The Comet’s Layth: I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to honour the memory of my sister-in-law Anne Aurousseau and to raise awareness of the Get-A-Head charity

The star on the Christmas Tree at the Royal Marsden Hospital in memory of Anne Aurousseau

The star on the Christmas Tree at the Royal Marsden Hospital in memory of Anne Aurousseau - Credit: Archant

The current thing on Facebook during this festive season is to list a few facts about yourself.

Well, here goes: I’ve got three kids, I’m proud to be a journalist for the Comet newspaper – and – I’ll be running the 2016 London Marathon for the charity Get-A-Head in honour of my late sister-in-law Anne Aurousseau, who died of cancer aged 37 in October 2014.

Anne was a vivacious mother of three beautiful children with a loving partner and all to live for when she developed a mysterious hacking cough in 2011. She had always been healthy and didn’t think too much of it at first. It was only when she started to lose weight and become desperately tired that she sought medical advice.

After many different meetings and consultations she was firstly diagnosed as having thyroid cancer with experts recommending the removal of her voice box.

At one stage, as well that scenario, specialists advised removing a section of her oesophagus and part of her trachea.


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But Anne was nothing if not a battler.

She decided on a second opinion which involved a thyroidectomy – the complete removal of her thyroid – along with surgery to remove a tumour larger than a golf ball that was impacting on the thyroid and a nerve that supplied one side of her voice box.

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Unfortunately her cough remained and she continued to be very weak. She told me at the time: “I just wanted to do the normal things a mother does like take the kids to school, run a home and enjoy simple times like trips to the seaside with the kids and my partner Jamie.”

I remember three years ago Anne and Jamie agonising over the decision to tell their angelic children, Ben, soon to be 12, Eleanor, 10, and Olive, eight.

They briefly mentioned they had some sweets for them, before explaining to them in straightforward terms that mummy wasn’t very well.

There was a short silence before little Olive – bless her – asked what sweets they were. Even now, to fight the catch in my throat I stop and smile at the bittersweet memory.

Eventually Anne was diagnosed with having an exceptionally unique and incurable form of cancer, Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma, originating in her trachea.

ACC is an unusually rare cancer, with a very high likelihood of reoccurrence. There is currently no cure.

Despite all the gruelling radiotherapy, and various other battles – which Anne always met bravely and without a shred of bitterness for she was a truly courageous woman – my friend and sister-in-law died at the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital on October 5, 2014.

It was the very day hundreds of family, friends and well wishers in Hitchin, and beyond, held a family fun day at Lucas Lane, the site of Hitchin Cricket Club and Blueharts Hockey Club to raise money for further treatments.

Indeed, as her loyal and caring partner Jamie, her sister and my partner Claire – her best friend from the day she was born to the day she died – and her stoic mother Pauline Mason were at her hospital bedside when she passed, I had her three children and Claire and my three children together at our house that evening.

Knowing that Jamie would tell them the dreadful news the next morning, I tried my best to carry on as normal for them until they returned.

It is only a little thing compared to the dreadful situation they were experiencing at the hospital that they had to deal with, but it is a memory that has never left me.

I was actually due to start a new job as a journalist at the Comet the very next morning too.

Nothing will be tougher in my career then my first story being to write about Anne’s death for our front page that week, and I all can do is thank my colleagues in journalism for their tremendous support.

But this isn’t about me – just like running the marathon isn’t really about me. It’s about honouring the memory of Anne – beloved of so many people whose lives she touched in so many ways.

It’s also about raising as much money as possible for the brilliant charity Get-A-Head because fewer than 25 people per year in the UK develop the cancer that ultimately killed Anne – and we need to raise as much awareness as money for this terrible disease.

There is presently no funding for research undertaken in Britain by the large cancer charities to remedy the situation, or even a new drug therapy to manage the disease – which is why I want to do my best to play a very small part in changing this situation.

And finally, it’s to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has helped Jamie and his three wonderful children, Claire and our kids, Pauline, and Anne’s father Patrice Aurousseau.

It’s my way of saying a small thank you to the all the loving relations of all the families affected by this terrible tragedy – whose immeasurable kindness in just helping us go on has been so crucial to keeping things going for her children.

It’s also to show my gratitude to Anne and Claire’s closest lifelong friends Hannah Wiseman, Alex Laws-Clarke and Jo Wearne whose love and staunch support has helped Claire, Jamie and his and our kids carry on.

I’m also running the 26.2 mile course as a thank you to all those Hitchin mums and teachers at the school gates who were old friends of Anne, and whose support, love, and stream of good-natured memories of her and practical help – in a non-pushy and unobtrusive way – have been a tremendous help that we couldn’t begin to acknowledge. And for which we will always be truly grateful.

And it’s also to show my recognition to everyone in the wider Hitchin community, and beyond, whose solidarity during Anne’s fight – on the family day itself, and since then – has been so welcomed and appreciated.

The freight train of grief hits you at the most mundane times: when you’re making the teas at work, or driving home one night, or decorating the Christmas tree, or feeding the guinea pigs, or when Christmas shopping – and we all have good days and bad.

Only yesterday I was playing Lego with my eight-year-old son when, in between making his cars and Stars Wars constructions, he made a grave complete with flowers and a headstone – an act which completely stopped me in my tracks.

We have all lost loved ones to cancer and other awful circumstances – and between us all the only certainty is that the grief will return.

But as I hugged my young son with tears in both our eyes it made me even more determined to run this marathon for Anne, everyone who has supported us, and for the Get-A-Head charity. It’s the least I can do.

And, as we gear up for Christmas with our families, if you can’t donate to the cause then that’s absolutely fine – money’s tight at the best of times let alone this time of year so I completely understand. Not least because there are so many other charities close to everyone’s heart that are equally as deserving.

But if you can promise me one thing over this festive period – please just make sure you’ll give your family and friends a big hug and tell them how much they mean to you – just as we will always cherish the memory of our wonderful and sorely missed Anne.

To sponsor me visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Layth.Yousif.

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