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Stories Archives - St Christopher's Hospice

Panna’s story


For nurse Panna Siddiqui the hardest thing about having inoperable, Stage Four cancer is giving up the job she’s loved for 40 years and accepting care and support from St Christopher’s.

That’s not to say she doesn’t appreciate the care she’s received. In fact, she can’t speak highly enough of what the hospice has done for her and the way in which everyone involved in her care has treated her. It’s just the challenge of coming to terms with having to trade places.


What matters most to Panna now is staying at home.

Her family and the team from St Christopher’s have made her feel confident she can fulfil that wish.

“Even before I had my diagnosis, I always told my boys that I would want them to bring me home. I don’t want to be anywhere else in the last stages of life and Helen has reassured me that she will be here with me when I need her.

“With everyone’s support and help I can be strong and I can die in my own house.”

“With everyone’s support and help I can be strong and I can die in my own house.”

Panna’s job as a Cardiac Clinical Nurse Specialist at Kingston Hospital, is still open and she says she would like nothing more than to be able to return to work, even if it was just for a day a week.

A programme of sessions with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist from St Christopher’s at her home, has helped Panna reconcile the need to accept care and to feel more comfortable asking for help.

That’s just one of the services Panna has accessed since her referral to St Christopher’s in 2022 following her diagnosis.

“Thankfully they just took over. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t do even the most basic tasks. With the pain management regime they worked out together I am much better and I’m able to do more things myself. I can’t thank them enough, they are all so supportive.

Panna picks out Consultant Nurse Helen King and Consultant Emma Noble for special praise, but also points to the physiotherapy and complementary therapy sessions she’s benefited from.

Looking back to when the hospital consultant referred her to St Christopher’s, Panna recalls her immediate response.

My first thought was this is the end of life. It’s just going to be comfort measures now. It was scary because only a few months before I had been symptom-free and now I was in the care of a hospice and coming to the end of life.

But it’s not quite like that with hospice support. I’m not able to live completely independently, but I have quite a bit of independence and I am certainly not bed ridden. If they hadn’t helped me, I would be done.”

“I realise now that I can’t work and have lost a lot of my independence, but I have got my family and they support me so much.”

Panna takes huge comfort not only from the support of Helen, Emma and their colleagues, but also from her family – husband Dilbagh, sons Arman and Aqeel and two-year-old grandson Adam who visits every day.

Both sons recently moved to be closer to their mother. Panna and Dilbagh brought them up in the US when his job took him there and Panna also found work as a nurse.

Gabby’s Story

To honour the memory of her grandmother and to give back to those who had supported her family, Gabby did something incredible to fundraise for St Christopher’s, braving a new look and the cold winter weather.

Gabby had a close relationship with her grandparents, Sheila and George, who were married for 61 years. Growing up in South London, Gabby was raised by her grandmother, and the happy memories of that time still live with her.

“She would always say after we finished a meal and she was full from her food: ‘Lord be praised, my belly is raised without the help of a man!’” Gabby fondly remembers.

When Sheila became terminally ill in October, it was very tough for the whole family. George took on responsibility for caring for Sheila, who had also been living with dementia, but it was difficult for him, even with the support offered to him by loved ones.

That’s where St Christopher’s was able to help, as Gabby said:

“We were referred to St Christopher’s for my grandma’s end-of-life care, and the very same day they organised a night nurse and other care to relieve my granddad.

“I think we’d really like to thank St Christopher’s for the emotional support – you stuck with my granddad. Before the referral, he had found some other doctors and paramedics to be rude to him.”

Sheila died in November, and so Gabby pondered on what she could do to give back for the support her family had been given during the final part of her grandmother’s life.

“I didn’t know where to start at first,” she said, but then the answer came to her: she decided to shave her head to raise money.

Setting a fundraiser target of £500 to go between St Christopher’s and Marie Curie, who had also helped with Sheila’s illness along the way, Gabby reached out online to her friends and family for sponsorship.

The big shave took place on 12 January, which Gabby herself admitted was brave purely because of how cold it was. Making sure that nothing went to waste, she also donated her hair to the Little Princess Trust, which makes wigs for children with cancer.

