Not long after Leukaemia Care was first registered as a charity in 1969 by the name of the “The Leukaemia Society”, the charity began to offer a number of specific services for the parents of children with leukaemia. Baby minding and help with transport to hospital were amongst some of the first favours provided by the charity. One other very special service that began early in the 1970’s was the caravan holiday scheme, which ran for over four decades.
The caravan holiday scheme aimed to provide a real boost to patients and their families by bringing a refreshing change from hospital visits. “A holiday isn’t an answer to everything, but sometimes it can just provide a much-needed break to the seemingly endless round of treatment which patients and their families have to endure” Peter Burnie, ex- chairman, 1999.
Stacey Dawson was just four years old when her dad was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) in 1994. After being put in touch with Leukaemia Care by their local hospital, Stacey and her family were offered various trips to the coast. “Prior to his transplant in 1999, Leukaemia Care provided my family with various holiday destinations allowing us as a family to make happy memories before my dad became too unwell. Memories were made during these times which will stay with me and my family forever.”
Stacey’s dad had treatment for several years before having a bone marrow transplant in 1999 but sadly, soon after this, Stacey’s dad lost his battle with leukaemia on the 9th June 2000, leaving behind his wife and four young children.
Here Stacey reflects on the time she spent with her dad on these holidays provided by Leukaemia Care.
Tell me about your dad. What do you remember about the time he was first diagnosed?
“My dad was such a family man, I only have good memories of him. I was such a daddy’s girl. My dad was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia in 1994. The earliest thing I can remember about his diagnosis was being told that Dad had an illness that he needed to have injections for (interferon). He had a chart up corresponding to his left/right side leg/abdomen to rotate the injection sites, and once he was injected we’d get to move the pin around for him. I never felt sad because my dad never seemed sad about it. He always seemed happy in front of us. I was only sad when he would be in hospital and we weren’t allowed in his side room because of the risk of infection, so we had to just stand at a window and wave to him.
“I remember Mum coming home from the hospital one Friday night and I knew something was wrong because she rarely came home when Dad was in intensive care (our family would help look after us so she could stay with Dad). When she sat us down, she said Dad wouldn’t be getting better and that he wasn’t coming home. That was an upsetting time.”
Stacey (blue shorts) taking a dip with her family
What is your understanding of the purpose of the old caravan service?
“I was only between six-nine years old, so didn’t fully understand at the time, I just thought it was a holiday. Now looking back, it was a chance to make memories with my mum, dad and siblings. I’m so very grateful for the opportunity we had to make these memories and spend time as a family.
“As me and my siblings were all really young, we enjoyed the holiday as a family, purely because we were just doing normal things. Now that we are all older, you really appreciate what was offered at the time; to be able to feel like a normal child doing normal things, like going on holiday with your family and making the memories we did when Dad was still able to enjoy it himself.”
Tell me about your caravan holiday. Where did you go? What can you remember?
(Image above – Stacey’s mum and dad, Sandra and John)
“We went to caravan sites at Barmston Beach and Great Yarmouth. I remember Dad getting sunburnt at Barmston Beach which we all found so funny and is a fond memory of mine. Spending time together, going to the beach, Dad would make sand animals, he was so artistic and good at it, people would come over to look and take pictures. He loved the attention. We’d go to the kids clubs in the night and have cocktails with the brollies in and get our face painted. One year my dad’s brother came with his family and my dad’s parents and they stayed near our caravan site, so we got to spend time with them too.
“All happy memories really, they were just your typical caravan holidays, but were always so enjoyable. I still love going to the seaside and 2p slot machines remain my favourite thing to this day.”
Stacey’s Marathon Challenge
Last year, Stacey decided she wanted to give something back to Leukaemia Care, and so, in memory of her father, Stacey ran the marathon for us in 2018 to help raise funds for people in a similar situation to hers.
“I’ve always felt a connection to the charity as Leukaemia Care supported our family throughout Dad’s illness. They would always be my first choice to fundraise for as it’s a charity I feel close to. I’ve always wanted to run a marathon and I felt like I needed something to do to challenge myself, so I thought what a better way than running the London Marathon for a charity that I’m always happy to help and promote.”
How did it go?
“I raised £3711 in total. I have so many good, generous people around me. I set up a JustGiving page and shared it every month. Friends, family, colleagues, friends of friends, old school friends all donated – it was really nice and I am so appreciative. I’m not a big social media person but everyone was so supportive, I felt like everyone was on this journey with me. I would see people out and about and at work and people would ask for updates, it was really nice and definitely spurred me on.
“At around the 18th mile I felt tired. I’m not a quitter and I’m not really an emotional crying kind of person, but in my head I was like ‘come on Dad just get me to the line.’ I just didn’t want to let anyone down, people were so invested in it and in me, I just needed to finish. They say your mind gives up before your body does and that was definitely my motivation, not letting anyone down.
“I think it was around the 20th mile when I was running and tired, and the heat seemed to be getting worse! I heard familiar voices shouting my name and I looked over and it was my friends. I just opened my arms up and smiled as they cheered me down the street, it was the best surprise ever. I could have burst into tears there and then, but they gave me the final push I needed.
“The views were amazing at the end of the race. I just heard my mum shout (and anyone that knows her knows how loud she can be): “‘C’mon Stacey, you can do it, girl.’ It was so nice seeing my family there for the final push.”
We at Leukaemia Care would like to say a big congratulations to Stacey and a massive thank you to all of you that have run for Leukaemia Care and donated in the past. Although the caravan service is no longer something we can offer, 50 years since registering as a charity, we provide more services than ever before and the money that you donate to Leukaemia Care continues to make a world of difference to families such as Stacey’s.