Mariam Ayad and Billy Hookway with their daughters at their wedding in 2019 (Mariam Ayad/PA)
A woman whose late husband left her a list of challenges will tick off the London Marathon when she joins thousands of runners taking part in the event on Sunday.
Mariam Ayad, 37, from Islington north London, will run in memory of her husband, Billy Hookway, on what would have been their second wedding anniversary although they had been together for 18 years.
When Mr Hookway died from cholangiocarcinoma – bile duct cancer – in August 2020 aged just 36, his widow found a list of life challenges he had left for her.
The list was mainly made up of things to do with the couple’s four daughters Zahra, seven, Leila, six, Eva and Olivia both two, as well as some personal goals for Mrs Ayad, but at the top of the list was running the London Marathon.
That challenge will be completed on Sunday when Mrs Ayad will be one of 1,500 runners raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support which is the event’s official charity in 2021.
“Billy was an incredible father to our four girls and a very supportive husband; he was the best person I knew,” she said.
“The marathon falls on what would have been our wedding anniversary and I can’t think of a better reason to run in memory of Billy on that day.”
Mrs Ayad, who works as an orthoptist (eye specialist) at Great Ormond Street Hospital, praised the support Macmillan had offered the family following Mr Hookway’s diagnosis: “They made it less lonely. The emotional support, information and help we received throughout the experience was vital.
“That’s why I’m running as part of Team Macmillan on Sunday to raise money for the charity so it can continue to be there for everyone with cancer.”
Manchinder Brainch, 45, from Leicester, will run in memory of his wife, Raj, who died of cancer in 2012.
“When Raj was diagnosed with stomach cancer, Macmillan stepped in and helped me and our family get through some of the hardest days of our lives,” said the IT Citrix engineer who has two teenage daughters.
“The wonderful Macmillan nurses were there for Raj and all the family throughout her illness, that’s why I’m so proud to be taking on the London Marathon to give something back to the charity so it can continue to help so many people affected by cancer.”
Louise Bartha, 47, a copywriter from Brighton, is also running for Macmillan after benefiting from the charity’s support.
Mrs Bartha, a fit non-smoker, was first diagnosed with melanoma in 2016, followed by basal cell carcinoma in 2018 and lung cancer in early 2019.
She had a lung resection and then half her left lung removed.
Mrs Bartha, who has two sons – Dylan, 15, and Tate, 12 – credits running with playing a large part in her recovery.
I am so excited to take on the marathon this weekend,” she said. “The run will be a huge bucket list moment for me and an accumulation of so much hard work and mental resilience following my cancer diagnosis.”
It will be Mrs Bartha’s first London Marathon, although she began training for the event in 2018.
“I was set to run the London Marathon but unfortunately my diagnosis stopped me, and then along came a global pandemic, all of which is going to make this weekend even more special.
“Following my cancer diagnosis, I needed the physical challenge to remind myself that my body would still be capable and I’m so proud that I can still push myself to achieve the things I want to do.”
— TCS London Marathon (@TCS London Marathon)
The 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon is set to be the largest marathon staged anywhere in the world, with more than 40,000 participants on the traditional course from Blackheath to The Mall and more than 40,000 people completing a 26.2-mile course of their choice anywhere in the world.
Everyone except the elite athletes chose their own route last year when coronavirus restrictions forced the mass city centre event to be scrapped.
Claire Rowney, executive director of fundraising, marketing and innovation at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our income, at a time when people living with cancer need our support more than ever to help navigate through what continues to be an incredibly anxious period.
“We’re thrilled to be the official charity partner of this year’s event – the vital funds raised by our runners and supporters will help us continue to do whatever it takes so we can be there for everyone living with cancer from day one of their diagnosis.”
To donate to Team Macmillan visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/MacmillanCancerSupport