By the time all was said and done, Gabby had raised a grand total of over £1,200 – more than double the target she had set – an incredible amount for an incredible act of generosity.

Would Gabby recommend a big shave to others?

“Absolutely – it’s so much easier!” she said. “My hair was so long and curly before; now it’s so much easier to maintain! I now try to keep challenging myself every day, and to not be afraid. I’ve been writing down every day that even if something scares you, it’s still worth doing.”

Gabby is currently travelling the world and has been working on a dragon fruit farm in Mexico, with an aim of returning to youth work when she eventually returns home. We wish her all the best in her endeavours.

Eileen’s story

Lottery Winner Eileen Smith

Whether it’s walking, singing, playing the lottery of donating monthly, Eileen Smith has found many ways to support St Christopher’s over the years.

Living in South East London all her life, Eileen, now in her 70s, says she’s been aware of the hospice for as long as she can remember and recently doubled her St Christopher’s lottery plays to two tickets a month on top of her monthly donation.

“I think I was first properly conscious of St Christopher’s when an old school friend was admitted about 25 years ago. And I’ve always just known it for being a such a lovely place.”

More recently, Eileen has been an active member and treasurer of the Carefree Singers, based near the retirement flats in which she lives in Bromley. The 22-strong group performs regularly and often raises money for St Christopher’s at those concerts.

“We performed at St Christopher’s one Christmas, and we had such a fabulous audience. It was the best feeling in the world singing there.

“There’s just a special feeling about the place – it’s the serenity, cheerfulness and atmosphere.”

When major fundraising events like the London Marathon were cancelled during COVID-19 Eileen took on the 2.6 challenge, walking 26 laps of the garden in her retirement complex and raising vital funds for St Christopher’s.

If the time was to come, Eileen says she would be very happy to cared for by St Christopher’s and thinks everyone should consider that possibility.

“I would encourage everyone to think about playing the St Christopher’s lottery because it’s such a wonderful place and you never know when you or a loved one might need it.

To help St Christopher’s continue to provide quality end of life care for thousands of people every year and be in with in chance of winning up to £5,000 every month, join the lottery for as little as £5 per month. Get involved here.

A day in the life of a hospice housekeeper

Within the vibrant walls of our Centre for Awareness and Response to End of Life (CARE), one individual stands as the quiet force behind the scenes – Tracey Cooke, the unsung hero with a personal connection to the hospice that drew her to join our team.

Her connection with the hospice is deeply personal, rooted in family ties and a desire to turn a painful
memory into a purposeful career. Before joining St Christopher’s six years ago, Tracey worked as both a shop assistant and a teaching assistant. However, the turning point came when her sister spent her final days at the hospice, leaving an indelible mark.

Her initial hesitation, fuelled by preconceptions and painful memories, was palpable. Her mother, influenced by the shadow of grief, tried to dissuade her. She had preconceptions about it being a depressing place, however, the pull toward St Christopher’s persisted.

“When the time did come that I thought ‘I’m gonna give it a go,’ my mum, bless her, wasn’t around, so I thought ‘I’ll try,’” Tracey says.

Revisiting the hospice where her sister died was initially overwhelming. But Tracey found solace and purpose within these walls. She started by working in the public-facing areas before moving to the laundry team. Now she oversees our education space, which opened three years ago. Taking on the role of housekeeper for CARE in 2021, Tracey stepped into a domain where her love for the job, camaraderie with colleagues, and a profound sense of responsibility converged. “I love working over here, I get on with the staff, and I can get on with what I need to do,” she says.

Tracey begins work at 7am and as she’s the only one in the building at this time, she can prioritise the spaces hosting functions before moving onto her routine tasks. Although it’s predominantly a space for education and community engagement, the building’s high-ceiling atrium has also hosted quizzes, concerts, patient’s birthday parties, fashion shows and even a wedding fair. One consistent, however, is that it’ll be Tracey working to get CARE back into shape for the next event.

The scale of the centre often surprises visitors and colleagues alike. “When they have the course or functions on here, I get to see different people, and they pass comment and say things like ‘This is so lovely, do you clean this on your own?’” she says, smiling.

