Every morning, Lorainne Moar readies herself for another 3.2 mile trek, climbing to the top of Aberdeenshire hill Bennachie.
The 58-year-old has been walking the route to its Mither Tap peak every day this month, spreading the word about often-unheard of tonsil cancer as she does.
Six years ago, her mother was diagnosed with the illness aged 75 and, despite fully recovering, has been left with life-changing hurdles to overcome.
Lorainne is using her daily challenge to share her family’s story, and raise vital funds for research and treatment in the process.
Severe impact of tonsil cancer
She said: “Mum had tonsil cancer, but we’ve heard of it in the throat and oesophagus – even the saliva glands.
“It’s incredible how often we’re coming across it now.”
In the UK alone, an average of 34 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every day – but few are fully aware of them.
Overall, they account for 3% of all cancer cases, and are the eighth-most common in the country.
Lorainne’s mum was 75 when she was diagnosed with tonsil cancer, after her dentist raised concerns during a routine check-up.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Lorraine said.
“But she had some quite intensive chemo and radiotherapy and she was cured after two or three years.
“She went through a rehab programme and they were so good with her, but she could not get her swallowing back.
“Her whole quality of life has been so badly affected, and she can’t eat anything – she’s fed through a tube into her tummy.
“It was so hard with Covid as we all found enjoyment out of food – and wine – but she’s just not having any of that.”
‘I feel like Mrs Motivator’
On June 1, Lorainne began her first of 30 daily trips to one of Bennachie’s scenic summits, the Mither Tap.
Inspired by friends’ efforts for charity in the past, she organised the challenge to raise money for Cancer Research UK.
Each day she has been joined by friends and different members of her family, all working together to raise awareness of her cause.
“I lived on a farm with Bennachie as a child, and grew up spending days playing rounders and having picnics, so it’s perfect to be doing the fundraiser there,” she said.
“I’ve been overwhelmed with how well it has been received, and getting different people joining me every day.
“I’m having a ball – I feel like Mrs Motivator.”
Lorainne has even managed to rope in members of her weekly fitness class in Balmedie, where she lives.
Rather than taking part in their typical community centre work-out, they plan to head outside and join her up the hill one day instead.
She said: “They’re going to cancel the class and pop the money in that way, it’s kind of grown arms and legs.
“I feel like I’m on the phone for hours every day because I’m replying and thanking people for all their donations.”
So far Lorainne has raised more than £1,400 for Cancer Research UK – even collecting donations from passers-by and other walking groups she “starts yapping to” at Bennachie.
She added: “I can’t believe what I’ve taken in so far. It’s well beyond what I ever expected.”
You can find more information by searching for The Mither Tap And Me on fundraising.cancerresearchuk.org
Graeme Sneddon, Cancer Research UK’s spokesman for Scotland, said: “Climbing the Mither Tap every day for a month is an incredible feat.
“We’re really grateful to Lorainne for taking on this mammoth challenge to support life-saving research and raise awareness of tonsil cancer.
“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime and all of us can support the research that will beat it. This past year proves, more than any other, the value of research.
“Just like science is our route out of the pandemic, science is our route to beating cancer.
“Every step we take towards beating cancer relies on the generosity of our supporters and we are grateful to Lorainne for playing her part to help beat cancer.”
Explained: Tonsil cancer
Cancer Research UK says around 12,200 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed every year – the equivalent of 34 per day.
These account for 3% of all cancer cases, and are the eighth-most common in the country.
The charity says incidence rates have increased by around one-third since the early 1990s.
Around 4,100 people in the UK die from head and neck cancer each year, with survival rates varying greatly depending on the type of illness.
Head and neck cancers can affect different parts of the body, including:
- Nasal/ sinus
- Mouth/ oropharyngeal (part of the throat directly behind the mouth)
- Laryngeal (voice box)
- Oesophageal (food pipe/ gullet)
- Salivary gland
- Nasopharyngeal (where the nose meets the throat)
The symptoms of tonsil cancer can include a sore throat, ear pain and difficulty swallowing.
Some people may also find a lump in their neck.
However, the only way to confirm a cancer diagnosis is with a biopsy, where a small tissue sample is taken from the area.
This is then examined under a microscope for signs of cancer.
Sometimes this will be conducted under general anaesthetic, using a tube and camera to look down your throat. Other tests including an MRI, CT or ultrasound could also be carried out.
Smoking and regularly drinking alcohol can increase someone’s risk of developing tonsil cancer.
It is also linked to a type of HPV (human papiloma virus) which is transmitted sexually but very common.
This goes away without treatment, and Cancer Research UK says “only a very small number” of people with it can develop tonsil cancer.
Additionally, tonsil cancers that contain HPV tend to be easier to treat than those without.