Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Why failure is not an option

18 Sep

‘The Grand Old Duke of York.  He had 10,000 men, he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again…’ Who’d have thought that I’d find anything in common with the Grand Old Duke.  Yet I’ve been thinking about him a lot as I’ve walked up and down and down and up my local Cotswold hills in preparation for China.

So the good news is that I feel more prepared than I was for my Great Wall of China trek, but the bad news is that I don’t feel anywhere near prepared enough and now it’s only three weeks away.

I have hit a deep low this last week or so and have feared that I’ve made a dreadful mistake signing up.   However much people keep telling me that I will be fine and that it will be awesome (it undoubtedly will), I’ve been really doubting my ability to take on those steps.  I mean walking up Borough tube stairs still hurts for goodness sake.  I think I would feel better physically and mentally if I could fit in more training but with a packed schedule at work, combined with my 5 hour commutes, I am finding it hard to fit it in.  On top of all of that, my left foot has started to swell up again so that hasn’t helped either!

oxfordshire wayMy darling husband has been a star, as ever, not moaning as I disappear for yet another long walk at weekends but I know that two of my three children are feeling my absence.  The youngest expresses it but the middle one just disappears with friends.  Perhaps it’s me that is missing him?  The eldest is fine thankfully – university is beckoning.    I don’t desperately want to leave my family right now.  But I am doing this for a reason: to raise awareness and to try and galvanize support for Bowel Cancer UK’s work to improve the treatment and care of people with advanced disease through our Time for Guts campaign and our interlinking Never too Young campaign.

The fundraising has been tough too – the same wonderful people support but I’ve tried reaching out to others who I know well, some of whom are financially very well placed to support and so far radio silence. Others who I thought I could rely upon for their support (moral as much as financial!) haven’t come through.  Of course, every hurdle is a challenge I will take on but if I’m honest it has felt really difficult.   It hasn’t helped that it has coincided with our annual planning and our annual frustration that there is so much more we would like to do as a charity but can’t do because of our lack of scale.

Charlotte KitleyI never need reminders about why what I/we are trying to do matters but I got them anyway, these last few weeks.  There seems to have been a lot of bad news amongst my circle of patient friends.  It’s included the terrible news about the passing of 36 year old Charlotte Kitley.  Charley and I never met but I read her blogs, chatted with her and was full of respect for her positivity and determination.   I highly recommend you read her blog “Palliative care shouldn’t mean the end of living”, it seems to sum her up really.

A couple of days ago, I sat in a park and sobbed as I read her final blog “and so there must come an end”.  It’s a tough read because as she says:

“I have so much life I still want to live, but know I won’t have that.  I want to be there for my friends as they move on with their lives, see my children grow up and become old and grumpy with Rich.  All these things are to be denied to me”

Yet it’s also full of sage advice and her trademark positivity.  She was generous, kind and determined.  Even just a few days before she died she was urging me to share her story if it would help save others.

No-one should have to write that beautiful moving goodbye because of bowel cancer.  It can be cured but early diagnosis makes that so much more possible.  Charley was diagnosed too late.

So to the radio interviewer who once asked me if bowel cancer got less support because it was less emotive, listen to the stories.  They will make your heart melt. No cancer is sexy and each cancer patient is a person first and foremost with a life, family, friends, hopes and dreams.  The site of their tumour should be immaterial to the support on offer to them.

My inner struggle made me go back to one of my favourite quotes from Barack Obama:

‘ Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.’

Well clearly I’m no Barack Obama, yet the essence of his message can be applied to so many situations.  In remembering this, I have felt a little ashamed that I have allowed myself to wallow, to feel defeated, stupid, humiliated.  This is so not about me – it never has been, never will be – it’s always about others and a desire to make positive change.

I will push through the dark fog, I will succeed, I will take on this ridiculous trek and climb those steps, I WILL do this for Charley.

The Star of Hope: an international symbol for bowel cancer

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Heart aches, inspiration and fundraising

28 Jan

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“Chemo delayed, blood transfusion, fractured pelvis and possible cancer spread… still hoping to get to London nxt week for wedding dress fitting!” a tweet from a 31 year old advanced bowel cancer patient

“ x’s tumours have grown.  She now has tumours in her ovaries.  She may now not have long left.” From the husband of a young patient, mother of 3, with advanced bowel cancer

There are days when I could simply weep with the terrible news I hear about the impact of bowel cancer on people’s lives.  I am in touch every day with many people who are facing an uncertain and frightening future and I am always deeply moved by their experiences and humbled by the dignity and strength with which they face great adversity.   Along with the heart ache I also feel angry because I know that especially if bowel cancer is diagnosed early it can be cured.  People should not be dying from this disease yet 16,000 people do die, every year.