A photo of St Christopher's CARE from the outside
St Christopher’s Centre for Awareness and Response to End of Life opened in 2021

It’s the vibrancy of CARE during these events which bring Tracey immense joy. The bustling energy, a reflection of her efforts. She’s developed relationships and rapport with both visitors, staff and volunteers,
and her role is crucial to supporting this environment. “I see the building almost as mine and treat it as my own house,” Tracey explains, underscoring the pride she takes in her work.

Her role extends beyond the physical upkeep; it’s a labour of love. On some of the more quieter days in the Centre, she’ll bring in her dog, Casey, a chihuahua.

Tracey Cooke stands as a beacon of cheerful resilience, turning personal loss into a source of strength. Her journey at St Christopher’s is a testament to the transformative power of purpose and the profound impact one individual can have on the heartbeat of a hospice dedicated to education, community, and compassionate care.

Our dynamic centre is available to organisations and individuals for hire. To find out more email h.priest@stchristophers.org.uk

:: This story was from our Spring/Summer issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Alan’s story of getting to France for the Rugby World Cup

How do you tell the story of Alan Newman?

“Who’s going to want to read about me,” he says. In his view. “It’s all a bit boring.”

That comment pales as he begins to reel off story after story.

Tales of kayaking in the French Alps in wild rapids with drops up to 7ft, or of driving 150mph in a Supercharged XKR Jaguar. And that is just what the 62-year-old has been up to since his cancer diagnosis in 2021.

Before that, Alan, whose nickname is Mr Incredible, spent his holidays mountain climbing in France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland, once sleeping next to a 600ft drop tied to a crucifix.

His wife Louise sits next to him in the St Christopher’s Anniversary Centre. Alan has just had an appointment with his pain team and his consultant, Dr Sara Robbins. When he was asked the question we strive to ask everyone who comes under our care – What Matters to You? – his response was instant: watching England’s Rugby World Cup game against Samoa in Lille.

Alan and Louise wear England Rugby World Cup shirts in the stadium with the pitch in the background
Alan and Louise at the match in Lille

“They were worried about me going, they were going to try and stop me,” Alan says. But Dr Sara soon got the measure of him, explains Louise. “Once they realised it was a goal that he wanted to achieve, Sara and the team were all over the pain relief,” she adds.

At this point, Alan – who has an advanced tumour in his head – had got used to challenging medical opinions. His oncologist advised him of the risks of going skiing in 2023, warning him that it would not be nice for his family to bring his body back in the hold of the plane.

“Well, my son Dan is driving so they can sling me in the boot,” was Alan’s reply.

To prepare for the trip to Lille, he had a brief admission to the hospice’s inpatient unit – fittingly he was on Rugby Ward – to get his medication levels right. After that first match, buoyed with optimism, Alan secured tickets for England’s quarter-final win against Fiji and then the subsequent semi-final defeat in Paris against eventual winners South Africa. That trip was booked with all the lads in the pub at 10.30pm, just six hours before they left for Paris.

It was not all plain sailing during the trips over to France, though. With Louise not there in Paris, his nephew and sons were in charge of the medication as well as helping with the wheelchair.

“They nearly piled me out of it a few times,” Alan says, adding: “To be honest, people looked at us like we were mad.”

When Alan was first referred to St Christopher’s in Autumn 2023, his oncologist at Guy’s Hospital had given him just a few weeks to live.

“Anytime someone says that I’ve only got roughly this amount time left, in my head I know I’m gonna beat it,” he says. “It’s never crossed my mind to not approach it like that.”

As a child, Alan had to try to keep up with his older brother and two older cousins. The four of them would spend all their free time out on their bikes, pulling crazy stunts such as cycling straight into a wall.
Alan’s dad was a Commander in the Police and would take all four of them out on his police motorbike. And he once built a zip-wire in the garden which ended with six-year-old Alan smashing into a wall. “Blood everywhere,” he says.

“We called it a ‘yabbadabba-doo’ machine. After I hit the wall my dad said, ‘oh I’ll just go and find a mattress that you can land into’.”

As he got older, he channelled this sense of adventure into rock climbing, off-road biking and skiing. His sons, Dan and Will also took to this way of life as did Louise when they first got together 20 years ago – also during a Rugby World Cup when they travelled over to watch England’s victorious campaign in Australia.

