NI friends on Scottish paddleboarding trek in aid of Marie Curie

Tanya McCance (55), from Comber, a professor of nursing research and development at Ulster University, and funeral celebrant and bereavement therapist Rachel Smith (49), from Belfast, are raising funds for Marie Curie on their six-day adventure.

“It’s a slightly insane thing to do, with a little wild camping thrown in too, but we are up for it and can’t wait,” Rachael said before setting off yesterday.

The friends have already raised more than £1,000 for the trip, in which they will take on formidable open waters at Loch Ness and Loch Lochy in what is renowned as one of the wildest and most spectacular parts of the UK.

The story of their friendship started 12 years ago when Tanya and her husband, Neil, heard about the amazing work Rachel did.

Neil had been diagnosed with kidney cancer, and his future was uncertain.

Rachel, a specialist in communication with children and families, met Tanya when she was working for a cancer charity. As a nurse and researcher, Tanya was determined to do the best for her children, Mark and Melissa.

Conversations began, and Rachel supported Tanya, Neil and their two kids to navigate the highs and lows of diagnosis, treatment and end-of-life care.

Neil died aged 46 on January 5, 2014, by which time the two women had become firm friends.

Rachel and Tanya are raising much-needed funds for Marie Curie

Tanya, whose research work centres on helping nursing colleagues to provide end-of-life support for parents losing children to cancer, said: “I had been aware of Rachel through my work with a cancer charity at the time.

“Neil and I wanted to be able to tell the children the truth about what was happening, but we weren’t sure how to keep them informed without filling them with anxiety.

“Rachel was a big comfort blanket, offering a warm, supportive space to talk about the things that really mattered.

“She was there for us through every bump in the road for two-and-a-half years.

“Because we both worked in a similar field, our paths kept crossing, and then our friendship naturally developed.

“Now we are just two women who have become great friends through adversity, and we hope this challenge helps us to inspire other women to get out there and do something.”

Tanya and Rachel took up paddleboarding a couple of years ago, and while they have been practising in the run-up to their challenge, they don’t really know what to expect.

Rachel said: “Staying afloat on the loughs of Scotland will be an exciting new adventure for us.

“It will no doubt be a physical and mental challenge, but also a trip to appreciate the joy of life.

“I think we can do it, but if it rains solidly it’s going to be hard.”

They are aiming to cover 26.8km in one go in what will be their longest day on the water.

While end-of-life care is a cause close to both their hearts, it is especially important to Tanya, who recently took up a position on Marie Curie’s Northern Ireland advisory board.

She said: “When you are doing end-of-life work, it is with people whose time is running out. You realise life is short.

“We just both want to be out there as friends doing something together to help.

“I’m 55, and while my mind wants to do this, I just hope my body sticks it.”

Rachel added: “We both have a high level of trauma in our jobs, and doing this will be about a different kind of stress.

“[We will be] leaving the devices at home and getting out into nature.

“We laugh a lot and I am sure we will fall into the water a lot, but we can’t wait.

“Hopefully people will get behind us and support Marie Curie.”

To donate, search for ‘Rachel and Tanya, staying afloat fundraiser for Marie Curie’ on

Belfast Telegraph News