MoonWalk: Stories of hope and triumph that will inspire you to think… pink

These are the personal tales that will have thousands walking 26 miles through the night to raise funds to fight breast cancer

In nine weeks' time they will crowd into Edinburgh, 10,000-strong and each with their own personal reason for taking part in the fourth annual MoonWalk.

Inverleith Park, the new starting line for the marathon and half-marathon length event, will become a sea of bra-festooned pink as both the female – and some male – walkers prepare for the night-time challenge. The MoonWalk, to raise money for cancer research and treatment, has become the most popular charity fund-raiser in the capital's calendar with its combination of physical effort and a unique, carnival-style atmosphere.

It attracts walkers of all ages and backgrounds. This year, a party of MSPs from across the political spectrum will join forces to take part, including SNP Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon and Public Health Minister Shona Robison and Labour health spokeswoman Cathy Jamieson and her Conservative counterpart, Mary Scanlon. They will be joined by breakfast television presenter Lorraine Kelly, a long-standing supporter of cancer charities.

Again, public and private sector buildings along the route will be lit up with pink lighting, or with pink window displays, to give the walkers encouragement through the night.

Each year in the UK, more than 12,000 women die from breast cancer, but over the past decade the chances of survival have improved by 20%, largely due to increased awareness, early detection and treatment. Now women have an 84% chance of living five years after the disease is discovered.

Over the past three years, 30,000 amazing women and men have put on their brightly decorated bras to take part in Moonwalk Edinburgh and raise a staggering 7.8m. The charity has helped with money to build a second Maggie's Centre in Glasgow and enabled the Breast Cancer Institute at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh to rebuild its breast cancer ward.

On June 20, thousands more walkers will take to the streets of Edinburgh to hopefully raise millions more. Each has a personal story of triumph or tragedy and all represent the enduring strength of the human spirit. Here, some of those walkers tell Jeremy Watson senior writer of Scotland of Sunday, which is proud to be the event's media sponsor, about what inspired them to take part.

1 KAREN'S STORY

A father's memory

A YEAR ago, Karen MacLeod could only reflect on the talent and fitness that once saw her selected for Olympic glory.

One of Britain's best female marathon runners of the 1990s, Skye-born MacLeod was in need of a kidney transplant after a long-standing illness became acute.

Her younger sister Deborah was the donor in an operation that took place last May at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Now, restored to health, she will be one of the thousands of walkers taking part in the Full Moon walk – the marathon distance of 26 miles 385 yards – this June.

Raising money for cancer charities is close to her heart. Her father died of the disease when she was young and her first event – a half-marathon at the age of 22 -was to raise funds for the cause. It was that race that convinced her she could run at a higher level and eventually led on to a place in the GB team at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Now, at the age of 50, the wheel has turned full circle with her return to fund-raising alongside three friends from the island. "I started out running charity-fundraisers but that stopped when I got more serious about athletics."

In Georgia in 1996, MacLeod – who was running times of around two hours 30 minutes – was a team-mate of fellow-Scot Liz McColgan after selectors placed their faith in her ability to handle the heat of Atlanta.

She had also run for Britain in World Championships and for Scotland in the 1994 Commonwealth Games. It was around two years after Atlanta that an alarming dip in running form led her to seek medical help and her kidney problem was diagnosed.

"I don't really know what caused it. It could have been something to with training really hard when I had a virus which might have damaged my immune system," she said.

She gave up athletics at the top level and only continued her running to keep fit while developing her career with the NHS. She is currently a health-at-work adviser with NHS Highlands in the Ross-shire area.

She gave up running in 2005, but it wasn't until last year that her kidney problems deteriorated to such an extent that she had to undergo emergency dialysis. A month later, she had the transplant.

"I didn't really acknowledge to myself how bad it was and I got to the stage where I was really poorly and had to have emergency dialysis.

"Luckily my sister had already prepared to give me her kidney. She was adamant that if it needed to happen I should have one of hers. She would say it's just plumbing, all they do is take it out and plumb another one in. My partner, Angus, really inspired me to have the operation as well."

MacLeod says she and her sister, a keen fell runner, probably broke records in leaving the transplant ward in seven days and four days later respectively. Five weeks later, they were walking side by side in the Skye half-marathon. "You are told to get active as soon as possible but a marathon runner probably has a different idea of what getting active means," she joked.

Almost a year on and the transplant appears to have gone well. "So far it's been great and compared to what I was feeling like I have a whole new lease of life."

She is now looking forward to the Full Moon in nine weeks. "Well, I did the half-marathon last year so I thought this year I might as well go the whole hog. After all the full-length marathons it will be a novelty for me to walk one."

She won't lack for company. "I'm doing it with two female friends and a male friend called Roddy who wanted to make his 60th birthday memorable. As he will be wearing a bra, it will certainly be that."

2 MAUREEN'S STORY

Love of a sister

WHEN Maureen McCaskey steps up to the starting line for the Half Moon, her sister Linda McDougall will be uppermost in her mind. Her formerly healthy sibling, who had taken part in many charity fund-raisers herself, was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and is not well enough to take part.

