St Albans cancer survivor is urging local women to Race for Life

Alison Gabriel.

Alison Gabriel. - Credit: Archant

A St Albans woman who feared she wouldn’t be able to sing again after being diagnosed with cancer of the tongue is calling on local ladies to rally together and sign up for this year’s Race for Life.

Alison Gabriel, 53, is urging mums, daughters, sisters and friends to take part in Race for Life 5k or 10k at Verulamium Park on Sunday, July 22.

Alison was diagnosed with cancer 13 years ago – the same cancer that had already claimed her father’s life.

She said: “My dentist noticed a hard, white patch on the side of my tongue in 2001 but following a biopsy, the results came back fine. However, in March 2005, it became sore and swollen and the doctors referred me to the oral maxillofacial team at Watford Hospital. The biopsy results showed that it was cancerous.

“It was a huge shock for my family - we had supported my father 15 years previously, when he underwent surgery to remove a tumour from his tongue. Dad unfortunately did not recover, as his cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in his neck and he died a month before his 62nd birthday.”

Alison told how less than month after being diagnosed, she underwent a nine-hour operation to remove the tumour.

She said: “My surgery was very different to my dad’s. Unlike him, I was able to receive a forearm flap to replace part the part of my tongue that was removed.

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“As I was a keen singer and enjoyed performing on an amateur basis in musical theatre, I had worried I wouldn’t be able to sing again. Of course, after the surgery, I was just grateful to be alive.”

Alison continued: “At first, I couldn’t speak or eat properly so I went to Mount Vernon Hospital for speech therapy which greatly helped. I tried the best I could to get things back to how they were; I was lucky I had my passion for singing to motivate me.”

Alison said she has research to thank – enabling her to be here and to sing again.

She said: “I feel so fortunate that, having gone through the challenging surgery and rehabilitation, I have been able to get back to doing all the things that I did before my surgery, particularly singing. If it wasn’t for the research that has been done and the progress that has been made, I wouldn’t have been able to speak or sing in anything like the way I can now. If anyone is concerned about anything or thinks they might have symptoms, they should go to their doctor or dentist for advice.”

Alison signed up to support Race for Life 10 years after her cancer ordeal began, having heard a request at a Lindsey Fitness session for singers and musicians to get involved with the annual mass fundraiser.

“As it was my 10th anniversary, I wanted to do something for Cancer Research UK and get involved with Race for Life as a volunteer,” said Alison who performs at events, care homes and parties with husband, Mark, under the name ‘Brushed Silk’.”

For the past three years they have also sung at Race for Life.

She said: “It’s really lovely to sing half way around the course. Everyone shows their appreciation, whether it’s a thumbs up from the runners at the front or groups of ladies giving us a twirl as they pass and singing along. We end up doing a lot of shouting and cheering, as well as singing!

“I would absolutely encourage anyone to get involved with Race for Life. Even if it’s raining, the atmosphere is amazing. Whether you take part or volunteer, it’s such a worthwhile thing to do.”

Race for Life events are non-competitive. It’s not about being fit, fast or first to the finish. Forget blood, sweat and tears - it’s love, laughter and commitment to the cause that motivates like-minded ladies around the course.

Courtney Culverhouse, Cancer Research UK’s St Albans events manager, said: “I’d like to thank Alison and Mark for their support at Race for Life over the last few years. Thanks to the brilliant entertainment and enthusiasm they provide, thousands of women have had the motivation they needed to get around the course and cross that finish line!”

Courtney continued, “Each year, St Albans women of all ages, shapes and sizes unite to take part in this fantastic event and raise thousands of pounds to help scientists and researchers make vital strides forward in research. There are over 200 types of cancer and we need continued investment in research to help us find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat them all.

“Sadly, most of us know someone whose life has been touched by cancer. By taking part in Race for Life, women in St Albans could help people like Alison to survive the disease. Our aim is that one day everyone will beat cancer. The more women who Race for Life - the sooner that day will come.”

Sign up for Race for Life now at or call 0300 123 0770.