Sisters’ memorial charity trek for mother and brother lost to cancer ‘worth every step’

Katrin Merry and Charlotte Thomas hiked across the desert in Jordan to raise funds for a pancreatic cancer charity

After losing their mother and brother to pancreatic cancer, a Cardiff family turned their sights to fundraising to help create hope for the future.

On November 19, sisters Charlotte Thomas and Katrin Merry returned from a five-day trek through Jordan to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Petra.

Joined by Ms Thomas’ husband, Karl Thomas, and Ms Merry’s fiancé, Gianluigi Fecci, the family took on the challenge to raise vital awareness for Pancreatic Cancer UK, after the disease claimed the lives of their mother, Mavis Dallinger, and brother, Mark Merry.

“If what we’ve done has managed to raise any sort of awareness it’s worth every step. It’s a big motivator, not wanting families to go through what we went through – that’s it,” said Ms Thomas, of Llanishen.

Ms Thomas said the mountainous and rocky terrain of the desert landscape took them all by surprise.

“This can’t keep happening to families over and over again. It helps with the devastating grief we’re feeling every day. It always comes in waves, when you’re least expecting it.”

After flying into Amman, Jordan’s capital, they joined a team of 32 walkers, all raising money for different charities. They trekked for five days through the desert, guided by Bedouin locals, staying in tents, and learning about their culture.

On the final day, the team walked 20 kilometres to their final destination, Petra. Ms Thomas added: “It was incredible, you’re just walking around and then out of nowhere the Petra Monastery appears. The way the building and façade are built into the rocks, the ancient history of the place was awe inspiring.

“It was emotional, everyone shed a tear. I think we were all exhausted.

“When they say you’re trekking through the desert, you imagine it to be sand and sand dunes, but it wasn’t. It was a mountainous and rocky terrain. Not very green, but every so often you would see a stunning flower popping out of a rock. It so much more beautiful than I could ever imagine.”

Ms Thomas added: “It was quite warm, about 27 degrees. Obviously for a middle eastern country it was cold for them. The guys looking after us were huddled around the camp fire and we were actually not cold at all.

“When the sun went down, the temperatures plummeted. At night-time we had to wrap up. One of the nights was really cold so we had to sleep with hats and gloves on. But there was no light pollution, so the stars were amazing – thousands upon thousands of them in the sky.”

Despite their mother being diagnosed in 2001 and their brother in 2016, Ms Thomas said there had been no improvements in their chances and both cases were immediately terminal.

Speaking to The Cardiffian earlier this month, Ms Thomas said the family “crumbled” when they heard of Mr Merry’s diagnosis, adding: “We all knew what was coming.”

The lack of research into the disease continues to motivate the family in their fundraising efforts, as they take on half marathon after half marathon, hold fundraising dinners, and raise tens of thousands of pounds for Pancreatic Cancer UK.

In 2022 alone, the sisters have raised £8,137 for the charity.

In May 2020, Ms Merry, who lives in Cyncoed, was diagnosed with breast cancer, enduring treatment through the pandemic.

“It’s part of our journey of our grief, we want something positive to come out of something awful, it’s our motivator,” Ms Thomas said.

“My sister is recovering from radiotherapy and chemotherapy after her breast cancer journey, but she was phenomenal. She just carried on and didn’t whinge once, she never flagged.

“I was chatting to someone on the last day, about the challenges we’ve done. She was saying how hard it must have been. But it doesn’t matter how hard it feels, and how much pain we were in, it’s nowhere near the pain my brother and mother felt in their journey.”

Charlotte Thomas, Karl Thomas, Katrin Merry, and Gianluigi Fecci (left to right) took on the five-day trek to Petra, Jordan, in memory of their family.

Ms Thomas said: “Because we’ve got a sense of our own immortality, because we’ve lost family members so young, it’s made us look at like a different way. You have to go and live; you don’t know what’s around the corner.

“That’s why we booked in the first place, she was coming through her chemo and she thought she has to go and have another adventure. It could have been it for her.”

The family spent their nights camping in the desert with Bedouin locals, learning about their culture and lifestyle.

She continued: “The motivation is always to improve cancer services for people affected by pancreatic cancer, to improve the support they get, and the research because that’s where the money needs to be – that’s always our motivator.”

According to Pancreatic Cancer UK, knowing the key symptoms of the disease is vital to early diagnosis. These are:

  • Indigestion
  • Tummy pain or back pain
  • Changes to your poo
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes and itchy skin)
  • Recently diagnosed diabetes
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Blood clots
  • Fatigue

You can find further information on their website, Information about pancreatic cancer – Pancreatic Cancer UK.

If you would like to donate, you can do so here.