North Van runner undertaking 71-km marathon to raise awareness about skin cancer

Athlete representing Save Your Skin Foundation during D-Day 44 Challenge

Rosemary Westie’s friends and family like to tease her about something.

They say that she “can’t seem to go anywhere, on any holiday, without getting online to see if there’s going to be any runs in that timeframe,” she explains with a laugh.

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However, Westie, a North Vancouver resident, isn’t just an avid runner because she likes to get in a good workout or visit scenic locales – although of course she does. For more than a decade she’s been running, whether that’s among the North Shore trails or participating in great runs abroad, on behalf of a cause which is near and dear to her heart.

“We were all in an absolute panic because you always think it’s never going to happen to you,” says Westie, when talking about the shock of learning of her sister Kathleen Barnard’s diagnosis of late-stage melanoma back in 2003.

When Barnard was first diagnosed with stage-three skin cancer, which “quickly turned to stage-four malignant melanoma,” the prognosis wasn’t good, explains Westie. “She was given a short period to live.”

The family was despondent, says Westie, but among the shock, sorrow and despair something positive started brewing as well.

By 2006, having already far exceeded the time that doctors had given her, Barnard’s cancer had spread to her vital organs and “spread literally everywhere, she had cancer in her lung, her liver, kidney.” Her treatment options appeared limited.

Describing cancer as like “wearing a chain around your neck,” Westie says her sister never gave up and, undeterred, the two sisters decided to do something to help others struggling with skin cancer or melanoma lead better lives. The pair founded Save Your Skin Foundation as a way to advocate for equal, timely, affordable, and appropriate access to skin cancer treatment for all Canadians, and to give support for people living with it in their day-to-day lives.

This coincided with one of Barnard’s sons discovering a trial treatment in Alberta which would eventually end up saving Barnard’s life, explains Westie.

Today, Save Your Skin Foundation strives to represent the voice of skin cancer patients by providing emotional and financial resources to patients, promoting education and awareness when it comes to skin cancer and melanoma, and much more, says Westie.

While the foundation has carried on doing its crucial work for more than a decade, Westie has endeavoured to fly the banner – or more precisely, wear the foundation’s jersey – during all of her numerous athletic pursuits.

“We basically started with nothing except the support of family and friends,” says Westie. “We offered those jerseys out to people that would wear them proudly. I had mine on from 2006 in every single run I’ve done, which means probably about 50 runs in the North Shore trails. … I’ve been lucky enough to wear mine in probably about 25 marathons and ultra-marathons.”

This week Westie, along with her husband Tom, are travelling to France for the race of a lifetime – one that’ll combine their advocacy when it comes to sun health and skin cancer, as well as their passion and respect when it comes to our shared history.

Westie will be participating in the 71-kilometre D-Day 44 Challenge, billed as a unique run or walk which commemorates the anniversary of D-Day, on June 6.

“I’m doing a (71-km run), which starts right over at Pointe du Hoc – which is really cool; that’s actually where those U.S. Rangers … tried to climb up those huge cliffs to come in behind the German gunners,” says Westie, adding the run then hugs the coastline of Normandy along the beaches Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, ultimately ending at Pegasus Bridge.

This year is special because it’s the 75th anniversary of D-Day, notes Westie, adding that both her and her husband’s parents were involved with the war effort in a variety of ways.

“We were raised on World War Two stories,” she says. “That’s always been huge for Tom and I.”

Those interested in donating to Westie’s ultramarathon run in France, with all funds earmarked for Save Your Skin Foundation, should visit canadahelps.org/en/charities/save-your-skin-foundation/campaign/team-save-your-skin-runs-the-beaches-of-normandy-on-d-day-2019/.

While looking forward to paying her respects for those that fought abroad during the Second World War while she’s doing the challenging run, she’s also pleased to continue spreading awareness about the cause that’s so important to her.

“I knew I’d be wearing my Save Your Skin jersey,” she says.

Westie adds that anyone living with skin cancer or melanoma in need of support is encouraged to visit the Save Your Skin Foundation website at saveyourskin.ca and contact the organization – and her sister – for help.

“If you pick up that phone and you call my sister Kath, she will be the most amazing advocate you’ve ever had.”

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