It takes a strong person to provide a shining light during a dark situation.
Tauranga's Debra McNeil is one of those people.
During the Saturday and Sunday of Queen's Birthday weekend, while much of the population were putting their feet up, she did the opposite. McNeil put one in front of the other for two days straight to raise more than $7000 for the Cancer Society's Domain Lodge in Auckland.
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It is a facility she got to know well after her fiance Phil McLean was diagnosed with bowel cancer which progressed to his liver and one lymph node. The bowel tumour was removed in 2018 but chemotherapy on the other tumours was unsuccessful.
In December last year, doctors decided to operate. Rather than holding their wedding on April 4 as planned, the couple instead went to Auckland for his operation three days later.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 restrictions and delays on surgery meant the couple's stay extended from 10 to 25 days. When they returned from Auckland, McLean was admitted to Tauranga Hospital for two days with another infection but has been home since.
Such was her admiration and gratefulness for what the staff at Domain Lodge did for her and her fiance, McNeil decided it was time to give back.
She set up a fundraising page and planned to walk a total of 198km, the distance from Tauranga to the lodge, around the same 5km loop in Mt Maunganui on Saturday and Sunday. Friends and family would join her for some laps, which would contribute to the total, but she planned to complete at least 120km on her own.
Her goal was to raise $3000.
In terms of distance walked and money raised, she obliterated her goals. A total of 398.24km was walked, the distance to the lodge and back, and as of midday on Tuesday, $7434.55 had been raised. She walked 120.84km herself.
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"I completed my own goal of 120km in 22 hours. The last 15km, I really started to feel it, but I'm so humbled by the support I received. It's hard to put it into words, it feels quite surreal that the whole thing even happened.
"I'm glad my boss gave me a day off to recover, but other than a few blisters, I'm actually feeling really good physically. Everything just fell into place. It was bigger and better than I ever imagined.
"People just kept showing up to add their 5km worth or 10km worth. My cousin in England, her and her good friend did 10km there and sent in their report of what they'd done. One of my bridesmaids-to-be was in Whitianga for the weekend and she and her husband did some kilometres from there."
McNeil and her supporters looked the part with custom printed t-shirts from Colourworks Tauranga and local photographer Jo Jones donated her time to cover every heartwarming moment.
Auckland Northland Cancer Society communications manager Rachael Russell said McNeil's efforts had sent a wave of positivity through not just the Domain Lodge staff but everyone at the Cancer Society after what was a tough lockdown period.
"Isn't she amazing? I can't believe they did it twice over. I thought the weather might hamper them, I was a bit worried on Saturday morning, but she really pulled it off.
"When we found out about Debra, I sent it around the entire Auckland Northland Cancer Society by email to perk everyone up and remember what we mean to people and why we do what we do.
"It helps everyone here keep going. Covid has been tough for everybody. We're trying to figure out how to replace the fundraising events we had to cancel, so it is a time of change and it perks everyone up to know someone is out there doing that."
Russell said even before the fundraiser, McNeil had made a name for herself at Domain Lodge as a positive influence when she was staying there.
"We all had to work at home during lockdown, apart from the essential staff working in the lodge, because those staying there are so vulnerable. I kept imagining the building all locked down like that and quiet and lonely.
"As it turned out, there was Debra there who brought the sunshine. She united a lot of the patients here, in a safe Covid way, to gather in the dining room, watch updates together with chips and drinks. They made friends here and I imagine it was so great for the other people staying here to have someone like that, lifting their spirits."