Cancer researcher Sally takes on her 20th MoonWalk London!

Even after all these years, I still feel a huge buzz of achievement crossing the finish line.

Sally Swift is about to hit two huge milestones! On 18th May, she’ll be taking on the MoonWalk London for an incredible 20th time and in 2025, she’ll celebrate a remarkable 40 years working in breast cancer research. The highlight of Sally’s career was being part of the team which discovered the altered BRCA2 gene in 1995 – people who carry the gene are more likely to be diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer.

“Twenty MoonWalks – and almost forty years working in breast cancer research. I honestly don’t know where the time has gone! I started off as a hands-on researcher, but more recently, my role has been as the Laboratory Manager for the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, at The Institute of Cancer Research in London. I manage the labs and ensure that the bench scientists have everything they need to do their research. I basically make sure that the researchers don’t get bogged down with the housework of science. Having been a scientist myself, I know what they need and what’s important.

When I signed up for my first MoonWalk London in 2001, I was already an experienced cancer researcher. The MoonWalk was relatively new at the time and the prospect of walking overnight through the streets of London was very different and exciting. It really did tick a box for me. I wanted to give something back and thought I would sign up as a one-off. That’s not quite how it happened, of course! 

Sally after completing The MoonWalk London 2023

Whilst my first MoonWalk was a rather painful experience, over the years I began to recover much quicker each time. After I’d completed my 13th MoonWalk, I decided I would keep going and complete a nice round twenty MoonWalks – and here we are! 

I always have such fun taking part and I particularly enjoyed the years when I walked with my two children, who were still in their teens at the time. I was so proud of them both. The night of The MoonWalk is always quite emotional for me, particularly when I cross the line at the end. Even now, I still feel really moved, but at the same time I feel a huge buzz of achievement, which is why I keep coming back. 

Over the last forty years in breast cancer research, so much has changed and phenomenal progress has been made. Being part of the team which discovered BRCA2 really stands out – it enabled much more personal treatments plans to be developed. The development of PARP inhibitors, which are used in the treatment of cancer, was another huge step forward. 

The use of computers has also revolutionised breast cancer research, since I started working in 1985. Back then, I’d never even sat at a computer. Computers have transformed research for the better, allowing so much data to be analysed and ideas to be shared. We’ve come on leaps and bounds over the last four decades, and I’m hoping that there might be even bigger discoveries just around the corner.

After many happy and incredibly fulfilling years, I plan to retire from my job in 2025. My biggest work-related fear has always been that our huge bank of freezers at the labs will break down and occasionally, I get a call at three a.m. to say that they’re warming up. I certainly won’t miss my freezer-related dreams!"

Thank you, Sally for all your support over the years and for all your incredible work in cancer research. Join Sally and sign up now for The MoonWalk London 2024!


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