TWO friends - one the daughter of the youngest person to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease - are celebrating five years of a group they set up to help cancer sufferers.

Miranda Blackstone-Cobbe’s father went on to survive for another 35 years, while Ondie Woods lost her mother to breast cancer six years ago.

After their own lives were changed forever by disease the pair, who live in Leigh, decided to set up the Beat It Cancer Rehab group to help others through a combination of exercise and friendship.

“My mum would come to my house to exercise, even when she was in the palliative stage,” recalled Mrs Woods, a 52 year-old personal trainer who lives in London Road in Leigh.

“It gave her an independence and a dignity which very important to her.”

After her mother’s death, Mrs Woods decided to start up Essex’s first exercise group for women with breast cancer, and Mrs Blackstone-Cobbe, who is an occupational therapist, jumped on board to help.

“Pretty soon, people with other types of cancer ended up coming too, because the need was so great,” explained Mrs Blackstone-Cobbe, 50, of Chapman’s Walk, Leigh.

“We are a real community. One client came to a session looking very upset and we assumed the worst – that her cancer had returned. But in fact, it turned out that she was upset because she had the all-clear she was healthy, and was sad that she would miss coming to the group”

Whilst Mrs Woods admits there is great sadness when one of the group passes away, she says the class itself is an uplifting one.

“These ladies want to feel normal again,” she said.

“They try to shade their families from hearing about certain things, which they can share with each other.”

Diane Hayton, 55, Westcliff, has been attending since the first group, after being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in her bones and liver six years ago.

She said: “The main thing is I feel I can exercise in a safe environment with trained professionals, and I can do as much or as little as I like. My fitness has improved and the support network is invaluable.”

The sessions take place every Thursday at 11.30am at Leigh Community Centre, and cost £5.