Working for Bowel Cancer UK, I am so fortunate to walk alongside people going through treatment – to share their ups and downs, hopes and fears.  Celebrating the ‘all clear’ with them is quite simply amazing.  But from personal experience, I also know what it is like to have the appalling realisation that when the suffering is too great, that saying good bye to someone you love is sometimes a blessing.

Saying you are passionate about something is rather a cliché yet for me, about saving lives from bowel cancer, it is an apt description and I fully admit that I take this far too personally.  I genuinely care deeply about bowel cancer patients of any age, having lost my own father to bowel cancer at 79 but right now there is something I want to do for younger patients.  That’s because I think they are being let down.

Young people – and I’m talking about all those from their teens into the 40s are a tough group to target.  Bowel cancer in this age range is relatively rare – only 2,000 people are diagnosed every year compared to 39,000 over 50.  That means the Government/NHS focus is predominantly on the larger group.  I do understand that as no-one wants to cause mass panic – or to ‘flood’ GP surgeries with the worried well.  However patients regularly tell me that they wish they had been aware of the symptoms and acted quicker, as prior to their own diagnosis they thought it was just an ‘older’ person’s disease.  Or that they wish their symptoms had been taken more seriously because when they eventually were diagnosed, their cancer was very advanced.  We must find a way to change this as ALL of their lives matter.

Losing someone far too young can have a profound effect on so many people and at Bowel Cancer UK we are regularly blown away by the amazing support we receive from families and friends of young patients who want to help stop this happening to others.  My heart goes out to all of them as their pain is very real and will never leave them.

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Bowel Cancer UK supporter, Dorcas Crawford (left) with her dear friend and inspiration to me, Rosi Kirker Miller

One patient who had a major effect on me was Rosi Kirker Miller from Northern Ireland.   Rosi was an incredible woman – her cancer was diagnosed very late but she refused to give up and threw her energy into raising awareness of the disease and funds for Bowel Cancer UK.  One evening, driving me back into Belfast after a wonderful dinner with her family, she said to me how she simply wanted to live long enough to get her little boys then 9 and 11 to university.  My heart sank because I knew deep down she wouldn’t and sadly a few short months later she died.  Being Rosi she didn’t let death stop her though.  At her packed funeral service her brother gave a message to us all from Rosi… She wanted to remind us that bowel cancer is treatable if diagnosed early, to act on any symptoms and she urged everyone to get behind and support Bowel Cancer UK.

Wow… I admit at that moment I felt a bit like I’d been punched with the huge weight of responsibility she had placed in me, in us.  She was placing her trust in us to stop this happening to others.  But you know I’m not phased… I’m honoured.   Rosi benevolently haunts me every day and reminds me that the jobs not done yet.  That when it feels really hard and frustrating, like the breakthrough moment will never come, that I need to up my game and do something more.   Her memory reminds me that not succeeding, not ensuring that Bowel Cancer UK meets its mission and saves lives from bowel cancer and improves the quality of life of those going through it, is simply NOT an option.

So I’m thinking out of the box now… I’m tired of being powerless to make a real difference, I have had enough of just listening to heart breaking stories, of knowing people will die through ignorance or lack of timely diagnostic tests.  I’m really tired of never having the funds Bowel Cancer UK needs to deliver services to support and empower people better.    It’s not right and I want to change it, so I’m going to adopt Rosi’s spirit and DO something.

I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to achieve this yet, but I’m launching a fundraising campaign to raise £50K for Bowel Cancer UK’s work with young patients and their families.    I intend to do a number of different fundraising activities over this year including a trek in Jordan but I’m going to start by throwing myself out of a plane on the 23rd March (by co-incidence my dearly loved father’s birthday).

Obviously it’s highly unlikely I’m going to raise £50K without your help, so if this matters to YOU, if this resonates with YOU, please take action – help me.

You can sponsor me, you can join me, you can fundraise too – it will all help.    Together, we have a real chance to make positive changes for younger patients.  Are you up for it?

Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

 We are the change that we seek.” 
                        ― Barack Obama

To donate please visit:

http://www.justgiving.com/deborah-alsina

You can also set up your own justgiving page but please don’t forget to link it to this team page:  www.justgiving.com/teams/Challenge50K

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