For many years South Shields best friends Linda Gordon and Julie Cunningham would holiday together with their husbands - but in 2015 tragedy struck: both of their husbands were diagnosed with cancer, and over the next few years both died.
Paul Gordon was just 51 and Tony Cunningham 55 when they died - but after supporting each other through the worst of times, both Linda and Julie have channelled their grief into supporting others in the same horrible situation. Linda is chair and Julie treasurer for the South Tyneside and Sunderland Macmillan Fundraising Group.
With their help, the group has now raised more than £35,000 for the charity - which supports cancer patients and their families during incredibly difficult times. They first became friends during the 1990s, when both couples spent time in the Lake pub.
Civil servant Linda - who is now a volunteer at the South Tyneside and Sunderland Macmillan Information Centre - said: "I know that my life experience puts me in a good position to understand others going through something similar. Macmillan nurses helped me by supporting Paul with his care. But it was the emotional support for the whole family dealing with the trauma of losing Paul at only 51.
"Macmillan provided psychotherapy to help me cope with anxiety and depression. I don’t know what I would’ve done without help, supporting the boys grieving for their dad and looking after myself."
In 2015, husband Paul was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer which had spread to his liver. Just 18 months later, Tony was diagnosed with a kind of lung cancer called small cell carcinoma. Neither man recovered from their illnesses, and both died by 2018. But Linda and Julie helped each other through.
Julie who works as an auxiliary nurse in cardiology, palliative and end of life care at South Tyneside Hospital, said: "Linda was an amazing support to me, especially considering she had just been through a similar experience herself with Paul, but she didn’t let the recent trauma of that experience stop her from helping me.
"It was especially difficult because Tony had difficulty accepting his prognosis and seemed unable to admit to himself [that] he had such a short time left."
Since their respective heartbreaks, the pair have thrown themselves into work and running the fundraising group. One fundraising challenge even saw Linda trek through the Havasupai Native American reservation near to the Grand Canyon, but more usual events include pub quizzes and raffles. Julie, Linda and 10 others also even took part in a Full Monty style show in 2019.
Looking ahead, the pair have "no plans" to stop fundraising. Julie added - and said they were still "a great team".
To find out more about the South Tyneside and Sunderland Macmillan group, visit their fundraising page. For information, support or just someone to talk to, call 0808 808 00 00 or visit macmillan.org.uk