"I never thought I would do anything like this," said McCaskey. "But Linda used to do a lot of this for charity and it gets her down that now she can't. So, if she can't do it, I am determined to step in and take her place."

The sisters, who live in Edinburgh, have had good reason to help cancer charities over the years. Their parents died from cancer as did one of their brothers. Linda has been having treatment at the city's Western General Hospital for breast cysts since 1998 but in 2006 a tumour was found.

"They shrunk the tumour and did an operation and then I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I was clear for a while, then in May last year I found a lump in my forearm. Then in November I was diagnosed with cancer and in December I had secondary cancers in my liver, suspected lungs and pelvis."

She has undergone a second long course of treatment. "I have my last chemotherapy this week. That's number 18. It has gone well, so I can't complain. I am glad to say the chemo is working and it has gone from my liver and dramatically improved in my chest area. I have been well looked after by everyone involved and I can't thank them enough. A lot of my family have been affected by cancer but it is better to talk about it because that way it becomes less frightening."

Her 47-year-old sister works as a nurse in St Columba's Hospice in Edinburgh and will be doing the walk with five colleagues.

"I am on my feet all the time as a nurse so I hope it will stand me in good stead," said Maureen. "I also did 11 years on the night shift and although I haven't done that for a while I still feel in night-shift mode. I hope that will help me cope with walking through the night.

"Besides, I have invested in trainers, some luminous pink tights and some tie-on wings and I am determined to get some use out of them."

Linda, 54, who used to work for the charity Pain Association Scotland, said she was proud her sister was stepping into her walking shoes.

"Before the diagnosis I was fit and well. I had worked out for 26 years and went three times a week to a gym. I believe it's my fitness that has got me through."

3 JEAN'S STORY

For her family

Jean Izatt has personal experience of the effect that cancer can have on a family. She has lost several of her closest relatives – including her mother, father and brother – to the disease and her sisters have both had cancer scares.

"You seem to hear about someone just about every day," says the 52-year-old occupational therapist from Kelty in Fife. "That is why it is so important to get out there and do what you can."

Jean and daughter Kyra, 22, will be tackling the Full Moon. Although she completed the Half Moon two years ago, this is the first time Jean will have done the full marathon distance. "I like to keep myself fit so hopefully it won't be a problem. We have been out training together two or three times a week and Kyra was saying she had a sore hip so I hope she will be OK."

Jean describes the Moon Walk event as "fantastic". "The atmosphere before everyone sets off is wonderful and it is so well organised. It's just great to take part."

Cancer has taken so many of her relatives that she and her family are now taking part in a genetic screening programme to help to reduce its impact.

"It's best to take what precautions you can. Things can happen so fast."

4 MARGIE'S STORY

Inspirational friends

Margie Nicholl can't recall ever walking as far as 13.2 miles. But the hospital worker from Berwick-upon-Tweed will be on the starting line on June 20 to say thanks to the health care staff and friends and family who helped her through the worst period of her life.

Two years ago, out of the blue, she was diagnosed with breast cancer after finding a lump. After chemotherapy and radiotherapy she became well enough to return to work.

All was well until October last year, when she discovered a "suspicious" lump on her arm. She returned to her doctor and it was found that the cancer had spread. "They did a scan of my chest and abdomen at the same time," she said. "Two days later I was told it had spread to my liver and I had 60% of it removed in an operation on January 13."

She remains relentlessly positive, so much so that she is hoping to return to work soon. "I am feeling much better now and want to get back," she said.

First, she intends to tackle the training for the Half Moon: "I want to do it to raise money and as a way of saying thanks to all the people who helped me."

She will be walking with the friend who helped her by taking her to chemotherapy sessions, and with her daughter.

"She supported me all the way through the chemotherapy and I want to do it with her. I am so lucky that I had a wonderful relationship with all the people who were treating me and looking after me. They have become good friends. I did a 5k last year to raise funds and I just felt that I wanted to do more."

How you can help

Both the Edinburgh Full Moon and Half Moon are now full with 10,000 entrants, but places are still available for the SunWalk in Newcastle on Sunday, July 19. Walkers can either do the full 10km distance or a 5km. Apply through www.walkthewalk.org.

• The Edinburgh MoonWalk still needs volunteers to perform the crucial role of keeping the walkers on their feet and going in the right direction, or to hand out well-deserved sustenance at the legendary pasta party. Why not give a few hours of your time and come and share in the electric atmosphere of The MoonWalk Edinburgh?

Volunteers are needed to help with setting up the event on Early Bird shifts in Inverleith Park on Saturday, June 19. Volunteer marshals are also needed to help the walkers get on their way and to provide assistance and encouragement. Around 1,000 people are needed.

To register for volunteering or to find out more about Walk the Walk visit www.walkthewalk.org or call 01483 741430.

• Where the money goes. One item on which funds are spent are scalp coolers, which minimise distressing hair loss during chemotherapy. Special pink MoonWalk machines are now appearing in hospitals throughout the country.

One oncology unit senior nurse wrote: "We are delighted with the machines. Scalp cooling is offered to eligible patient in clinics and we estimate that we have at least one patient each week using the machines. The main patient group remains the breast team. To show our appreciation 10 of our day unit nursing team have registered in walk the walk this year and are currently training hard."