After her cousin Jen discovered Penny Brohn UK in 2013, Paula began to learn about the Bristol Whole Life Approach and as soon as she saw the opportunity to fundraise, she took it.
"Fundraising gives you focus and a way of giving something back. For us, it's been our way of recognising Jen's legacy. She embodied everything Penny Brohn UK stands for and the great work she did during her short illness has made so many people more aware of this great charity."
My cousin Jen was diagnosed with bowel cancer in October 2013, aged just 32. When we first spoke about her cancer she was already full of fight and determination, and I will always remember her telling me about Penny Brohn UK.
Learning about the Bristol Whole Life Approach
Jen was really excited about discovering Penny Brohn UK and the Bristol Whole Life Approach. She felt extremely lucky to have it right on her doorstep. After just a couple of visits, it was clear that Jen was hooked on everything that Penny Brohn UK was able to offer her and how it could support both her and her family. It was a place Jen could go for treatments, make new friends and feel supported.
Jen visited Penny Brohn UK most weeks during her illness and gained so much from it. As a homeopath, I was really interested in the benefits Jen was getting from the wonderful centre and I learnt a lot from Jen about the Bristol Whole Life Approach enabling people to live well with cancer - and that's exactly what Jen did.
Most of the conversations I had with Jen were about Penny Brohn UK! It excited her, it gave her renewed hope when things weren't always looking so bright. It gave her a place to just 'be'. I don't live near to Jen and so I wasn't able to offer any hands-on support and although we chatted regularly I wanted to be able to do more. In February 2014, there was a message on the Penny Brohn UK Facebook page stating that a place had unexpectedly become available on the London Marathon ... and that is where the fundraising started.
Jim, my husband, was the runner (I most definitely wasn't!) I called him at work as soon as I saw that there was an opportunity for us to do something. By the time he got home that evening it had been confirmed that he'd been given the place! He only had two months to train and, to make matters worse, we made him wear a tutu! Those two months were amazing. It gave Jen and the family such a focus. Jen was amazing at rallying everyone round to raise as much as possible. Jim set a target of £2,000 but the final amount raised was more than double this at £4,000! Jim and his tutu completed the marathon. It was an amazing day.
So then it was my turn! Inspiring was a word constantly used about Jen, she really did inspire so many to approach life with a 'can-do' attitude. I decided I would start running to raise even more for Penny Brohn UK. I told Jen of my plans to take part in three different events within a month (two half marathons and a 10k mud run). Again, she was very excited about how much we could raise. These events took place in spring 2015.
Finding our ‘Jenergy’
Jen passed away on 5 December 2014. She didn't get to see me or her brave sister Nicki cross the finish line in our first ever half marathons but she was laughing - no doubt - at the craziness of us both running. Inspirational in her life, inspirational in death, Jen's legacy helped us raise another staggering amount of £4,600!
Then came the big one for me. In April 2016, it was my turn to run the London Marathon. I was extremely grateful to Penny Brohn UK for offering me one of their limited places and another chance to raise money. I was also extremely scared. But we had coined a phrase the previous year....we had to just find our inner ‘Jenergy’ to get us through the challenging training and each event. And that's exactly what I did; completing my first marathon and raising a further £2,600.
Fundraising gives you focus and a way of giving something back. For Jim and me, it's been our way of recognising Jen's legacy. She embodied everything Penny Brohn UK stands for and the great work she did during her short illness has made so many people more aware of this great charity. Being able to extend the work Jen started has made every mile of running worthwhile.
It's been a wonderful experience to have so much support from so many people in our local community who didn't know anything about Penny Brohn UK, and now do! Friends, family, work colleagues have all contributed themselves with hosting cake sales, fundraising evenings, running with us and coming out in all weathers to support us. It's been incredible.
Even my three boys have been doing everything they can to help the cause. In 2014 Dillon, Jacob and Ethan spent the summer making Loom Band wrist bands and sold them in aid of Penny Brohn UK, making around £50. And last Christmas they donated some of their pocket money to the Christmas Appeal.
The support we've both gained from the fundraising team at Penny Brohn UK has been exceptional and has made it a real pleasure. That's why we keep this going each year because everyone there is always so grateful and supportive. It was also great to be able to come to Bristol and visit the centre in person. It was a very moving experience to be able to see the place that Jen loved and how the money we've raised really does help to make a difference to so many people's lives.
2017 will be our fourth year of fundraising for Penny Brohn UK and no doubt it will involve more running! Next year Jim and I are hoping to take part in something together for a change and we were thinking of the Bristol Half Marathon. All our fundraising has taken place in Sussex, where we live, or London, and we'd love to be a part of one of the big local events and meet all the other amazing people who fundraise for the charity. No doubt the tutus will also make a reappearance!