Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Just Champion!

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Just Champion!

Article excerpt

Mary Lee remembers she felt no nerves at the glittering 2002 Community Champion Awards Ceremony.

"It never occurred to me to feel nervous because I didn't think I would win," says the mum-of-two from Stokesley.

But 59-year-old Mary is modest.

After suffering breast cancer twice in her life, she decided to help others battling the disease.

Since then she has helped raise nearly pounds 100,000 for various cancer charities.

And she has been an inspiration to countless sufferers and their families.

This is why Mary was named overall Community Champion.

The unsuspecting grandmother was left stunned and delighted when her name was read out at the event at the Thistle Hotel in Middlesbrough last November.

"For me it was just really nice to know that people think like that about me," she says.

"You don't see yourself in that light - I do these things because I want to.

"Having breast cancer gave me a purpose in life and since then my life has completely changed - for the better."

Mary's determination to help others is a characteristic shared by all those nominated for the Gazette Community Champion Awards.

The accolades celebrate people's achievements and their astonishing willingness to put others before themselves.

Judging by the sheer number of people nominated since the awards began in 2001 there is no short supply of heroes on Teesside.

Mary is just one of them.

She first battled breast cancer 12 years ago and then again three years later.

A decision to help others in the same situation led her to become a volunteer with Breast Cancer Care.

She later moved on to raising awareness about all kinds of cancer.

It was a visit to a charity fashion show in Newcastle that inspired her to set up her own show.

The Celebration of Life After Cancer fashion show was born - an event that invites those affected by the disease to come together and strut their stuff on the catwalk.

"Some people have problems with body image after surgery," says Mary.

"You have to be able to move on with your life. Seeing those on the catwalk is a marvellous way of getting the message across."

While she has raised both awareness and essential funds, Mary sees all of her successes as a team effort.

"I couldn't have done any of it without the help and support of those around me.

"Getting the award wasn't just for me it was for everyone that has helped with Celebration of Life."

She says the award ceremony itself felt unreal and still does.

"Sometimes I think 'was that really me?'."

But she has the trophy sitting on her desk at home to prove it.

Kenny and Maralyn Bowen, of Redcar, also found the event humbling. They were the winners of the Champion for Youth award.

Seeing other people in the room each with their own amazing stories of bravery and generosity, the couple didn't think that they could win. …

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