By Martin Dorey (Author of The Camper Van Cookbook, The Camper Van Coast and presenter of BBC2’s One Man and his Campervan.)
If it’s ok with you I’d like to tell you a little story about me and my daughter, my VW camper vans and CLIC Sargent. Thereason for this is that I want to thank each and every one of you who has ever done anything for CLIC Sargent. That’s because you gave us hope when we needed it. The things you do – whether that’s put a penny in the bucket, run marathons, enter the show and shine at Devon Dub Fest or simply buy a ticket to be there – continues to give hope to thousands of families like ours who are faced with the horror of childhood cancer every day.
So, from me and my family (and of course Dave, our VW camper have a special car starter kit for camping), the most sincere of thank yous. And please don’t stop.
It was just over nine years ago that my daughter Maggie was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, a cancer of the blood. She had just had her first birthday. It took a while to get the diagnosis so when it finally came it was almost a relief to know what it was that had been causing her jaw to swell and disfigure her face horribly. After weeks of sleepless nights and tear filled days the news was good: they knew it was cancer, they knew what to do. There would be chemo and possibly radiotherapy if things didn’t improve quickly, but it was treatable. And Maggie would be in hospital for at least six months.
Could you imagine someone telling you that? It was truly devastating, but oddly, not without hope. We are optimistic people so we preferred to think of it as earning some of the good times. We resolved to dig in and do whatever it took to get Maggie well. It wasn’t easy.
Also, we had no idea where to start. Maggie was in Bristol. She needed one of us to be with her all the time. At the time we were living in North Devon, two hours drive away. Joanne was also pregnant with our second.
We were totally and utterly lost for the first few days. We had no idea how to cope and kept our heads down doing all we could to help Maggie to be well, which was basically nothing because the incredible team on Ward 34 did all that for us. We slept in the room with Maggie. We learned fast about cancer. We called our relatives and friends to tell them the news. I remember one night when Maggie was recovering from her third general anaesthetic in as many days. I stayed awake watching a monitor, listening to her faltering heartbeat, urging her to breathe, just keep breathing, just keep breathing. It was a frightening, confusing, dark time.
That’s when CLIC Sargent stepped in.
We got a visit from a CLIC Sargent social worker who changed everything. She told us what to expect, helped us to cope, gave us the knowledge we needed to survive, both emotionally and financially.
She organised a room for us at CLIC House, a big friendly house not far from the hospital, for as long as we needed it. There we could rest, sleep, wash, cook and have time away from the hospital between shifts on the ward. Your hard work paid for that. So thanks, it meant the world to us. It also meant I could hold down a job and pay the mortgage (it doesn’t go away when you have cancer) and still do my bit on the ward. It meant our family could help too. CLIC House also became Charlie’s first home after she was born.
CLIC House has made things better for so many people, particularly those in the South West who live so far away from specialist hospitals. So, you know, thanks. Your hard work has not gone unnoticed.
CLIC Sargent also provided a play worker, Sam, who took Maggie off for a couple of hours each day so Jo and I could catch up between shifts and take a breather. Little things like that mean a lot. Nice work guys.
CLIC Sargent also provided some of the money to pay for the vast amount of knowledge that exists in our health service through its research funding. So, one day when Maggie had an anaphylactic reaction to a new drug, the team on duty – nurses Charlie and Charlotte – were able to apply that knowledge to save her life. Again, thank you for shaking that bucket or doing that abseil or whatever it was that you did for us.
Thankfully Maggie responded better than anyone could have hoped. She survived. But some didn’t. I know that CLIC Sargent would have provided support for the mums and dads and brothers and sisters of those kids who never came home. It’s such an awful thing to have to think about or plan for but it has to be done. You should feel proud that the money you raised will have helped a family come to terms with the most unimaginable horror. So thanks, from the rest of us who made it out unscathed.
Once Maggie came home, CLIC also provided a helper for Joanne so she could spend some time with the newly born Charlie. They provided – and still do – a CLIC nurse, the wonderful Jenny, who watches over Maggie and makes sure she stays well. We only see her every year now but there was a time when she’d come around every week to check up on us once we got home. She changed Maggie’s feeding tube, reassured us that we’d be fine, checked Maggie’s blood count and did all kinds of wonderful things to help us get our lives back on track. She also became a friend. Again, your devotion did that. Amazing.
So, by now you must be wondering, what does this have to do with VW campers?
CLIC Sargent gave us hope. But it was also the promise that Jo and I made to ourselves one night in CLIC House that helped to keep us going. We vowed that if we made it through we’d buy another campervan and take off. We would live some good times together as a family.
It was the VW camper that offered us the promise of freedom beyond hospital. It became a symbol of hope and happiness, just like it does for everyone who ever owned a camper. Joanne had toured Holland in a VW, whilst I’d been sleeping in them regularly since learning to surf in the 80s. You don’t need me to tell you what it means.
About a week before Maggie was discharged we sold our car and bought a beautiful water cooled Autosleeper T25. And a couple of weeks after that we slipped away to Ireland. It wasn’t easy, but it was bliss after the long months spent sitting by the side of a hospital bed. Charlie slept in a Moses basket on the front seat and Maggie with Jo in the back. I slept in the pop top and dreamed up a project to write a book about living the life in a camper…
Our dreams came true. We had our Maggie and we had our freedom and none of it would have happened if it wasn’t for CLIC Sargent. And you. I will always associate good times with the work CLIC sergeant has done for us. And I am thrilled that Devon Dubfest supports them. It’s a perfect match.
Maggie and I look forward to seeing you all there.