Karen, a mum from Hall Green was diagnosed with cancer just three weeks before her wedding. She launched Cancer Research UK's 21st Race for Life in the city with a confetti cannon '21 gun salute' at the beginning of this year's event.

Karen and Ian

Karen and Ian

Karen went up on stage along with 20 other supporters, scientists and staff as part of a confetti cannon celebration in honour of the Cannon Hill Race for Life's 21st birthday.

The 37-year-old mum says she is lucky to be alive after her diagnosis. Karen had a rare form of cancer just three weeks before her wedding in June 2011.

She didn't want to let her fiancé Ian down at the aisle so she wore her hair down and to one side. This covered up the lump above her breast that was visible through her wedding dress.

Karen was still nursing her 6-month-old baby Olivia when she found the lump. She was reassured that it was likely just a blocked milk duct. But it continued to grow. After further investigation, it was found to be a tumour, she blurted out: "But I'm getting married in three weeks! I can't have cancer!"

The tumour was a form of soft tissue sarcoma called Ewings Sarcoma. Karen was informed it was most common in young people aged ten to 20 years old and very rare for a woman of her age. She needed immediate and intensive treatment.

"In a matter of days I went from having my wedding and the start of our family life ahead of me, to not knowing if I would live. The despair at what should have been the happiest time of my life was so very hard to deal with," she said.

The couple only told close family and bridesmaids, so most of the guests had no idea. Karen went to an appointment to plan her treatment only days before her marriage.

"I didn't want to be robbed of the day I had dreamt of all my life, so I put my bravest face on. But I would be lying if I said it didn't get to me when I made my vows about sickness and health - it put a whole new complexion on it!" said Karen.

The newlyweds went for a few days in the Lake District for their honeymoon and for Karen, this was followed by a ten month course of treatment, involving chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, surgery to remove it, then more chemotherapy to kill any residual cancer cells.

"I suffered every side effect it was possible to have, and by the time treatment finished in May 2012 I had missed most of the first year of Olivia's life. But I was bald and proud, got my strength back, and have been in remission now for four years.

"I met another woman in hospital who had the same type of cancer as me, we became good friends and I was devastated when she died. I know I am incredibly lucky and that is why I think raising money for research through Race for Life is so important," Karen added.

Last year Karen trained hard with what she calls her "incredibly supportive" local running club, 'Mums on the Run', and ran Race for Life in Solihull in memory of her friend.

"It was my first ever Race for Life and it was amazing and emotional - even though I detest running! For me it was a way of demonstrating to myself and others that I was back to full fitness. I am incredibly honoured to be asked to do the 21 gun salute at Cannon Hill this year, and I hope my story will inspire women across Birmingham to sign up for the event."

Karen is supporting Cancer Research UK's Race for Life who urgently need women to sign up to a 5k, 10k or Pretty Muddy event, in partnership with Tesco, and help beat cancer sooner. Join the Pink Army and run, walk and charge: enter at raceforlife.org

by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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