Health

Down sisters raising awareness of pancreatic cancer by cycling around Northern Ireland

As rates of cancer continue to rise, two Co Down sisters both personally affected by the illness embark tomorrow on a poignant and challenging endurance fundraiser in memory of loved ones. Jenny Lee reports

Sisters Andrea Harrower and Cathy Booth, pictured left, with the 1974 Volkswagen Beetle that will carry Andrea’s late husband Paddy’s bike around the periphery of Northern Ireland during their 48-hour endurance cycle
Sisters Andrea Harrower and Cathy Booth, pictured left, with the 1974 Volkswagen Beetle that will carry Andrea’s late husband Paddy’s bike around the periphery of Northern Ireland during their 48-hour endurance cycle Sisters Andrea Harrower and Cathy Booth, pictured left, with the 1974 Volkswagen Beetle that will carry Andrea’s late husband Paddy’s bike around the periphery of Northern Ireland during their 48-hour endurance cycle

TWO sisters with a passion for endurance events will be using pedal power to cycle clockwise non-stop around Northern Ireland in just two days to raise money for research and awareness about pancreatic cancer that claimed the lives of one sister’s husband and the other’s best friend

Living with the grief of losing two loved ones, Andrea Harrower (48) from Dromara and her sister Cathy Booth (46) from Hillsborough, will on Friday June 9 set out on an epic journey to #PedalThePeriphery of Northern Ireland, completing 480 miles in just 48 non-stop hours.

The idea for the challenge came from Andrea’s husband, Paddy Harrower, just five days before he died. The former PE teacher from Wallace High School and sports fanatic had only 14 weeks to live from diagnosis on Easter Sunday, April 17 2022, until his death on July 24. Presenting late, his symptoms included indigestion and pain in the upper abdomen.

Wanting “something positive” to come from a diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer, Paddy challenged his wife and sister-in-law to take on the endurance event to support local pancreatic cancer charity NIPANC raise both funds and awareness.

Andrea pictured with her late husband Paddy and their sons Fraser and Alex
Andrea pictured with her late husband Paddy and their sons Fraser and Alex Andrea pictured with her late husband Paddy and their sons Fraser and Alex

The money will go into research in memory of Paddy and a school friend of Cathy’s, Natalie Wilson, who died aged 40 from the disease, leaving behind three young children.

The #PedalThePeriphery event will start at the gates of Ormeau Park on Friday, where George Ezra will be playing at the Belsonic Music Festival in Belfast. Paddy adopted the singer’s uplifting Green Green Grass song during his illness and it was later played at his funeral.

The pair will be followed on the ride by Andrea’s recently restored 1974 Volkswagen Beetle as a quirky support vehicle. Unroadworthy, it was repaired, free-of-charge, by master technician Mark Strutt, whose brother John died of the illness three years ago.


Paddy’s bike will be mounted on top of the VW and will make the metaphorical journey along with Cathy and Andrea. Aptly the car is purple, the colour associated with pancreatic cancer.

Andrea, a personal trainer, said: “Cycling was so important to Paddy, his self-devised challenges and other official events at home and abroad. He used the bike to get to work and on family holidays.

“During his illness he set himself his own challenges as a reason ‘to get out of bed until the day he died'. As a family, we and our two sons, Fraser (19) and Alex (15), and my sister and brother did a final ride out from home with him only a couple of weeks before he passed away.

"His motto was: 'I’m not living with cancer; cancer is living with me and I’m taking it for a ride.'"

During the two-day, clockwise cycle around the north, the sisters are adopting the NIPANC charity slogan #TimeMatters to continue raising public awareness about the need to understand the symptoms of the disease and seek early diagnosis and treatment.

Last month, the first audit in over 10 years into pancreatic cancer in Northern Ireland revealed there has been an 86 per cent increase in confirmed cases, rising from 152 in 2001 to 283 in 2020 since a previous audit was carried out in 2001.

The audit also found that most patients are symptomatic at diagnosis (94 per cent) and that the most common route to diagnosis is through emergency admission (43 per cent) with the majority being diagnosed at an advanced stage (53 per cent).

Its findings prompted Mark Taylor, NI director of the Royal College of Surgeons and consultant hepatobiliary and pancreatic cancer surgeon, to call for a strengthening of local pancreatic cancer services as “incidences are likely to continue to rise” due to reasons such as “increasing age, obesity and diabetes”.

“It is concerning that the most common route to diagnosis was via emergency admissions and the majority of patients presented with advanced (Stage 4) cancer where the cancer has spread to a distant site. This underpins the importance of continuing in all our campaigning efforts to raise awareness of early signs and symptoms to enable timely diagnosis and treatment.”

Cathy and Andrea’s fundraising cycle has a third hashtag – #IBlamePaddy is also being introduced to inject some fun into fundraising.  

Andrea explained: “#IBlamePaddy came about when people started finding out he was terminally ill. Friends and family felt they had no excuse but to join in some of the things he was doing, including cold water swimming and kayaking.

“I don’t think he realised the impact he had on people. He was a modest man who wouldn’t like too much attention, but we think Paddy would be secretly pleased that the hashtag can be used by anyone fundraising to literally blame him on any crazy thing they do, to raise money and awareness for this important cause.”

Cathy Booth with her friend Natalie Wilson who died, aged 40 from pancreatic cancer
Cathy Booth with her friend Natalie Wilson who died, aged 40 from pancreatic cancer Cathy Booth with her friend Natalie Wilson who died, aged 40 from pancreatic cancer

Cathy, who runs her own business consultancy, said: “Within five years, I not only lost Paddy, an incredible brother-in-law, but also one of my school friends, Natalie, to this devastating disease.

“Andrea and I are on a mission to raise awareness and fund vital research so other people don’t have to go through what we have.

"We want as many people involved in fundraising as possible and will be talking to schools, rugby and cycling/sports clubs along the route about how they can be part of our journey and #IBlamePaddy too.

“For us, this had to be an endurance challenge, given what we have both personally experienced. We know, no matter what physical and mental distress and pressure we put on ourselves during this challenge, it is absolutely nothing compared to what someone on a pancreatic cancer journey is facing."

Find more about Pedal the Periphery and make a donation at justgiving.com/fundraising/pedaltheperiphery

What are the main symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

  • Jaundice – yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, and/or very itchy skin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Upper abdominal pain or discomfort, which may radiate to the back
  • Mid-back pain or discomfort
  • Indigestion which does not respond to medication
  • Pale and smelly stools that don't flush easily

Other symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain on eating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • New onset diabetes – not associated with weight gain
  • Low mood or depression

The symptoms and severity can vary for each person but it's important that if you are experiencing any which are persistent and not normal for you, you visit your GP.

For further information and support visit nipanc.org