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Uplifting and unforgettable special days…

At my daughters school we hold a coffee morning each term to raise money half for the PTA and half for a nominated charity. Each time we support a different charity and each one often has a personal connection to someone at the school. This morning was one of the most heartfelt that I’ve helped to host, a charity that has helped both myself and another mum, The Willow Foundation is the only UK charity supporting seriously ill 16 to 40 year olds by providing unique and positive Special Days.

Founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper and TV presenter, Bob Wilson and his wife Megs, Willow is a lasting memorial to their daughter, Anna, who died of cancer aged 31. Anna’s love of life and the enriching experiences of her own Special Days were the charity’s inspiration. Since 1999 Willow has fulfilled more than 10,000 Special Days for young adults living with life-threatening conditions such as cancer, motor neurone disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease. https://www.willowfoundation.org.uk

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I gave a short speech and introduction this morning to the following clip which Charlie helped to create, at the end of this video everyone was left speechless with not a single dry eye in the house. Willow work hard creating bespoke days out for you and your family to create special lasting memories to give you a break from the hospitals and treatments that very easily take over your life. One particular comment in the video will stay with me for a long time:

“It was the day I got my family back” when Charlie’s husband replies “We hadn’t gone far..”

I would also like to share with you Charlie’s story which we printed out this morning for mums to read as its such a personal and heartfelt story, with a special comment from her daughter Hannah at the end:

Charlie’s Story

I was 37 when I was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkins lymphoma, a wife, and a mum to 3 children aged 12, 9 and 5. As a nurse I wasn’t surprised, I knew my symptoms were not good and that the results were really just confirmation. Cancer isn’t something that you think will happen to you when you’re young. You read stories, they make you sad and provoke your thought, but they aren’t part of your reality. Then it happens to you… I can’t say I asked “why me?” as I always believed if you asked that you then had to ask “why not?” but I did think “why my kids?” At that point I knew I had to fight, not just because my kids needed their mum, but also because my husband can’t cook and I didn’t want them living on cereal!

So the fight began. Scans, picc lines, bone marrow tests, 6 months of chemotherapy every other week. Not quite as scary as tv and films had me believe but not pleasant either. My wonderful husband and children watched their wife and mum become very tired and physically sick. My hair inevitably fell out which must be so very shocking and frightening for a child to see. My husband shaved his off too and my kids bravely told me to not hide behind my scarf and be proud of my bald head! They walked beside me and endured the staring… You’d be surprised at how many people stare! As my body bloated with the steroids they told me I was beautiful… I cannot actually begin to explain how difficult that is to write, nor explain how hard it is to watch the physical changes to your body. For me that was definitely the hardest part.

One day I looked at my kids and saw that their characters had changed. They were quieter more serious children. They’d had to grow up overnight. I knew then that I needed to give us all something to look forward to as a family, and so I sent in my application. My children had, unfortunately down to my own obsession, developed a liking for Take That. Their song ‘Rule the world’ had become a song with very special meaning to us. So thanks to the Willow Foundation we got tickets for the whole family to see them in concert. We had so much to celebrate. We had made remission.

The car arrived to take us which was in itself an exciting adventure for the kids! We were driven to Wembley and quickly found ourselves a spot to sit. The crowd was loud, the atmosphere amazing! It was a packed house and the rain did nothing to dampen spirits! Everyone sang, screamed and danced in the rain and it was so easy to just go with the crowd and get lost in the music and excitement. That alone is such a tonic. As valuable a medicine as the chemotherapy itself. Part way through the night I took a moment to quietly watch my precious family. They had been my rock, my reason to fight. I watched them as they danced and sang without a care in the world. It was almost like I was watching the stress and the devastation they had endured through my illness, physically disappear infront of my eyes. I was watching my family, my pre-cancer family, once more for the first time in a very long while! No money can put a price on that feeling.

I cannot ever thank the charity enough for what they have done for our family. I hope my story shows you how important these days are not just for the recipient but for the people that stand there fighting with them. It wasn’t just a day with memories made, it was so much more than that. It was closing the door, it was celebrating, it was a moment for relief and release. It was our moment.

It makes me so happy to know that more people like me, and families like mine, will be given the gift of a special day, of ‘forever memories’. What a gift that is!

Hannah:

I will never forget the completeness I felt during that whole evening. I’d finally been given a chance to breathe a sigh of relief and so had my mum. She had been given the chance to forget about everything that had happened, and just laugh and absorb that moment of happiness and security.

We were reconnected with new memories and laughter. The special day brought my family back together again; and I will never forget how much I owe the Willow Foundation.

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