Vicki, my best friend, was only 32 when she was lying in St Gemma’s Hospice as I promised her that her death would make a difference.
Following her terminal diagnosis of small cell carcinoma of the ovary hypercalcemic type (SCCOHT), a rare form of ovarian cancer, Vicki had a whirlwind final six months fulfilling her bucket list wishes thanks to a fundraising page that went viral.
Within weeks our fundraising efforts had raised over £20,000 and Vicki got to experience so many fantastic activities – thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers alike. Among the experiences we managed to arrange was a set visit to Netflix’s The Dark Crystal, a red-carpet screening of Les Estivants at the Venice Film Festival, a private home taxidermy class with local taxidermist Chris Elliot, and comedienne Katherine Ryan invited her to her Glitter Room tour. These were all experiences that were offered for free because people wanted to help – and all because we just asked nicely.
The sense of urgency to spend time with our beloved friend meant that Vicki’s schedule was packed. Alongside the burlesque festivals in Berlin, trips to London and one last family trip to Whitby, she had many hospital appointments and chemotherapy sessions to attend.
“Vicki found the strength to travel and partake in countless activities, including roller-skating, late-night partying and a family trip to Disneyland Paris, despite bitter November temperatures”
In a relatively short time – her prognosis came mid-August and was admitted to a hospice by January – Vicki found the strength to travel and partake in countless activities, including roller-skating, late-night partying and a family trip to Disneyland Paris, despite bitter November temperatures. By then her health had started to deteriorate, but the two of us still managed a couple of rounds of post-midnight bowling.
You see, Vicki’s approach to dying was far from ordinary. In fact, those six months were extraordinary. It wasn’t a time for sadness, that could come afterwards. I’ll never forget her saying she felt sorry for her friends because, in her words: “I know how I’d feel if it was you. But I won’t be here. I’ll just be gone, so it doesn’t matter to me”.
I appreciated the fact that creating a charity wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but I knew that it was important to me and would be a fantastically positive way of channelling grief.
When I was sat there holding her hand in the hospice, we both felt that the situation was so unfair. She seemed too young to be dying from ovarian cancer, and we agreed her death could have been delayed, even prevented if it was caught earlier. If only she had known sooner her symptoms were classic signs of ovarian cancer. If only her doctors hadn’t fobbed her off, telling her that her giant stomach was IBS.
There and then I vowed to not rest until we had spread the word about the terrible disease and made her death make a difference. I saw what we had done with the bucket list campaign and I had faith that we could make people take notice. Vicki’s attitude throughout her whole diagnosis was inspirational, so this just seemed a fitting thing to do. I realised that if I can find anything to be passionate about at this difficult time, then I can find passion in marking the memory of my best friend.
I’m still in recovery. When someone that you have been so close to dies it’s like you’ve stepped out of a technicolour film into a black and white one – everything around you is dull and lacks colour. But with our charity, Lemonade, we can bring some happiness to families affected by ovarian cancer and pass on the same kindness that we all witnessed with our friend.
The charity is so-called because in the face of adversity and misfortune we are continuing to make lemonade from lemons. I saw how people came together for Vicki to create something remarkable and I didn’t want that to stop. I wanted to keep her memory alive and carry on creating positive experiences for people just like her.
“If we could take what had happened to her and make other women aware of the signs of ovarian cancer, then it could only be a good thing.”
I guess telling her that I was planning this gave her some comfort and meaning to what was happening to her, so of course I had to give it my best shot. If we could take what had happened to her and make other women aware of the signs of ovarian cancer, then it could only be a good thing.
Vicki’s strength and attitude towards making the most out of her time was really the driving force in shaping the charity and its ethos. Even the branding, which is a kawaii (cute) uterus – cute-erus, if you will – was inspired by her love of Japan, which she sadly was never able to visit.
Seven months after our loss we now have an all-female board of what I call ‘northern powerhouses’ who are resourceful, dedicated, creative and, most importantly, compassionate and want the charity to become a success. It will take a lot of work and has already taken six months of research and planning to execute and form our CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) but even if Lemonade can help one person fulfil a bucket list wish it will all be worth it.
Admittedly shameless and unafraid to ask for help our team of ‘Lemonadies’ have attracted offers from many kind humans who, like us, want to make a difference to the ladies in our local area. We live in Yorkshire, which has the highest amount of all cancers in the UK.
Studies show that ovarian cancer cases are on the rise. It’s called the silent cancer, but the symptoms are the opposite – they are quite loud. A bloated stomach, needing to wee more and feeling tired all the time are all common symptoms that Vicki had but she wasn’t diagnosed until she was admitted to A&E with a full-term pregnancy-sized tumour to have an emergency hysterectomy.
What Lemonade aims to do is to teach people about the warning signs of ovarian cancer by making them take notice through our events and social media – that’s why we’re using #notsilent.
What’s lovely about our story is that Vicki’s family is involved – her niece, Georgia, is busy making ‘fem-ship bracelets’ to sell at our launch party. Her mother, Enid, is planning on baking cakes for the events that we have in the pipeline. Leanne, her sister, is on the board alongside me.
The feedback I’ve had already has really spurred me on. It’s almost like we’re underdogs. Perhaps because we’re starting out and I guess because it’s kind of a remarkable thing that we ourselves are making lemonade from our, for want of a better phrase, bitter situation.
Katy Winship is co-founder of Lemonade
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