“We realised on that trip that we wanted to be more than friends,” says Louise. “Maybe we got overtaken by all the excitement of Jonny Wilkinson and England winning,” she jokes. “But it was an amazing trip and we started seeing each other when we got back.”

Alan is held up by his two sons after a night at the pub

For Alan, the main difficulty has been the physical impact of his illness, rather than the mental. Despite being able to defeat the odds of his diagnosis by going skiing last year or by that kayaking trip in July 2023, it is becoming harder.

“Since that kayak trip, it’s been downhill. This season I know I’m not going to be able to ski or kayak… so that’s going to be worse for me. Of course, mentally it is hard but nothing like I’d expected,” he says. “Getting up the stairs, getting in and out of bed, not being able to do what I want, that’s harder.”

“Al’s always been incredibly strong mentally and physically,” adds Louise. “He has a built-in resilience.
So, approaching his diagnosis in this way is just how he has to do it. The strength he shows in everything he does is incredible.”

It inspires other people too. A close friend of the couple’s also has cancer. “Al kept encouraging him to go out as much as possible as he knew it would help him,” Louise says.

One of the ways he has kept up with friends is his regular Friday night trips to the couple’s local pub in Chislehurst. Around 20 of Alan’s friends – including his sons and their mates – spend the evening together in what Alan’s dubbed ‘Moretti and Morphine’ Fridays (M&M).

“Then they’ll all pile around my house afterwards,” he laughs, showing me a photo of his two sons helping him home from the pub after a recent trip.

“My boys have been brilliant,” he says. “I’ve got an amazing wife and my big sons who can help me up the stairs or down the pub.”

The couple are also full of praise for the support they have received from the NHS and St Christopher’s.
“I’ve been blown away by the amount of support we’ve had,” says Louise. “When you first hear about palliative care in hospital, you think ‘have we been written off?’ A lot of people don’t realise that palliative care means helping with pain and helping to live. They just think you’ve got hours to live but it’s not like that,” she adds.

“That’s what I thought, to be honest,” says Alan. “But it’s not true. St Christopher’s have been amazing, the place is really great, Dr Sara, the nurses, receptionists, everyone is amazing.”

As the conversation comes to a close, Alan picks up his phone. “I’m gonna give my mate a call to see if he
and his wife want to go for a curry and a pint.”

Mr Incredible indeed!

:: This story was from our Spring/Summer issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Meet your compassionate neighbours

Being diagnosed with a long term or terminal illness can leave people isolated and alone. In fact, illness aside, many of those living in our communities already face isolation, with few people in their lives to offer company and support.

Helping to combat and alleviate loneliness has become an ever more important part of St Christopher’s
work in the community.

For five years now, this has included our Compassionate Neighbours initiative, which pairs community-based volunteers with people who have long-term, life-limiting or terminal illness, or who are older and socially isolated. Volunteers are known as Compassionate Neighbours.

They connect with someone at home to help people feel supported and part of the community.

Hundreds of people have made valued connections with people they wouldn’t otherwise meet. On our fifth anniversary we wanted to thank those who have been involved, and we got to hear the stories of what being part of it has meant to people.

Billie, Compassionate Neighbour

Many friendships have blossomed since the scheme first started, and the volunteers who shared their stories at our event said the same thing: they have all got a huge amount out of being involved too.
Take Lorraine, who was matched with her community member, Raymond, over a year ago. “I thought: ‘Yes, he’s right for me,’ because I was also looking for someone to talk to, and Raymond made me laugh. That’s what I needed.”

How easy is it to be a Compassionate Neighbour? We think that all it takes is someone who would like to show support, kindness and friendship to someone else in their community. It works on the idea that whoever we are, we all have skills, interests and something special to offer. It doesn’t require specialist expertise or large amounts of training.

Ron, Community Member

Many current Compassionate Neighbours have jobs, families, and other commitments of their own.

We know that taking part needs to be flexible and local to fit in with people’s lives, and these are key features of the project. We think this is why lots of different people want to get involved: the youngest Compassionate Neighbour is 17 and the oldest is 92!

Most importantly, the relationship between matches is based on respect and mutual benefit and because of this, individual relationships flourish.

