Maria Lawal, a young Black woman wearing a white dress stands in front of some trees and greenery

A ROCHDALE entrepreneur and mum-of-one who survived osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer – now works to help others going through cancer.

Maria Lawal, 29, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in February 2008 when she was 14 after discovering a lump in the femur bone of her left thigh.

Maria who was a keen 150 metre sprinter and had competed in training for the youth Olympics, went to her GP three times over a few months who initially thought she had a sports injury.

Maria is a patient representative with Greater Manchester Cancer Alliance and is helping to improve experiences for other sarcoma patients and black teenagers who go through cancer

Maria Lawal, a Black woman wearing her hair in a high bun sits on a grey sofe

Maria Lawal

Then after one athletics session she was in so much pain her mum, Augusta, told her sister to take her to A&E. After performing x-rays, Maria was transferred to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham where they discovered she had osteosarcoma.

She said: “My life literally changed that day and I was thrown into this whole new world which I had to navigate as a 14-year-old girl.”

Maria was treated with chemotherapy and received surgery to replace her femur bone with metal prosthetic. During her treatment she lost her hair and struggled with her confidence. She also had to learn to walk again. After finishing treatment in November 2008, her cancer came back in both lungs in 2010 and she required further treatment. She is now doing well and in remission.

Maria has opened up about her diagnosis and treatment as part of Sarcoma Awareness Month to help others recognise the symptoms of bone cancer. She now volunteers as a patient representative with Greater Manchester Cancer Alliance – part of the NHS which works to help improve the lives of people affected by cancer in Greater Manchester and to boost earlier diagnosis.

Maria, who went on to graduate in forensic psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, has been passionate about making things better for other patients.

After initially working as a clinical trial co-ordinator, she set up her own wig and beauty business, specialising in helping Black women going through cancer treatment by  creating unique wigs to match their hair texture. She also helped advise on skin products and make-up techniques like applying fake eyebrows, which patients often lose during chemotherapy.

She has also worked with researchers at the University College London Hospitals, as a co-researcher on numerous studies looking at better ways to improve the lives of young people with sarcoma and improving their quality of life, during and after cancer diagnosis. Maria, who grew up in Manchester and went to college in Stockport, is now happily married to husband Saliu, a mum to her son Zyon, aged two, and has just published her first book.

Maria said: “I could be sad that athletics used to be a big part of my life, but I see that as one phase and now I’m in my mum, my wife and my entrepreneur phase and I’m really excited about the next phase too!

“My book is about using positive affirmation techniques and daily repetition to improve self-belief from a young age.

“I can’t change my cancer or the after-effects, but I can choose to get involved with things that will help others going through cancer.

“Researchers talk about limitations or ‘hard to reach communities but in my view, no one is hard to reach, it’s just there’s no one there to talk to. I want to make it better for patients so they can get support from their local support networks like their church or their community.

“I also want people to use their voice. You know your body more than anyone and if you know something is not right make sure you speak to your GP and advocate for yourself.”