A vicar who endured two battles with breast cancer is taking the lead with her four-legged friend Polly, to launch Walk All Over Cancer in Dorset.

Deborah Smith, Team Rector of Bridport, and a former Dorset Echo journalist, knows only too well the benefits of walking in the fresh air after setting herself the challenge of walking five miles every day while she underwent gruelling treatment.

Now the mum-of-two is pulling on her boots and pledging to walk 10,000 steps a day throughout March – and she wants people across the county to sign up and join her.

Deb, 57, was first diagnosed in November 2014 after a routine mammogram found a lump in her left breast that turned out to be cancerous.

She underwent a lumpectomy followed by three weeks of radiotherapy in February 2015.

Deb said: “When I got the call back and they told me I had cancer I was so shocked. It sounds silly, but I just thought it would never happen to me.

“I took some time off work to recover and returned just before Easter and normal life resumed once again.”

But 18 months later, after noticing changes with her opposite breast and nipple, Deb was given the devastating news that she had another, more aggressive and completely unrelated form of breast cancer.

Deb, who lives in Bridport with husband Brian, 59, said: “I didn’t for a minute think it could happen to me again, so it was a massive blow. The biopsy confirmed it was lobular cancer which was triple negative – very different to the cancer I had in my left breast. The doctors made it clear the two were completely unrelated and I was just unlucky.”

She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy before having a mastectomy in March 2017, followed by radiotherapy and then further surgery to remove her lymph nodes.

Deb, who is mum to Jess, 29 and Luke 27, said: “I made myself go out and walk every day no matter how bad I was feeling, and it was the best thing I could have done. It made me feel so much better both physically and mentally. Even when I felt at my lowest and weakest, walking made a massive difference to me.”

Determined to keep putting in the miles, Deb now has her beloved pooch Polly to keep her company and they are regulars who enjoy walks on West Bay beach.

She said: “Cancer can be a scary thing when you first hear the word. When I was first diagnosed, I remember being so frightened thinking that I might die but I am here as proof that people can and do come out the other side and we have research to thank for that.

“It certainly changes you and makes you grateful for what you have. I’ve been fortunate that I have an amazing family and friends and have met some incredible people along the way. If there is one thing cancer teaches you, it’s how kind and supportive people can be in the worst of times.”

People can tackle the Walk All Over Cancer challenge in their own way, taking part on their own or asking family, friends and colleagues – and dogs - to join them.

Jenny Makin, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Dorset, said: “We’re really grateful for Deb and Polly’s support, and we hope lots of people will be inspired to follow in their footsteps.

“Taking part in Walk All Over Cancer is a great way to help Cancer Research UK – and keep your hound happy with lots of extra time together.

“Based on the average person’s strides, 10,000 steps is equal to about five miles, which is quite a challenge for many people. But adopting small changes that you can stick too – from walking to work or taking the stairs instead of the lift – will help make the goal feel achievable.

Jenny added: “Cancer survival has doubled since the early 1970s and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress – but every step our doctors, nurses and scientists take relies on donations from the public and the tireless fundraising of our supporters.

To sign up and receive a fundraising pack, with tips and ideas to help with the challenge, visit cruk.org/walkallover