Helen was in her second year at Bath University in 2003 when she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Helen was studying for a BSc (Hons) degree in Sociology and Human Resource Management and living the life of a typical 21 year-old student. Her story here is written by Mum, Viv Merchant.
"Her ‘temporary goodbye’ party on 31 July was planned by Helen before she left us and saw all her closest friends celebrate Helen’s life and all the joy and happiness she brought to them."
The shock of the initial diagnosis was followed by Helen’s typical determination and strength. She began treatment at the Cromwell hospital in London followed by spells in the Wellington and later at London Bridge Hospital. Her consultant, Ceiran Healy, ensured that Helen had the best treatment possible and her care at all times was first class.
All through her illness, which continued into her third and final years at university, she faced her cancer bravely, with courage and good humour and was a lasting inspiration to all who knew her. During these years she lived with her university friends in Bath and later at Bristol and found great comfort and joy in the repartee and warmth that these friends brought her.
Helen also greatly benefited from Penny Brohn UK in Bristol and frequently made the journey from Bishopston (and later Bath) to Pill for healing, visualisation and so many other therapies that Penny Brohn UK offers. Helen completely supported Penny Brohn UK’s philosophy; that everyone affected by cancer should have access to life-changing complimentary care. She even convinced her consultants in London of the benefits of this approach, and they too became advocates of the Bristol Whole Life Approach, which centres around working with and alongside medical treatment to help people live well with cancer and thereby improving their quality of life.
Helen did indeed live well. She loved her university days, her friends, their 'Cava days' (to celebrate good news or see-off the bad) and graduated with a 2:1 Honours degree from Bath University in 2004. She proudly held her degree in the Abbey at Bath on that summer day and felt that her cancer was at bay - and indeed it was in remission at that time.
Helen started her first graduate job at Axa in Bristol that year and moved back in with some of her university friends in Bishopston... And then the cancer came back, spreading first to her lungs and then to her brain. More visits to the Wellington and to the London Bridge with chemotherapy and then radiotherapy, all along making use of the support, guidance, friendliness and therapies of Penny Brohn UK, as well as boyfriends and trips abroad – Geneva, Rome, Australia. Then, plans for marriage, brought forward when in April 2007, she was told by her consultant that she had little time left.
With her typical focus, Helen brought her wedding forward and was married on 14 May 2007. She left us on 24 July that year and was laid to rest in Oystermouth, Swansea. St Benedict’s Church in Sketty was barely able to accommodate the over 300 people who came to her Requiem Mass. Her ‘temporary goodbye’ party on 31 July was planned by Helen before she left us and saw all her closest friends celebrate Helen’s life and all the joy and happiness she brought to them.
It was Helen’s wish that her friends and family continue to support Penny Brohn UK and to this end have set up, along with Penny Brohn UK, a ‘Spirit of Life Fund’ in Helen’s name.