GREAT Western Hospital’s Maria Moore began her epic journey across the Atlas Mountains to raise money for a life-changing breast cancer treatment yesterday.

The director of finance and performance at the hospital has already raised more than £6,000 to help fund a year’s worth of intra-operative radiotherapy treatment, which could improve the lives of 150 women in Swindon each year.

Maria’s 12-day-trek for the cause will see her scale Mt Toubkal, Mt Ouanakrim and Mt Adrar n’Dern in Morocco in temperatures exceeding 30C and dropping to below freezing overnight.

She’ll make an ascent of 9,404m in total with only the supplies on her back and her partner, Dorian Thomas, for support.

Before she left for her flight on Sunday, Maria, who has been training for the challenge since January, said: “I’m quite excited. If I’m not fit enough now I never will be.

“I think the biggest challenge will be the temperature. I’ve been training in snow and in rain, and in Marrakech at the moment it is 35C and it hasn’t been that hot here yet.

“I’ve done these kind of challenges before but it’s the first time it’s been for charity, and I know I will finish it but it just gives me that extra motivation.”

As part of her send-off, members of all the teams that work out of the Commonhead site grouped together to present Maria with a gift box of items including a bottle of champagne to drink at the summit.

The hospital trust’s charity, Brighter Futures, is trying to raise £75,000 to fund a year’s worth of the treatment, which gives radiotherapy while the patient is still on the operating table, cutting down recovery time as well as sparing patients of the long journey to Oxford or Bath to receive traditional radiotherapy following their operation.

Earlier this month staff began training on the new equipment, but they must still find £12,500 a month to cover the cost of the machine, staffing and safety equipment.

Brighter Futures, the GWH NHS Foundation Trust’s charity which helps to fund new treatments not available through the NHS budget, has raised more than £25,000 after starting the campaign in March.

Jennifer Green, the head of fundraising for Brighter Futures, said: “It’s fantastic how much Maria has had to raise.”