Cancer survivor Mark’s charity challenge for skin disease sufferers

A cancer survivor left fighting for his life after a large tumour was removed from his bowel, is training for a gruelling mountain trek to raise funds for people living with a horrific skin condition.

Mark Leaney was rushed to A&E after his body reacted badly to treatment following his operation.  

But the long-distance runner and former footballer has since made an astounding recovery and is now preparing for the annual Kerry Challenge in aid of epidermolysis bullosa (EB) charity, DEBRA Ireland.  

“The consultant told me that they feared they were going to lose me,” said Mark, recalling his brush with death last summer.

“If it hadn’t been for (my wife) Pauline’s insistence on rushing me back to A&E, that would have been the case.” 

On May 19 – less than a year later – the 59-year-old will join 120 fellow fundraisers, hiking distances of up to 19km a day for three days across mountains paths, forest trails and beaches along the Dingle Peninsula.

Every cent raised will go to the charity, which helps around 300 people in Ireland living with EB – a painful and incurable disease which causes skin to blister at the slightest touch. 

This will be Mark’s tenth time taking part – but the first occasion he will walk the course.

He took up long-distance running after retiring from football but needs to build up his fitness again after undergoing months of exhausting chemo and radiotherapy – and so has swapped his running shoes for hiking boots.  

“In March 2021, I was told there was a very aggressive tumour growing in my bowel,” said the dad-of-two from Wexford. 

“But it was too large for them to remove and I had to undergo a combined course of radiotherapy and chemo to reduce its size before they could operate.” 

Part of his treatment involved energy-sapping chemo drugs being pumped directly into Mark’s chest.  

“I went through the mill, losing over four stone in weight,” he said.  

“I was so exhausted, I couldn’t walk up the stairs. 

“My consultant said the intensity of the treatment I was going through was in the top three per cent for this type of illness.” 

Although last May’s operation to remove the tumour was a success, Sussex-native Mark, who lives near Camolin in Wexford with his wife Pauline, experienced complications and was admitted to Dublin’s Beacon Hospital in June. 

Late last year, he got the all clear.

He insists that his two-year battle with cancer has been a “walk in the park” compared to the pain experienced by people living with EB. 

“Pain should only be temporary, but for EB sufferers, that’s not the case. 

“They live with pain every day, and the discomfort I experienced over the last two years pales into insignificance when you consider what they go through every day.” 

DEBRA’s Kerry Challenge takes place from May 19-21. The event is sold out, but Mark urges everyone to donate what they can to his fundraising page:

Get in Touch