If you only sign up for one challenge next month, make it this.

Sarah Bunting was a fit and healthy 31-year-old who always saw humour in every situation. She had moved to Australia from the UK and had a wonderful husband, great friends and fulfilling life.

One day she had an upset tummy but didn’t think much of it. When it persisted, she knew there was something wrong. After about three months, it got so bad that she couldn’t go to work. One colonoscopy later, they found a tumour. Despite having no history of cancer in the family, Sarah was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Doctors worked quickly to remove half her colon, but it didn’t end there.

Lizzy Pottinger, 30, was there by her side through it all and spoke to WF about witnessing the heartbreaking decline of her friend’s health. “She started chemo but had complications right from the start. It was a difficult journey from the beginning.”

Sarah’s journey through cancer was, tragically, a short one. She died in July 2016, just five months after being diagnosed.

“When she was told the news, I was shocked,” Lizzy recalls. “I didn’t even consider that she wouldn’t survive, I just thought about the horrible treatment she’d have to go through but I never thought it would kill her.”

Lizzy and Sarah

It went quickly downhill from there. “There was complication after complication. Everything anyone could go through, she went through,” Lizzy tells us. Sarah’s diagnosis was moved to stage 4 cancer after multiple tumours were found on her vertebrae and radiotherapy didn’t work.

“I’m not a trained medical person at all, I couldn’t do anything apart from just be there and sit there with her and distract her in any way I could,” says Lizzy. “She was absolutely amazing about it all, though. She was really strong and found a funny side to it all.”

From here, Lizzy decided that along with making her friend smile through such a difficult time, she decided she wanted to do more. “I felt quite helpless so I knew I needed to focus on something. That’s where I had this idea of doing as many running challenges as I could in Sarah’s name, starting with a half marathon.”

After completing the race with five friends, she went on to finish two full marathons and City 2 Surf in a space of four months, all while fundraising for the Cancer Council.

“Trying to raise money and making something good come out of such a bad situation gave me that kick to actually make me run further than I normally would,” Lizzy tells us. And as exercise is linked to reducing the risk of cancer, it was a no-brainer.

While it gave Lizzy the strength to run more than she ever had, it took its toll on her emotionally. “My first marathon was two days after Sarah had found out the cancer was terminal and I was very emotional during that. I actually stopped and cried about five times during the run. It was 10 days later that Sarah died. My second marathon was more of a tribute to her bravery and strength and in memory of her, so I felt a lot stronger doing it.”

Between herself and Sarah’s widow, Dan, they’ve raised close to $24,000 for the Cancer Council, with no sign of slowing down just yet.

Lizzy’s next challenge is next month’s March Charge, a Cancer Council campaign where anyone (no matter what fitness level!) can set themselves a month-long challenge to raise much-needed funds for those affected by cancer. The challenge can be anything, from running 5km every day to walking with your colleagues on your lunchbreak. Regardless of how big or small the challenge might be for you, the money raised helps cancer research, prevention, advocacy and support services.

One in three cancers can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy weight range and regularly exercising – so what better way to get involved in a good cause by teaming up with your friends for some exercise?

“Whatever your fitness level, if it’s a goal for you, then that’s a big thing,” says Lizzy. “If there’s something you’ve wanted to do for ages but haven’t had the ammunition to do it, setting yourself a goal within a month and telling people about it will give you that kick to achieve it and push yourself that bit further. Raising money at the same time is a great thing to do.”

If you’d like to get involved in the March Charge or donate, click here.