CLIC Sargent, one of the country’s biggest childhood cancer charities.
CLIC Sargent are my charity. Recently they asked me to make a speech at a fundraising dinner held by Holborne Holiday Parks. I talked about my experiences camping, cooking and campervanning as well as my first-hand experiences of CLIC Sargent – because my family and I have first-hand experience of childhood cancer.
Some of you may have read something like this before, but never mind. If me repeating myself can help to raise just one penny for CLIC Sargent then I shall be happy.
This is from the speech.
“I often get asked how I got into camper vans and why they mean so much to me. My first answer is always the same: that I learnt to surf and didn’t live by the sea, so I needed somewhere to stay overnight when I went. VW campers – for all the clichés of being “surf wagons” - provide the perfect way to do it. They are practical vehicles - homes from home.
And that’s the truth. My camper vans take me to the places I want to be.
However, there is another reason why we love our camper vans. It’s been the catalyst for a lot of the things that have happened to me in the last eight years and has been one of the reasons why we are always determined to make the most of every single moment.
It’s because of a promise Jo and I made to each other when our eldest daughter Maggie was fighting for her life in Bristol Children’s Hospital. She had just been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia – a particularly aggressive form of leukaemia. It was just after her first birthday.
We promised ourselves that if she got through the treatment we would buy another camper van and take off. We’d thank our lucky stars for the life we had been given and ‘live the dream’. It’s all we could think of to get us through troubled times. When our lives were at risk of falling apart we hung on to dreams of travel, open spaces, starry skies, living without a care. The camper promised a simple freedom. It was something to believe in.
Joanne was four months pregnant with Charlie, our second, when Maggie was diagnosed. The three of them were whisked away to Bristol from our home in Devon to begin treatment after a painful biopsy in Exeter. There was no going back for clothes or to put things in order. There was no time. They were dark days.
We were confused, shattered, stunned, numb, whatever. We never thought we’d have to cope with something like this. It was simply unthinkable and I really had no idea what to do. I didn’t even know what oncology meant and was genuinely shocked to find that leukaemia meant cancer. What a moment that was. And when the doctors told us that Maggie would be in hospital in Bristol for six months – which is 2 hours drive from where we live - we were totally and utterly lost.
That’s when CLIC Sargent stepped in.
They provided us with accommodation near the hospital at a wonderful, friendly and happy ‘home from home’, CLIC House. Having a room there - in a warm and caring environment - meant that Jo could get some sleep after doing days and nights by Maggie’s side on the ward. It meant that we could do shifts, that I could commute, still do my shifts at night on the ward and carry on working in Devon, that my mum could stay over and do her bit or that Jo’s mum could fly over from Ireland to do her shifts. It meant, among all the confusion and anxiety and sleepless nights and worry and just about getting through, that we could be near to Maggie. That we could be together. When Charlie was born a month before Maggie finished treatment, CLIC House became her first home. It changed everything.
CLIC Sargent also provided us with a social worker to guide us through and help us survive financially and emotionally. You live in a void during illness, yet around you the real world – bills, mortgage and life’s laundry – still goes on and has to be dealt with. CLIC Sargent showed us how to cope.
CLIC Sargent provided a play worker in hospital, Sam, who took Maggie off to play every day so Jo and I could catch up for a few moments between shifts. They also provide all kinds of other great services to kids who need it: wigs for teenagers, help with schooling, holidays and time out for those undergoing long periods of treatment. Basically, they make it easier.
CLIC Sargent also provided some of the money to pay for the vast amount of knowledge that exists in our health service through its research funding. So, one day when Maggie had a serious and life threatening anaphylactic reaction to a new drug, the team on duty, nurses Charlie and Charlotte, were able to apply that knowledge to save her life. Again.
We were lucky. Maggie survived and we got our wish to live out our dreams as a complete family, sharing blissful times in our new camper. Many thousands of other families helped by CLIC get their dreams too. But there were some staying at CLIC House who didn’t make it. I know that CLIC will have worked with the parents and siblings of those children to help them come to terms with the unimaginable horror of losing their loved one and to get their lives back to some kind of togetherness, whatever that might be.
Once Maggie came home, CLIC also provided a helper for Joanne so she could spend some time with the newly born Charlie. They provided – and still do 8 years later – a CLIC nurse, the wonderful Jenny, who watches over Maggie from behind her stethoscope and makes sure she stays well. She does this for all the children in our area who have or have had cancer. She is wonderful. We see her every six months now but there was a time when she’d come around every week to check up on us.
Happily, Maggie is well out of the woods now. After nearly nine years in remission you’d hardly know she’d been ill apart from the scars where her Hickman lines went in. She surfs, roller skates, cycles, swims for her Surf Life Saving Club and speaks to the world through the medium of cartwheels. She loves every single moment of her smiling, wonderful life.
She is a survivor. And it’s all down to the generosity of the amazing people who go without to give money to charities like CLIC Sargent.
So, to those of you who have ever popped a penny in a box for kids’ cancer charities, thank you, for giving our life back to us when we thought all was lost. You helped to make our dreams come true and you have helped to make lots of other families' dreams come true too.
If you can, please give a little this month because there are thousands of children and their families who face childhood cancer every day. They, like ours, would be totally and utterly lost without cancer charities like CLIC Sargent."
Go to the CLIC Sargent website here.