Laurence Carter lost his wife to cervical cancer three years ago. Now he is walking 3,500 miles to raise awareness about the disease that took her life.
Day 64. Laurence Carter is in Falmouth, a small town in the southwest of England. He’s in the kitchen of a cottage he’s renting with 11 friends, one of whom is frying black pudding. The traditional English blood sausage might make a finicky Yank cringe, but Carter, a Brit, loves it. Then again, most anything would probably please the Bethesda resident’s taste buds at the moment. He’s hungry. He’s walked 766 miles to get here.
Carter, 58, is walking around the coast of England and Wales, a 3,500-mile trek that will take him about 365 days to complete. Today’s leg, on yet another uncharacteristically lovely August day in the United Kingdom, was only about 9 miles. Tomorrow’s will be closer to 17.
He doesn’t always walk alone. He’s been joined by family and close friends, acquaintances and strangers. “It’s been very sociable,” Carter says with classic British understatement. “The whole thing is like an extended wedding.”
That his bride, the woman who inspired this bloody crazy idea, can’t join him has only hardened his resolve. Melitta Carter died of cervical cancer in 2015 at the age of 53. Now, her husband is determined to help destroy the disease that took his wife. In the months after Melitta’s death, as his grief slowly subsided, Carter resolved to do something to both honor his wife and enrich the lives of others.
“I was out walking the dogs and I just had the idea: What about walking around the U.K.?” says Carter, who had hoped to retire with Melitta to a small village in the English countryside. “I Googled it and I decided that I had to rule out Scotland—it was just too far. I decided on England and Wales. The next day I went to work and asked my boss. She went all misty-eyed and said, ‘What a fantastic idea.’ ”
So he walks, bringing attention to the importance of cervical screenings for women and raising money for Cancer Research UK, a charity that studies the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease. “My message is that cervical cancer is the first cancer that we can eliminate from the face of the Earth within a generation,” he says. “We eradicated smallpox, there are several other diseases, like polio, that are almost gone, but no cancer is. This particular cancer is one that can be eliminated.”
Carter often thinks of Melitta as he walks. Not of her death, but of her life. He takes note of certain plants he sees, knowing that nature was close to her heart.
Once, as he was gazing out to sea, he heard a curious wailing song being carried on the wind. “It was most eerie,” he says. “I looked more closely at a rock about 400 yards away and saw that there were many seals on it.”
Melitta would love this, he thought.
In June 1987, a British man working for an engineering company in Malawi walked into the Ministry of Agriculture looking for some data. There, he found a young British woman with “a beautiful smile and strong views.” Melitta was working in the African country as part of Voluntary Service Overseas, in many ways the British equivalent of the Peace Corps. Later that week they played tennis, and shortly thereafter they climbed a mountain together.
“She was talking about the flora and fauna,” Carter recalls. “I’d never met someone like that.”
Though they shared the same nationality, they’d had very different upbringings. Carter’s father was a teacher in Tanzania, so he spent the first decade of his life in Africa. Melitta grew up in London, the middle of three sisters. Her family lived in a fourth-floor flat in a large Georgian house just a 10-minute walk from Kensington Gardens, where Melitta passed many hours. When she was 7 or 8, her mother allowed her to get a window box, and she enjoyed growing and nurturing plants and flowers.