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breast cancer

What did you do when your friend died of breast cancer?

On February 13 this year my friend Ainslie died of breast cancer after fighting the dreaded disease for 12 years. I knew Ainslie was going to die, at the time of her death she had cancer in her brain, was wheelchair bound and her body was less and less able to function. Given that I knew she was going to leave, I was always so sure I’d know when the time came. However I did not.

It was a full 24 hours later – while away with my family on a weekend break  – when I got the text from her husband Phil to tell me she’d gone.  I went into the state of shock which comes when someone who is part of your life is taken, a parting even worse if that someone is young, in this case just 47. My son told me he’d never heard me cry like that. 

Ainslie Duffell

Ainslie, who fought breast cancer for 12 years

I asked him what he meant. After all, I’m so soft I’ll cry at a tv advertisement which pulls on the heart strings. He’s seen me cry regularly, hundreds of times. He just said ‘it wasn’t like that’. I think he meant I was howling – making that kind of sound you make when you are almost separate from yourself wondering why on earth you are emitting such a strange, animal noise. 

When home, i visited Phil and Alex to see them following Ainslie’s passing. It’s one of those moments you dread but know you have to face and I did it with one of my children who felt she wanted to be there. It was such a shock to walk into the house and see Ainslie looking at me from the sofa – my heart flipped. Perhaps there’d been a mistake – but how could there be? It was actually Ainslie’s sister, Lindsay, who looks like her, or who looks like her before cancer took over Ainslie’s body and tried – but did not succeed  – to rob her of her essential self. 

What do you do when your friend dies from cancer? When you could do absolutely nothing to help her when she was here apart from being there? You can – donate money to her funeral fund, you can support her family in the days following her death, offer to do some practical things like cook meals, do shopping, clean the house. However, having suffered loss myself before – that’s not where the best and most positive route lies. Do those things. Do them as a matter of course, but don’t let that be it. The best route for me lies in letting everyone know this person mattered  weeks, months or years down the line. For everyone achieving that may look different. 

I lost my dad when he was 58 and I remember him daily by talking about him and ensuring my children know what he looked like, the funny things he said and did. What he did or didn’t like. How he influenced me for good and ill. When I lost my brother in law at just 49, it was about honouring his children, seeing him in them, trying to support my sister through the worst times of her life – and trying to keep on doing it even when it’s hard to do so. That’s family. But what about a close friend?

When I went to Ainslie’s house to see Phil and their son Alex, following her death. Alex and Phil told me they had a plan. In her journal, Ainslie had said how sad she was that she was unable to see Alex achieve his first century at cricket. Alex is a rising young star on the Wiltshire cricket scene and the sport is his passion – as it is Phil’s who is a sports journalist and qualified cricket coach. Why was Ainslie unable to see her son play on that day? As a wheelchair user, the cricket club where Alex plays regularly has very poor wheelchair access and nowhere for a disabled or very ill person to view a match safely or in any degree of comfort. Although very proud of her son, Ainslie’s wish to see him play could not be fulfilled. Her journal revealed the true extent of her sadness.

Now I know nothing about cricket save it can involve teams dressed in white carrying bats, using very hard red balls and the word ‘runs’ comes into it. It’s not a sport I’ve ever been interested in and my only abiding memory of it is the novelist DH Lawrence refers to the ‘chocking’ of the cricket ball hitting the bat in one of his novels. I’ve always liked the word ‘chock’. When Phil & Alex asked if I would support them in a five year project to rebuild the cricket pavilion at the Purton Cricket Club in Wiltshire so that no other wheelchair user would be denied access – I said yes. 

As I said before, I could do nothing to help Ainslie while she was alive battling this horrible, disgusting disease – but this is something I can do. I can do my little bit to support Phil & Alex as they attempt to create a legacy in Ainslie’s name at a cricket club which will be 200 years old in 2020. I’m proud to have been asked and I’m proud to do my bit. 

Could you do your bit by sharing this blog post? It will be one of many charting this journey over the next few years and highlighting events to raise money. At this early stage, just over £5,000 has been raised to get the project off the ground. It will be a long journey ahead with obstacles, hurdles and great moments. But it will never be anything like the journey which went before….so this is what I’m doing for my friend Ainslie….

Race for Life was an emotional event for anyone affected by cancer – most of us!

At the weekend, my 12 year old daughter Georgia took part in her first ever fundraising event – the Swindon Race for Life to raise money for cancer research.

Starting out...

Starting out…

She’d decided to do this only a short time ago after being inspired by a friend at school who had her hair shaved off to raise awareness when her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was puzzled by how this one event had affected my daughter so much. After all, cancer is a disease we’ve had knowledge of. We have two close friends who are facing it as we speak, three other friends who have had it and are in recovery. We’ve also lost family members to it. However it was this one particular case which caught her imagination.

Very quickly, with the help of lovely Linda, our childminder and a regular Race for Life participant, Georgia planned her strategy and set a target of raising £50. She took it upon herself to gently tell neighbours she was doing the event, telephoning family members to let them know and mentioned it to all of her friends at school. Very quickly she’d raised £45. I mentioned it on social media, not an appeal for money, merely a mention.

It was this which showed me just how deeply as a society we are affected by cancer. The following day, another neighbour who’d seen my social media post, put a donation through the door of £40. The same day, another friend who doesn’t live locally, called and pledged another £25.  Very quickly she’d raised well over £100.

On the day of the race, Georgia left early to warm up and prepare. As we arrived to support her, we walked across Lydiard Park and I wondered how many people would be there. After all, the event has been running in the town for several years. I could not believe my eyes when there was a sea of pink before me – and that didn’t include supporters. Thousands of women, of all shapes, sizes and abilities were gathered to do their bit.

Waving everyone off on the 5km course, wave after wave of women walked, ran or jogged past and it showed how many lives are touched by this disease and the human price of it began to hit you. The emotion was so unexpected. Apart from seeing my own child go off to do this event – I marvelled at the older lady in her mobility scooter, the girls with their hula hoops and the mums with pushchairs on their way.

You're never too old to fight cancer

You’re never too old to fight cancer

It was a day when I was proud of my own child, but also proud of Swindon and of all of those women who had gone out of their way to raise thousands and thousands to help beat this awful disease. We’ve pledged to do the event next year – and this time, I’ll be joining in with my other daughter as we both felt our little effort, matched with the little efforts of thousands of others, all turn into one big effort to defeat this dreadful disease in all its forms.

We Did It!

We Did It!

 

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