A woman who lost her mum to cancer is encouraging others to get involved in the Starlight Hike.
Phillippa Evans, who is one of St John’s Hospice’s ambassadors, shares her story:
“My association with Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice began two years ago when I signed up to do the Starlight Hike. I had never been to the hospice but had heard so many good things about it from other people, and as my mum had been battling cancer off and on for 20 years I suspected at some point she might end up in there, so raising a few pennies seemed the right thing to do.
Initially my target was £100 as there were quite a few of us from doing the walk as The Blunham Babes!
Mum originally had breast cancer 20 years ago and had radiotherapy after a lumpectomy. In a few cases the radiotherapy causes a very aggressive cancer called Angio Sarcoma. Unfortunately this happened to mum after nine years.
She was given a maximum of 18 months to live. We were all devastated. But mum decided she wasn’t ready to go and with the help of two fantastic doctors she lived for another 11 years!
During this time she had an experimental chemo, which didn’t work, and numerous operations to remove the cancer tissue, with at various times skin grafts taken, twice from her back, one from her leg and one from her arm. Every time the cancer returned she would have to endure yet another operation, but she never complained. She said if she hadn’t had the original radiotherapy she might not have survived the nine years, and when she had operations she would make comments such as, “I’m getting a free tummy tuck!” because the cancer was in the skin on her front.
She had also coped with my dad deteriorating with Alzheimers over the last few years which was extremely upsetting and distressing for her. She seemed to get stronger and more determined with each bout of the cancer and we began to think she was invincible.
All that changed in spring 2012, when the cancer returned only six months after the previous op, and there was no more surgery they could do as the cancer had spread to her ribcage. She remained relatively well for the next few months.
In August I went on holiday to Madeira with my husband and two girls aged eight and four. The first week was great but then I had a call from my sister to say mum had been taken to hospital with blood clots on her lungs. I immediately flew back home. We had to put my dad into care as he couldn’t look after himself and we couldn’t be with him 24/7. Mum was put on heparin to thin the blood and prevent more clots and she came home. Unfortunately a week later her lungs started to fill with fluid. Despite their best efforts there was nothing more the doctors could do. Mum spent two weeks in hospital and was then transferred to St John’s.
The change in mum within a couple of days was amazing. She was very scared, in pain and very short of breath. St John’s looked after her so lovingly, controlling her pain and managing not only her physical symptoms but looking after her emotional wellbeing too. The place is everything I had heard about and more.
The staff always had time for mum, there was no dashing in and out, and if she pressed her call button (which of course she hardly ever did because she didn’t like to be a nuisance) someone was there in seconds.
Initially mum was only going to be there for a few days whilst we made the arrangements for her to go home. However, she started to deteriorate quite quickly and she was so settled and content that the decision was made that she would stay.
In the meantime I started my fundraising for the walk. I never dreamt in a million years that mum would be in the hospice on the night of the walk, but that spurred me on to raise as much as I could. I posted the news on Facebook, my sister shared it on her page, I emailed friends and family, dad’s Rotary group, and printed off 50 letters which I put round the village and sent out.
Within a couple of days we had raised over £1,000, so I set my target at £2,000, never thinking I’d get there. Mum had daily updates on the sponsorship which she excitedly shared with the nurses and doctors. Soon the £2,000 target came
and went and on the night of the walk we had raised £2,800! Mum was thrilled to be able to give something back to the hospice.
Mum phoned me on the night of the walk to wish me luck. Then off we set, not really knowing what to expect. Oh what a night! As soon as we arrived the place was buzzing. Thankfully the weather was kind and it was a clear and still night. The atmosphere was electric and everyone was so excited. Over 600 people coming together, most with stories of their own, and with one common goal. We had a live band and a Zumba warm up (which totally wore me out!).
Then we all lined up, most people with blue light up stars on headbands, and off we set. There was much laughter and fun along the route, and the long caterpillar of people stretched across the fields, lit by the blue stars on peoples’ heads. We wondered if we could be seen from the aeroplanes overhead and wondered what the people on board would make of the blue snake!
The walk took us about an hour and a half, the time just flew, then we returned for a welcome cuppa and a bacon butty. I felt elated to have been part of such a special night, although my thoughts were never far from mum. Eventually we all drifted home but it was hours before I could sleep as I was still buzzing.
At 8am the next morning I was having a lie in and heard the phone go. My husband Chris came upstairs and I knew something was wrong. Mum had died that morning. It was such a shock as no-one expected her to go so soon, and there was so much I hadn’t said to her. But mum knew I’d have completed the walk and decided that she’d had enough. We all realised she was just holding on for the Starlight Hike.
I needed something to focus on so made it my aim to raise the other £200 to get to £3,000. The money came rolling in again, when people asked if there was anything they could do I found the courage to ask for sponsorship. In the end the final total was just over £3,500 as people also gave me money at the funeral.
Nothing can bring my Mum back. And nothing can truly express my appreciation for the staff at St John’s for what they did for all of us, both during mum’s time there and the support we received afterwards.
In 2013 I was wondering how I could possibly raise a similar amount of money for the Hospice and came up with the mad idea of having my head shaved! I arranged a big fundraising event at our village pub with music, entertainment, barbecue and a huge prize draw. On July 13 the sun shone on us and I had my head shaved in front of well over 200 people. The prize draw alone raised over £1,000 and the final total was just over £3,000. And all because of mum.
The Blunham Babes will again be walking this year, this time in memory of Mum. I have also become an Ambassador for the event which means I get involved with behind the scenes! Becoming an Ambassador has given me a new drive to ensure the event is a success and it is fair to say that it has helped me with the grief of loosing mum. We are always looking for new Ambassadors who can dedicate some time and energy into recruiting walkers and raising sponsorship. Please get in touch if you would like to join us its great fun and all the Ambassadors are really friendly.
Even if you cant become an ambassador its not too late to register to walk! Visit www.sueryder.org/starlighthikestjohns
It’s one evening, one fantastic evening, and you never know when you or your loved one may need the care that St John’s can provide.