Inspirational Winchburgh woman stars in Cancer Research TV advert

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Inspirational Heather Duff, who has had brain surgery three times, stars in an urgent new TV appeal for donations to help Cancer Research UK continue its life-saving work.

The 33-year-old’s life in lockdown at home in Winchburgh is powerfully captured in the 30 second film. Heather can be seen in the advert counting out daily chemotherapy medication, chatting online to loved ones on Zoom as well as recuperating on the sofa with her miniature dachshund pet dogs, Pumpkin and Parsnip.

The final frame shows her looking boldly in to the camera and saying: “Together we will still beat cancer.”

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The film also features a direct plea for support from leading scientist Professor Richard Gilbertson, along with clips of other cancer patients and survivors in lockdown - many of whom are self-isolating or shielding to protect their health.

Heather Duff with her dachshunds Parsnip and Pumpkin.Heather Duff with her dachshunds Parsnip and Pumpkin.
Heather Duff with her dachshunds Parsnip and Pumpkin.

Heather overcame cervical cancer after being diagnosed in 2014 but then was told she had an unrelated brain tumour two years ago.

Now she’s bringing into sharp focus the threat Covid-19 poses to research into treatments for people with cancer in the future.

She’s determined to highlight the devastating loss of Cancer Research UK’s funding for vital research caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, following temporary closures of its shops and major fundraising events being cancelled.

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Heather said: “I struggle to find the words to express how much I hate cancer.

Screenshot of Heather Duff from Winchburgh, in the Cancer Research advert.Screenshot of Heather Duff from Winchburgh, in the Cancer Research advert.
Screenshot of Heather Duff from Winchburgh, in the Cancer Research advert.

“Cervical cancer at 27 was pretty harsh. Losing my fertility, being catapulted in to the menopause and managing the on going side effects has been a challenge too. A brain tumour four years later and discovering not one but two tumours was a simple reminder that life sometimes is just not fair.

“It’s not just a case of putting a brave face on it though. I doubt anyone will walk this earth with no form of heartache.

“Research to help bring forward the day when all cancers are cured is what gives my family, friends and me the hope we need.

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“That’s why it upsets me to think about research being held-up by the Covid-19 outbreak and what this might mean for people affected by cancer in the months and years to come.

Heather Duff from Winchburgh, pictured asleep in the advert.Heather Duff from Winchburgh, pictured asleep in the advert.
Heather Duff from Winchburgh, pictured asleep in the advert.

“By boosting funding now, we can all help to lessen the future impact on patients, so I’m proud to be part of this important campaign.

“I hope that people across Scotland will be inspired to give what they can.”

Cancer Research UK currently funds around 50 per cent of all cancer research in the UK. But, as a direct result of the pandemic, the charity is now preparing for a 30 per cent fall in income this financial year.

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The message in the ad is clear- to save lives tomorrow, Cancer Research UK needs the public’s support today.

Heather and Gordon's wedding day on April 11, 2015. Photo by Craid Muir.Heather and Gordon's wedding day on April 11, 2015. Photo by Craid Muir.
Heather and Gordon's wedding day on April 11, 2015. Photo by Craid Muir.

And Heather knows exactly how crucial new breakthroughs and discoveries are to help more people survive. She’s started a year-long course of the chemotherapy drug temozolomide, which stops cancer cells from making DNA so they can’t grow, causing them to die.

Cancer Research UK funded scientists led the development of temozolomide. From early pioneering lab work to the discovery, development and first clinical trials of the drug in people with cancer, Cancer Research UK researchers were involved every step of the way.

Scientists at the Formulation Unit at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow developed in the 1990s a process to make bigger batches of temozolomide, manufacturing and supplying the drug in capsules to treat patients on clinical trials. The drug is today used worldwide to treat the most common adult brain tumour, glioblastoma as well as some other types. And in combination with radiotherapy treatment, temozolomide has become the international standard of care for thousands of people with brain tumours.

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Heather hoped to have put her days of cancer behind her after being successfully treated for cervical cancer aged 27. A talented hockey player, she was back training weekly, ran the London marathon and started a new job as a fundraising manager for Cancer Research UK. But in the early hours of the morning on May 16 2018 she woke to find three paramedics in her bedroom and her husband Gordon, 39, by her side.

The couple were taken to hospital where a CT scan revealed Heather had suffered a seizure triggered by what doctors described as a lesion on her brain. On September 3 2018, Heather had a nine hour operation at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh to remove the brain tumour. More tests revealed a second tumour so Heather had surgery again in December 2018.

Last summer, Heather travelled to Toronto in Canada for a fortnight to watch her brother, Gareth Williams, 36, get married. But tests when she returned showed the tumour was growing again so on December 9 last year, Heather had brain surgery for a third time.

Heather said: “The news I got just before Christmas last year that it looked like my tumour was stage three knocked the wind out of my sails and left me emotionally exhausted. Thankfully, having allowed time to let the news settle and with the amazing support of my nearest and dearest I am feeling ready to take on the next climb in this marathon called cancer.

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“I’m focusing on the positives. I am strong, I have an incredible team medically and socially. I’m prepared to give it all I’ve got.”

After the side effects of 30 sessions of radiotherapy over six weeks made Heather’s long blonde hair start to fall out in February this year, she enlisted her husband Gordon to help shave the rest of it off. Now Heather who has reached out to people all over the world with her blog is aiming to exercise several times a week despite chemotherapy treatment.

Every year in Scotland around 1,000 people are diagnosed with brain tumours and around 470 people in Scotland die from brain tumours every year.

Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of the progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.

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Lisa Adams, Cancer Research UK spokeswoman for Scotland, said: “We’re grateful to Heather for playing a starring role in our appeal and helping to underline the reality of the current situation.

“We’ve always said ‘together we will beat cancer’. But the truth is, COVID-19 has slowed us down. Right now, clinical trials are being postponed and we’re having to delay vital research.

“But we will never stop. Around 32,200 people are diagnosed with cancer every year in Scotland***, which is why we are absolutely determined to continue to create better cancer treatments for tomorrow. However, we can’t do it alone.

“Every step our scientists take towards beating cancer relies on our supporters. So, whether they donate, sign up to Race for Life at Home or shop at our stores as they re-open - with the help of people in Scotland we believe that together we will still beat cancer.”

Cancer Research UK was able to spend £42 million last year in Scotland on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

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