About Life, Death and the Pole Star

25 Mar

Forget Me Nots



On Death,  Kahlil Gibran

‘You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?’





My little girl asked me recently what happened when you died. She followed up by saying very seriously: “Mummy I really want to know”… Ho hum. She’s only nine but I felt I owed her a proper answer.  I don’t want her growing up fearful, but to understand death’s place, as part of life.

Her questioning also made me realize that I’ve also been thinking about death and dying a great deal recently.  It’s also the reason I stopped blogging for a while.  I lost my words and ability to coherently describe what I felt and why I feel so passionately about the work we are doing at Bowel Cancer UK.  I have been struggling because in the space of a few short weeks, earlier this year, five people, who I knew and cared about, died of bowel cancer.  I have grieved for them all.  My grief has been further compounded because every day I am in contact with people who are incurable and I don’t want to lose them.  If I allow it to, the world can quickly seem darker and colder just at the thought of that.

Yet recently I’ve been at several events where the spirit of people we’ve lost due to bowel cancer was present, almost palpable, but I’m not talking ghosts here … let me explain.

Rosi pictue

Rosi Kirker-Miller

In my first post I wrote about Rosi Kirker-Miller, a wonderful woman from Northern Ireland who tirelessly campaigned for greater awareness of bowel cancer and better screening despite knowing she could not be cured.  Her family and friends have, since her passing, continued her campaign and become tireless supporters of Bowel Cancer UK and before Christmas organised a fantastic business lunch for the charity.  It was a roundtable discussion about what Bowel Cancer UK should be doing in Northern Ireland – everyone there either knew Rosi or knew of her.  References to her and stories about her filled the conversation and the spirit of Rosi – her determination, charisma and humour – surrounded us all.   I’ve always joked that Rosi benevolently haunts me and gives me a sharp dig in the ribs if I become despondent or lost trying to find that elusive breakthrough moment.  In fact, just thinking about her reminds me that giving up is just not an option!

Suzy Ferguson

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending another event where the spirit of someone we lost too early shone through.  Sadly Suzy Ferguson, passed away due to bowel cancer, on 26th July 2012 aged just 31 and in her memory Gorkana Group and Lewis PR launched a new PR award which also benefits Bowel Cancer UK – the Suzy Ferguson Spirit Award.

They describe it like this:

“Suzy was an inspirational person, whose work impacted clients and fellow professionals. Suzy also worked tirelessly in the community outside her work, even after she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Her spirit and talent positively influenced every organisation she worked with.

 To honour her memory, Gorkana Group, in partnership with Bowel Cancer UK, is launching this unique PR and comms industry award.

 Unlike other awards that only acknowledge professional achievements, the Suzy Ferguson Spirit Award aims to recognise individuals of exceptional character, integrity and determination.”

At the lovely awards ceremony, we heard about the five finalists and why they were shortlisted.  Not pushy, flamboyant or full of gloss and self-serving ego – they were all delightful.  In a world where too often it’s the superficial that gets attention, this was a refreshing change.

I had the privilege of meeting some of Suzy’s family and friends and like Rosi – the spirit of Suzy – what she represented to those who loved and cared for her –  was there.  I didn’t have the chance to meet Suzy, but I came away thinking this was someone I would have liked.  Rosie Warin, from Forster, won the award and she certainly seemed to embody all those great qualities.  Congratulations Rosie!

Katie ScarbroughIn my short speech that day I talked about another bowel cancer patient who moved me, Katie Scarbrough, and it reminded me that I tell stories a lot, at work and home, about people we have lost to bowel cancer.  Stories full of hope and desperation, fear and courage. Perhaps it is this that is behind my daughter’s questioning?  In so doing I seek to help others understand why this matters.  I use the memory of those we have lost, as my pole star, helping me navigate better even through dark days so I remain focused on what we must achieve.

And that’s what I told my daughter, that for me, living a life of ‘character, integrity and determination’ is the right way to live and that even when people are not there physically any more they can remain with you.   I don’t believe love and friendship just stops when you can’t see someone anymore.  The memories and essence of them remains as long as you keep it alive within you and pass it on to others.  I hope she grows living her life to the full but understanding that death doesn’t need to be final.



Bowel Cancer Star of Hope



For Tony Levy, a man I came to admire for his kindness, compassion and generosity of spirit and who I miss every day.

5 Responses to “About Life, Death and the Pole Star”

  1. Lesley Shannon March 25, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    another inspiring blog from Deborah, not only the CEO of BCUK, of Never Too Young Campaign, but also a true friend. Deborah is always there for not only the person who has cancer but became a dear friend to me the Mother of beautiful Laura who lost her battle against bowel cancer on Mother’s Day last year. I am so touched by all the people bravely fighting bowel cancer, especially all the younger people who are fighting bowel cancer, how brave they are, knowing they may not survive when they are Stage IV and yet who send time comforting me, the Mother who lost my beautiful Daugher Laura. I am trying to do all I can in my power to raise awareness and promote tht early detection is key to saving lives through education others especially health professionals who need to listen and understand the fears of younger people telling them the symptoms of bowel cancer and not turning them away saying, ” you are too young t have this kind of cancer” if doctors listened to Laura she would and should sill be here with me, her family. Instead of celebrating Mother’s Day like others reading this can and will be doing I will be visiting my daughter’s graveside. This is not right and Deborah for one is doing a sterling job over and above her call of duty work wise to make this change. To raise awareness and help others who are going through cancer diagnosis and also the extended family. Deborah should be awarded for all the work she does so tirelessly and 24/7 work she does. Words cannot convey my thanks to Deborah and BCUK. A mere thank you does no seem to suffice. We have raised £12,000 so far for the never too young campaign in Laura’s memory and I will continue to strive to raise awareness in any way I can to help stop this happening to other young people. I applaud you Deborah x your friend, always Lesley x

    • deborahalsina March 25, 2014 at 11:48 am #

      Thank you Lesley. I know this would be hard post for you, so close to the anniversary of losing Laura, but please know she is still bright in my memory and continues to inspire my actions. love to you all. Deborah x

      • Lesley Shannon March 25, 2014 at 12:04 pm #

        Well done lovely Deborah x

  2. Hannah fieldhouse March 26, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    I sadly lost my uncle paul to bowel cancer on the 4th March this year. Devastated doesnt come close. Trying to raise awareness is proving a bit difficult. It doesnt even seem like the doctors know what to look out for as they fobbed him off for 8 months! It was only when he took himself to A&E he found out. I wonder everyday. That if the doctors did their jobs properly & tested him sooner, he’d still be alive:-(

    • deborahalsina March 27, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      I’m so sorry to hear about your uncle. It’s a really tough disease on the whole family. I’m afraid its not an unusual story to me and whilst it can be a very difficult disease to detect as the symptoms can be vague its one of the reasons Bowel Cancer UK delivers clinical education programmes including for GPs as we are would like to see bowel cancer ruled out much quicker in the diagnostic process. We have a long way to go though. Thank you for getting in touch. Deborah

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