We would like to use today’s #throwbackthursday as an opportunity to thank Diane Murray for all the work she has done for Leukaemia Care since first hearing about the charity over 25 years ago. Diane is one of our long-standing community volunteers and has helped to raise over £50,000 for Leukaemia Care during her time as Area Secretary. She is also highly committed to personally helping those around her who have been affected by leukaemia. We recently had a chat with Diane to ask about her devotion to Leukaemia Care.
Do you have a particular connection with leukaemia?
Yes, my dear poor mother was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was just 37. In 1960 she went to the doctor to complain about a sore leg which was initially misdiagnosed as rheumatism. She was given a prescription of an elastic stocking!
Before long, septicaemia set in and she had to have her left leg amputated. By this time, unfortunately, the leukaemia had progressed and it was too late. She only lived for one more year. In those days, I don’t think they knew much about leukaemia, I’m not even sure if they’d heard of the word. I do often wonder if she would have lived had she been diagnosed today, because they have come such a long way with treatments.
What made you start volunteering for Leukaemia Care?
I was very bitter and twisted about my mother’s passing, and so when I became an adult, I decided to help Cancer Research, the British Limbless and various other charities. Although I was pleased to help them, it never really seemed to mean that much to me. When I heard about “The Leukaemia Society”, as it was called then, and the work that they did, I instantly thought gosh, this sounds perfect.
I was living in Old Amersham at the time, and I came across a group of parents who had been affected by leukaemia, all of whom were volunteering for The Leukaemia Society. They used to take turns meeting in each other’s homes to discuss how to help patients in the local area. One day I noticed an advert in the local Newsagents looking for volunteers to help with an upcoming Flagday and I thought perhaps I could help them.
How did your mother’s diagnosis affect you?
I was only 10 years old at the time, and I can just remember it being very traumatic. I remember her screaming on the floor and being rushed to hospital. I had to stay with my neighbours until my grandfather could come and get me.
I don’t really remember too much detail about it as people didn’t speak about it in those days in front of me. They tended to keep it hush hush from children, as they didn’t want to upset them, I suppose. I don’t even remember the word leukaemia even being mentioned. I didn’t hear it until years later.
In those days, people weren’t taught how to deal with a child who had lost a parent. Nobody said, “I’m sorry about your mum.” Nobody discussed it and I found it hard to come to terms with it all.
What is an “Area Secretary” and what does it entail?
That’s what they call you, it sounds a bit posh doesn’t it. After meeting with the group in Old Amersham I was phoned up and asked if I would consider becoming an Area Secretary for the area that I lived in. I thought about it and that perhaps it wasn’t for me, but when I phoned back up, I found myself saying yes, I’ll have a go at it.
I was sent a list of all the local patients and families and I either wrote to them or visited them to let them know who I was and how I could help them.
It isn’t just about raising money, it isn’t always talking, it’s physical help that people need. Who’s going to do the washing, who’s going to hand it out, who’s going to bring it in, who’s going to cook the child’s tea and who’s going to pick them up from school? All the little things that most people wouldn’t think twice about.
What sort of events have you organised for Leukaemia Care in the past?
I’ve organised all sorts. Every summer on most Wednesdays I have a tabletop sale in the centre of Henley. We have Leukaemia Care signs up and people donate toys, but we only sell items that are new or in mint condition. I’ve had tombola’s, joined Christmas events, running events, all sorts! I also have a sale in Marlow which is in a great big park opposite a playground and we sell toys and books and that sort of thing. Anything that I can think will be successful.
Most people who live locally know about us. There are also lots of visitors that go to Henley on the River Thames. I meet lots of different people who have been affected by leukaemia. When I first started, I met a young couple who were newly married, and the husband had just been diagnosed. Their consultant suggested he had his sperm frozen in case treatment meant he became sterile. I saw them on a regular basis for years to see how they were coping. One morning, they came to see me, and they had their pram with their new baby. They said: “Diane, you’ve supported us all these years, we wanted you to be the first to meet our new son; we haven’t even been to see our family yet!”. Oh, I can’t tell you what that means to me. A real honour.
Have you got anything planned for this year?
In July, August and September we have our permits in place from the local council for various Wednesdays and we’ve got another sale on in the park.
I will carry on looking after the area that I live in and the different hospitals that I visit. For example, there is a man who’s had CML for about 29 years. He and his wife are in their early 80s now and I go over and take her shopping, cook them a meal and stay with them sometimes. I try and look after that couple because their family all live abroad so they don’t have anyone to help them. They always look forward to my visit. I think it’s important they have got somebody.
I shall carry on for as long as I can, I have been asked by other charities to help but I can’t do that because my heart is Leukaemia Care. It’s marvellous that there is such a charity to support and help and comfort anybody whose life has been affected by leukaemia or any allied blood disorder. It’s a marvellous, marvellous thing. I couldn’t believe when I first discovered it and read all about it. And to think, here we are and its 50 years old this year… amazing!