Emma tackles cancer head on

Emma Kirke has more reasons than many to Stand Up To Cancer and that's exactly what she is doing. Catherine Scott reports.

Emma Kirke has faced many battles in the her life. A car crash left her paralysed for months and she still lives in pain. Abuse, eating disorders and then, probably her biggest battle, with cancer and the loss of one of her best friends from the disease.

But this courageous woman from Ossett is refusing to let cancer beat her and she has now joined forces with Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 in their Stand Up To Cancer Campaign.

As part of this year’s campaign osteomyologist Emma is the star in her very own animated film as part of a social media and digital campaign to encourage people to Stand Up To Cancer.

“I was approached by Cancer Research UK and asked if I would be involved in the Stand Up To Cancer Campaign this year,” says the 41-year-old who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014.

“I said it depends what you want me to do as I am not sitting in a bath full of baked beans or anything like that. But they said it was starring in my own cartoon – I thought I’d never done that before and so agreed.”

In the cartoon Emma has drawn on her personal experiences, and her inner and outer strength to get payback on cancer and send it into oblivion.

It involved a trip to London and day filming in front of a green screen, something Emma initially found strange.

“My animation centres around me throwing a lorry full of cancer and it has gone down really well.

Emma’s animation can be seen as a 10 second film on the official Stand Up To Cancer website and on the Stand Up To Cancer social media channels. She also appears in one of the 30 second animations, alongside celebrities Sharon Osborne and Nicola Adams and she will be travelling to London on Friday with husband Tony to be involved in the Stand Up To Cancer televised event.

With around three people diagnosed with cancer every hour in Yorkshire, Emma, who is also a qualified nutritionist, is helping motivate men and women in the area to join the fight against the disease.

By taking part in the campaign Emma hopes to draw attention to the impact cancer research has had on her life – giving her more precious time to do the things that she loves.

“I lost my friend (also called Emma) to cancer which really devastated me. We had been diagnosed with cancer at the same time, gone through treatment together and really supported each other at every stage. And then it came back and it killed her, which really hit me hard. You start to think ‘when will mine come back?’ and I also lost my support.”

In 2014 Emma was found to have a genetic condition which made her at higher risk of developing cancer, it is much more prevalent in women of Persian Jewish decent, Emma didn’t even know she had Jewish blood in her family. As a result of being diagnosed with cancer she had a double mastectomy and then took part in a photoshoot nine weeks after surgery.

“Some people struggled with how positively I coped with the cancer but that is just the way I am and I wanted to show both beauty and strength.”

Since then she has also brought out a charity single which went into the top 30 and altogether raised £3,000 for Cancer Research UK.

The death of her friend made her determined to make the most of every opportunity and so in the last few years Emma has launched her own radio show, started commentating on rugby league and this year became the first woman to play PDRL (physical disability rugby league). “I was doing some work with Wakefield Trinity and wanted to help promote their PDRL team,” explains Emma who runs her own clinic. “I was then asked if I’d actually play, I said no way. But I do like to inspire others and they worked on that and said if I did it it would show other women what they could do and so I agreed.”

Playing rugby league can be daunting for anyone but when you suffered a severe spinal injury, as Emma did in 2000, and are the only woman it does sound rather crazy.

“With PDRL if you wear red shorts then you should not be tackled, which is the only reason I agreed to do it, although my dad was worried about me.”

Emma’s dad Bob played rugby league for Hull KR and now suffers from multiple sclerosis. Her brother Ian also played for Leeds Rhinos.

And so she agreed to play in Wakefield Trinity’s game against Warrington Wolves Foundation side at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

“I just kept thinking Emma would have told me to go for it and give it a try and so I did.

She has since played many games including travelling to Australia where PDRL is well established although also struggled to attract women to the sport.

Despite the opportunities it has given her, Emma is considering retiring from playing next season.

“The game is getting faster and sometimes people in red shorts do accidently get tackled and that could cause me real problems.”

Instead Emma is concentrating on her business and also her work with Cancer Research UK and will still be heavily involved with Wakefield Trinity.

“It is through research that genes like mine and the BRCA gene were discovered which means people can now be tested and take life saving preventative action,” says Emma.

“Working with Cancer Research UK makes me feel useful and that I am contributing to the battle against cancer.”

Stand Up To Cancer

Launched in the UK in 2012, Stand Up To Cancer funds game-changing research that accelerates new cancer treatments and tests to UK patients to ultimately save more lives More than £38 million has been raised in the UK to date and over 35 trials and projects have been funded, that will involve more than 8,000 cancer patients. Stand Up To Cancer is supported by a host of celebrities including Davina McCall, Sharon Osbourne, Alan Carr, Joel Dommett and Kirsty Allsopp. This year’s campaign culminates on Friday with a night of live TV on Channel 4 led by the brightest stars in film, TV and music. And Emma Kirke and her husband Tony have VIP tickets to the show and will be in the audience on the night.People in Yorkshire can tune into a line-up of celebrity packed programming as stars from the worlds of entertainment; music and sport send themselves up, doing their bit in the fight against cancer.

To get involved visit standuptocancer.org.uk or channel4.co.uk/SU2C or follow on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram