressed in bras embellished with feathers, sparkles, in some cases windmills, others in poignant images of lost loved ones.

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The event, organised by charity Walk the Walk, has become a regular feature on the Edinburgh fundraising calendar for the past six years. The millions of pounds it raises are ploughed into projects, research and services linked to breast cancer care.

For many walkers like Moira, the night has special significance: it will be a chance to pay personal tribute to someone close who has battled - sometimes unsuccessfully - one of the most common cancers to affect women.

In her case, it's also an opportunity to highlight the vital role the blood transfusion service plays in their care.

"Having direct experience of losing people as a result of cancer and given what I do for a living, this is a great cause," she says. "It made sense to do it."

Her close friend Val Duncan lost her struggle with breast cancer in 2005, aged 48. It was a devastating blow for Moira and her colleagues at the Blood Transfusion Service where Val worked as donor programme adviser.

"Val was a colleague at work but she was also a very close friend," says Moira, 54, of Dalkeith. "It affected us all when she died." Meanwhile Moira's other close friend, Anne Tod, was embroiled in her own battle against the condition - on the way to being given a bill of health.

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Touched by both their experiences, Moira resolved to set herself a fundraising challenge. But walking the walk has also provided her with an additional benefit - it's helped her get fit.

"I'm not being entirely altruistic in this," she grins. "This was about getting fit and it's worked - I've lost a stone and half since I started training."

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Moira will be joined on the night by sisters-in-law Margaret McCann, 59, and Annette Carter, 51, both from Greenlaw, all walking under the banner "Gerry's Babes" - in tribute to Margaret's husband, Gerry. Joining them will be friends Maureen Chalmers and Suzanne Baxter, also from Greenlaw.

"We wanted to try something that we couldn't just say och, we'll be fine, we can do that," adds Moira. "We wanted a proper challenge. And I've really enjoyed training. You see things you don't see when driving or on the bus. It's been a great experience."

MoonWalk also has special significance for 30-year-old care assistant Rebecca Kemmer - she lost her mother, Teneke, to breast cancer when she was still just a little girl.

"I was ten when she died, she was just 40," says Rebecca, who lives in Ardmillan. "So taking part in this is mostly for my mum."

Rebecca has tried to discover if there's genetic risk of her, too, falling prey to breast cancer. "I went for genetic tests to see if I was a high risk," she adds. "Unfortunately, because I lost my mum so long ago, there's no DNA samples so it wasn't possible. At least I've been told I'm not thought to be any more likely to get it than anyone else."

She knows what to expect from the gruelling marathon walk - this will be her third time. Last time around, she endured the misery of losing two toenails during the walk, yet she was so enthralled by the atmosphere, she hardly noticed.

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"The atmosphere is amazing and it really drives you along," she adds. "It's quite emotional too, especially at the start when there's this realisation of what everyone is there for."

She'll be joined in team "Nipples of Steel" by second time around MoonWalker Becca Freeden, 32, and first timers Ali Williams, 29, and Fiona Craig, 29, from Penicuik. "The whole thing is amazing, you get people out on the doorsteps at 3am giving you tea and sweets, egging you on. It's like a big hen party," Rebecca adds.

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And while she pounds the streets, each mile seals a bond with the mum she lost too soon: "I definitely feel closer to my mum, and my teammates seem to feel her spirit too. This is a brilliant way to cherish her memory."

Big strides

The MoonWalk Edinburgh 2011 will be held on June 11 at Inverleith Park.

Thousands of women and men will power-walk through the streets of Edinburgh in brightly decorated bras at midnight, covering 26.2 miles. The route will be confirmed next week.

Most of the money raised in Scotland stays in Scotland and to date the MoonWalk Edinburgh has raised more than 12 million.

Grants have been made to Maggie's Care Centre in Glasgow; Breast Cancer Institute, Edinburgh; Breast Cancer Campaign; and for scalp coolers in hospitals throughout Scotland.

Walk the Walk has raised in excess of 67m for vital breast cancer causes since its launch in 1997. For more information go to www.walkthewalk.org.