Press release posted 14 March 2024

71-year-old retired primary school headteacher, Mike Barnes is taking on The London Marathon on Sunday 21 April 2024 to raise awareness of bowel cancer and in memory of his daughter Laura.

Laura Stephenson died in December 2019 when she was just 36 years old, having given birth to identical twin girls Sophie and Naomi just 18 months earlier.

Mike – who grew up in Chester and now lives with his wife, Julia in Goosnargh, Lancashire – will run the marathon to raise money for the hospital that cared for Laura.

Laura was treated for bowel cancer at the specialist cancer centre, The Christie hospital in Manchester and was about to start on an immunotherapy trial before she died, as Mike explains: “The treatment that Laura received at The Christie was excellent and she worked so hard to stay positive and encourage others to do the same. Laura was due to start a special trial and attended several consultations – in fact one of the senior consultants said to her, ‘We are going to throw everything we have at this – Is that ok?’  which is exactly what Laura wanted to hear. She came very close to going on the trial, but sadly she developed an infection, so the trial had to be paused and she tragically passed away shortly afterwards.”

Laura, her husband Mark, their 6-year-old daughter Heidi and the twins lived together in Preston. After Laura died, Mike decided he wanted to raise awareness of bowel cancer and raise funds to help research and support those currently affected by cancer, as well as promoting the memory of his daughter. He says: “I decided I wanted to start fundraising, but I wasn’t very good at cake sales, jumble sales or organising events so I thought maybe I could run – after all it’s only putting one foot in front of the other! I was unsure how I could do this until I had a ‘moment of madness’ in the new year of 2022 and thought ‘why not run the London Marathon’, even though I had not really run any distance further than down the road to the post office!

“I was offered a place on behalf of Bowel Cancer UK that year, and after completing my first marathon I knew I needed to challenge myself again, so when The Christie Charity offered me a place in the London Marathon 2024, I jumped at the chance – well, maybe not jumped, but tentatively said yes! I wanted to support The Christie and raise funds, so in 2023 I planned out a series of 10km and half marathons every month to lead up to the London Marathon on 21 April. This will be a total of 22 runs in 15 months.”

Mike – who taught in London and Hertfordshire for 19 years, then moved to Lancashire where he was a headteacher for 24 years – now volunteers for the North West Ambulance Service and manages to fit training into his busy schedule.

A photo of Christie fundraiser Mike Barnes, his son-in-law Mark and his 3 granddaughters, Sophie, Naomi and Heidi in a park after a run.
Mike, his son-in-law Mark and his 3 granddaughters, Sophie, Naomi and Heidi

“I mostly train on my own around the country lanes of my village, as well as running with a local running group, Lions Community running group on a Wednesday,” he says. “The more I run, the more I realise that the runners around me are some of the best people you could ever wish to meet.  My fundraising has just ‘blown me away’. The generosity in the current climate has been extraordinary – it’s an amazing privilege.” 

Mike has also completed The Christie Challenge, which is where fundraisers take on 6 different fundraising activities or events throughout a year and collect jigsaw style pieces to create a special medal. 

“I took part in The Christie Challenge which I loved, and the medal pieces are brilliant.  I travelled to lovely venues, completing the runs, including one in Palma and one in Venice. I ticked the Great North Run off as well as coastal runs and city runs. Running is a huge commitment, but every run I undertake I have Laura in my head saying, ‘Go on Dad! You can do this’.”

Mike’s volunteering for the North West Ambulance Patient Transport Service means he takes patients to and from The Christie hospital, where his daughter Laura was treated.  

“To listen to the patients’ stories is something very special,” says Mike. “The Christie gives them hope, and with the addition of the new research centre at the hospital, my small contributions will hopefully go towards supporting research in combatting the disease.

Since Mike started running, he has raised over £26,000 for cancer charities, which he says is due to the fantastic generosity from friends, family and the running community.

“They have all been so important in my running journey and have supported me in many ways during the last 2 years. Whenever they can, they come to my runs and on some occasions run with me. For the London Marathon next month, I’m hoping that Laura’s husband Mark and their 3 daughters will be there cheering me on, as well as my wife, Julia and my other two daughters Emily and Harriet and their families.

“I really do think it’s a privilege to run for The Christie and honestly, I can’t wait! Running and raising money is my way to help the medical teams throw everything they have at cancer and find a cure and, of course, to keep Laura’s memory alive.”

Lindsey Farthing, Sporting Events Manager at The Christie Charity, commented: “Mike is an amazing person and such an inspiration. We’re so grateful for his dedication towards running and fundraising for The Christie Charity.”

To support the work of The Christie Charity, please go to Donate today or ring 0161 446 3988.

The Christie Charity supports the work of The Christie NHS Foundation Trust providing enhanced services over and above what the NHS is able to fund. This includes money for care and treatment, research, education, and extra patient services. Gifts from the public make a huge difference to the care and treatment that The Christie is able to provide to patients and their families.

Last updated: March 2024