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Visitors urged to visit Shrewsbury Christmas grotto to raise money for Macmillan

  • Christmas grotto in the Shrewsbury Shoping Centre, Darwin and Pride Hill. Visit Santa Claus

A mum of two who lost her husband to cancer and has battled the disease herself is urging visitors to Shrewsbury's busy Darwin Shopping Centre to support the mall's Christmas grotto in raising funds for Macmillan. Julia Allinson says she had incredible support from the charity when her husband Geoff was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer in 2011, and again when the unthinkable happened and she was found to have breast cancer herself in 2013.

Geoff, Golf Course Manager at Patshull Park, near Wolverhampton, lost his fight in 2012, leaving Julia to bring up their two-year-old twin daughters alone as well as deal with her own cancer diagnosis just twelve months later.

Julia, 40, said: "The support myself and my family have had from Macmillan has just been fantastic.

"Geoff was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer known as Myelodysplasia or more commonly MDS, when he was just 44 and quite simply the fittest person I have ever met.

"The shock was just incredible, we were totally floored. We should have been enjoying every moment of family life with our girls, but our life now revolved around hospital treatments, consultant appointments and medication.

"Macmillan gave us the most amazing support. We were assigned our own Macmillan Support Worker, who assisted and befriended us, enabling us to find out as much information as possible about Geoff's disease so we felt forearmed.

"Her support was just wonderful. She was always available to answer our many questions."

Julia explained how Macmillan also helped organise the financial side to Geoff's illness so that the family could concentrate on him and his treatment.

Geoff underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant but he tragically lost his life to the cancer in July 2012.

Julia, from Admaston near Telford, said: "I found myself a single parent to our gorgeous twin daughters Grace and Harriet. It was a huge task, whilst struggling with the terrible loss of Geoff.

"Just over a year later, the unthinkable happened. I myself was diagnosed with breast cancer. The shock was quite simply overwhelming.

"I felt unable to cope and totally unable to separate my cancer journey from Geoff's, and presumed I would not survive.

"I couldn't see how I was going to come through it. I was incredibly lucky to have the most amazing support of my wonderful family and friends and Macmillan once again stepped in to my life.

"The charity funded counselling and group therapy sessions with a psychotherapist who quite literally turned around my thinking and ensured that I could and would win my fight with cancer. I felt much more in control and positive."

Julia underwent a lumpectomy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery and despite still suffering the side-effects of long term drugs, is now clear of the disease and looking forward to the future.

Losing her husband and battling cancer herself changed her outlook on life and altered her priorities, so Julia recently decided on a complete career change.

"I had always worked in the hospitality industry," Julia explained. "One day I was sat in a meeting and realised that none of it really mattered so I decided to make a change.

"My experiences with Macmillan made me realise what was really important and how worthwhile it could be to work for an organisation like that so I now work freelance as a fundraiser for various charities.

"Going through cancer has changed my life, but in one way it has been a good change as it has now given me a whole new career and it's fantastic.

"It's lovely to be doing a job that is so worthwhile and people are actually benefitting from it."

Kevin Lockwood, Manager of the Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside Shopping Centres, said: "Julia's courage is truly inspirational and I'm sure our many shoppers will be happy to support such a worthwhile cause as Macmillan which does such incredible work in this area and all over the UK.

"Last year we made the decision to donate the money that our customers drop into our Christmas Polar bear display to Macmillan and the response we received was so phenomenal that we decided to make Macmillan our designated charity here at the Shrewsbury Shopping Centres."

Alongside her professional role, Julie is also an active supporter and campaigner for Macmillan - a mission that began in earnest just after losing her husband.

She said: "I decided to become a volunteer for Macmillan after Geoff died, I just felt that I wanted to give something back and ensure that the wonderful support and care we had received would continue to be there in the future for anyone who needs it.

"As a cancer voice I have spoken at a number of fundraising events and also been part of committees organising a ball, cycle festival and coracle championships."

The annual ball Julia now helps organise raises over £20,000 for Macmillan, and she knows just how important every penny is to the charity so is urging shoppers to visit the Darwin Centre grotto and help raise as much as possible.

The grotto is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 4pm (3pm on Sundays) and then also December 21st, 22nd and 23rd. It costs £4 per child which includes a gift from Santa and all proceeds go to Macmillan Cancer Support.

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