Ron and Ann Talking at the 2023 Compassionate Neighbours Event
Ron and Ann

We currently have over 120 Community Members across South East London who are matched with Compassionate Neighbours, but as people are really interested in being part of the project, we always
need more volunteers to join in! We would love to hear from you about becoming a Compassionate Neighbour and supporting someone in your community. Click here to discover more.

:: This story was from our Spring/Summer issue of Connect magazine. To read the full magazine, or to sign up to receive future editions, please click here.

Gail’s marathon story

A compelling mix of personal and professional reasons driving physiotherapist Gail Preston to complete her third marathon

Marathon runners usually have at least one strong reason for pushing themselves through the pain barrier. For St Christopher’s physiotherapist Gail Preston there are numerous motivations for running the London Marathon.

Where to start?

Well, Gail was born and brought up in Beckenham and has been aware of the hospice for pretty much her whole life.

She’s worked as a physio at St Christopher’s, in the in-patient unit, the community and now with outpatients for almost 13 years – a job she says she absolutely loves.

Then there’s the deeply personal motivation. After a youth spent actively avoiding running but being incredibly active – playing water polo at county level and rowing at university – Gail was determined to get fit again after having her first two children.

“I took on my first marathon in London in April 2016. That was after I’d had a miscarriage in the previous October. It was my therapy.

“Then later in 2016 I lost another baby and decided I had to do it again. I would go out for two hours running and once I’d written the shopping list in my head, worked out what presents I was buying the kids, there were no more mundane things to think about and it became really mindful. No one was asking anything of me, other than myself.

“As parents, wives, daughters and employees, there’s always someone who needs a bit of you. While I love giving a bit of myself to be alongside people on their journey it’s also exhausting. I’m doing this for myself, for the sense of achievement and of course to raise money for St Christopher’s. I find it really cathartic.”

So, after a seven-year gap – necessitated by the arrival of her now five-year-old son – Gail is out tramping the trails, tracks and roads as she trains for the rigours of the 26-mile course on Sunday 21 April.

For a woman who’s also completed three triathlons and has plans for two more this summer, Gail isn’t fazed by the prospect of the London race. She just wants make sure she has all aspects of the preparation covered this time.

“This year I’m doing it because I want to and I want to enjoy it. I’m determined to get the refuelling right this time so I can soak up the last few miles, finish tired but strong and good about myself.”

A broken toe and a chest infection haven’t provided with Gail with the perfect build-up, but having started training in October, she reckons she’ll be ready for the big day and able to soak up the atmosphere she remembers so well from her two previous runs.

“It’s the cheering, everybody willing you to do your best and total unconditional support. I mean where else do you ever have so many strangers who genuinely want the best for you. It is such an uplifting atmosphere, especially after you’ve been through so much blood, sweat and tears to be there.”

Gail’s husband, three children (who think she’s mad doing it!) and many friends will be there to support her.

That leads us to another important personal motivation. Gail’s father recently started being supported by St Christopher’s and she’s really hoping he’ll be well enough for her mother to leave him and come and watch and for her parents to host the post-marathon party.

Wearing her professional hat, Gail hopes that running for St Christopher’s will also help to dispel some pre-conceptions and raise awareness about what the hospice really does.

“I want to get it out there that it’s not just about the very end of life but about living and all the staff and volunteers are here to support you live well until you die –it is about putting life into days and not days into life.”

This isn’t the first time Gail’s raised money for St Christopher’s. She and her mother are veterans of wreathmaking, firewalking and both Fun and Moonlight walks. If you’d like to support Gail in her bid to raise at least £1,000 for St Christopher’s click here.

Connor’s marathon story

If he hits his fundraising target Connor will be running in a fairy outfit and with a plate in his leg.

Connor Norris possibly wasn’t following doctor’s orders when, recovering from a broken leg and dislocated ankle, he applied to run the London Marathon to raise money for St Christopher’s.

But, having missed his target of completing the iconic challenge before his 30th birthday, the property manager from Bexley, was determined to do it in his 30th year.

“When I got the call to say I’d got a place I was really chuffed. Then it hit me; I’ve got to run very far,” added Connor.

Pushing him on through the months of training and the race itself, will be memories of his father, Steve, who spent his final few weeks at St Christopher’s 18 years ago after a terminal lung cancer diagnosis, when Connor was just 12.

