Add to the memories you keep

When I decided I wanted to do some volunteer work a few years ago, Willow was the first place I called. As a football fan I’d heard lots about Willow during interviews with Bob Wilson and the cause resonated strongly with me. Fast forward quite a few years and I am proud and delighted to be announced as new Special Days Director at Willow.

“Add to the memories you keep” are lyrics in one of my favourite songs (bonus points if you guess the song!). As you may know, Willow organises Special Days for seriously ill young adults and a huge part of what we do is help make lasting memories for people to keep. In times when so much of life is dominated by doctor’s appointments, medication regimes and things you want to forget, a Willow Special Day can give memories that will be treasured forever.

I started my new role on 1st May and, although I had already signed up, I thought our new triathlon event, Will of Iron, was a great way to begin – and ensure a week of memories to keep.

So here’s how it went… 

A bank holiday weekend meant a chance to get ahead. I’d been training quite hard so Saturday was a full day of rest before two days of arriving at the gym at 7am and ending up spending more time there the than the staff!

Mark, Special Days Director

I’d only managed a 10k run for Willow before Will of Iron

Tuesday morning. After completing the swim and short run, it was into the office for business as usual. We’ll arrange at least a 1,000 days this year and no two are alike. However, my job is made so much easier as I have a very committed team who work tirelessly to make sure we create wonderful Special Days. It always humbles me to read the applications we receive. Often just being given the chance to spend quality time with friends and family is really special to our applicants.

On the treadmill Tuesday night I was really grateful for the motivation of my sponsors as the distance counter seemed to be stuck or at least moving very slowly. I pushed myself hard though, leaving just 5k running and 30k on the bike. I say “just”; a few weeks ago that would have seemed like a major challenge but not now!

Wednesday was my sprint to the finish line. The girl next to me had no idea why I seemed so happy at running 5km. To cap it all, I arrived at work to phone a lovely lady confirming that we would love to organise her Special Day to share with her partner. A great memory for her to look forward to along with a memorable start to an amazing job for me.

Mark, Special Days Director and Will of Iron finisher

Swim: 2:18, Cycle: 5:35, Run 4:01.
Total: 11 Hours 54 Minutes

Guest post: Paul Botterill

There are lots of amazing people challenging themselves to take on Will of Iron to raise money for Willow, including Paul Botterill. Paul has committed to take on the whole distance by himself and has already started his training. He tells us how he’s getting on and what motivated him to do it:

“Starting on Sunday 18th May 2014, I will be undertaking my biggest challenge to date! I will be competing in Willow’s Will of Iron triathlon.

I will be required to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, run 26.2 miles and I have to complete all the above within seven days…!

paulI decided to do this to raise awareness for Leestock and Willow, in memory of my friend Lee Dunford who was like a brother to me. We grew up together and I have so many happy memories with him. Lee unfortunately passed away in March 2006 after suffering from cancer for four years. Willow organised Lee’s Special Day, sending him and his band to a London recording studio and giving him a day to remember.

I love a challenge and I’m dedicating my all to make sure I achieve this. I’m hoping to raise £500 and already well on the way to reach my goal.

I’m actually loving training if I’m totally honest. It is difficult but I know I can’t let people down, especially as I have now raised over £200! It has given me a complete new view on life and helps with my football refereeing and fitness so it’s all a bonus.

As you can take part in the gym or outdoors, I plan to swim at the Kingfisher in Sudbury and cycle locally, as well as cycling to surrounding villages in the Sudbury area for more variety (and to complete some of the longer distances!). The running will mostly be done locally, too.

The plan is to end at the LeeStock Saturday session so I can celebrate at the festival!” 

Join Paul and sign up for Will of Iron today to help Willow make more Special Days for seriously ill young adults, like Lee.

Find out more about LeeStock musical festival in aid of Willow.

My Story – Ting Wan

It made me realise I can still dream…

Ting is 30 and living with incurable bone cancer. After all the hospital appointments and treatment, her one wish for her Special Day was to see her husband smile again. Here she shares her story with us:

“I married Jonathan in 2011 and our lives seemed perfect. Just weeks later, I suffered debilitating back pain and a loss of sensation in my legs. We were shocked when scans showed a large tumour on my spine.

I immediately had two surgeries and a diagnosis of malignant high grade osteosarcoma – a rare and difficult to treat cancer.

As I recovered from surgery and prepared for nine-months of tough chemotherapy, there was more bad news – the tumour had returned and this time was inoperable. The little hope that I’d one day recover evaporated. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed.

At the start of 2013, with final treatments behind me, I’d regained some mobility in my legs and was well-enough to travel. We decided to go to China to visit my family. Saying goodbye to relatives for what was likely to be the last time was harder than any of the surgeries or treatments.

Confined to a wheelchair

In June, the growing tumour was pressing on my spinal cord. Within ten days, I was paralysed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair. I was completely dependent on my husband and care workers. Doctors said I might only have months to live.

At first, I thought such a life was not worth living. However, memories of all the happy times and the thought of my Willow Special Day kept me going.

The most wonderful gift

With the love of good food in common since the day we met, our Willow wish was to have a date in a nice restaurant. We quickly decided on the world famous restaurant, Fat Duck.

With my paralysis so recent, getting around was a struggle, but Willow took care of absolutely everything. The experience left me with wonderful memories. Jonathan has been my carer, cook, physio, nurse, driver and shoulder to cry on, and seeing him relax and smile for the first time in years was the most wonderful gift anyone could ask for.

I couldn’t stay strong without the support of loved ones and organisations like Willow. Thank you so much Willow for helping me realise my dreams.”

Take on the Will of Iron challenge this May and help create many more special moments for people such as Ting and her husband John.