“I was too young to really appreciate the place and to fundraise back then,” he remembers.

“But the whole family have fond memories of the place and an affiliation with it ever since and my mum is still in touch with one of the nurses who looked after Dad. I remember going there after school, getting something to eat from the café and then going and spending time with my Dad in his room and watching something on TV.”

It’s not the first time Connor has raised money for St Christopher’s. He has organised two charity football matches at Cray Valley Football Club with two teams of friends playing against each other raising more than £3,000.

“I remember when my mum and I went to pick up the collection buckets from St Christopher’s, it was the first time we had been back there since Dad died and that was quite a moment.

“I’ve not known anyone else who’s been cared for at St Christopher’s but so many people I know have relatives who have been and it’s such a special place for people.”

There’s a particular memory of dad, Steve, that Connor might quite literally carry with him as he treads the streets of London in April.

“I’ve pledged on my Just Giving page that if I manage to raise £3,500 before the race I will run as a fairy in memory of a photo of my dad dressed as one at a New Year’s Eve party at the millennium.”

That’ll be a minor test compared to all the training Connor’s doing, with a plate in his leg, after the winter weather accident he suffered last year, for which he’s still receiving physiotherapy, and the fact that, despite having played football regularly to a decent standard, he’s never done much running.

“The running itself really isn’t too much of a problem. It’s afterwards, my legs just start to go. But I’ve got my family and friends coming down on the day to watch and I’ve booked a pub for after, so I am determined to run it all if I possibly can and hopefully in under 5 hours.”

So long as Connor finishes the marathon unscathed, he’s planning to organise a third and deciding fundraising football match.

If you’d like to take on a challenge for St Christopher’s you can find out more on our events calendar

Chloe and Tracie’s story

When Chloe Newman read through all the hundreds of personal stories on social media of people running the London Marathon just a month after her grandfather Michael Liston had died at St Christopher’s in March 2023, she knew she had to act. But not alone. No, Chloe and her mother Tracie both applied for places in the 2024 marathon.

“When we got the email to say we’d been accepted it was like, wow, we’ve really got to do this now and my Nan couldn’t believe it and said by grandad would be laughing his head off,” says Chloe, 25.

Chloe knows what she’s letting herself in for, as she ran the marathon in 2018. But for mum Tracie this is a whole new experience and she’s honest in her assessment of her own readiness for task ahead.

“I might not be the fittest,” says Tracie, “but it’s a challenge I want to take. It’s a personal thing. I want to give back to St Christopher’s for some of the kindness they gave us. They were our light in the dark and if we can just contribute something to help them to carry on and care for others then that’s what I’m aiming for.”

Tracie and Chloe spent most of the last five weeks of Michael’s life at his bedside in the hospice and say their only regret was that he wasn’t admitted earlier.

“Nothing was ever too much trouble,” says Tracie, 58. “Not once did anyone ever say, can you wait a few minutes please. It was the best possible place for him and for us we knew he was being well cared for, so we had peace of mind.”

For Chloe, it was the home away from home aspect of the care that really struck her as she and Tracie set up shop work remotely from the St Christopher’s café.

“We could take grandad round the gardens, bring our dogs in to see him and managed to have a giggle sometimes too. Then a week before he died, we celebrated his 80th birthday. The nurses decorated his room with balloons, we all sang Happy Birthday, had cake and grandad had his favourite meal – proper East End pie and mash.

“From start to finish there really was nothing more anyone could do, everything was amazing, and all the staff were fantastic.”

After having running shoes fitted, training started in earnest in January for Chloe and Tracie. Tracie is used to walking her dogs and is confident that one way or another she will cross the line.

“I will be at the start line and will finish it, no matter what. I think the crowds will carry us,” she insists.

The pair will do two short runs a week and something a bit longer on Sundays and are realistic about what’s ahead.

“I mean no pain we suffer along the way will be anything compared to what Grandad went through and nothing we do for St Christopher’s can be too much,” added Chloe.

Tracie and Chloe are hoping to raise £5,000 and will give that total a boost when they host an event in March with live music and a raffle to mark Michael’s birthday, the anniversary of his death and to highlight their upcoming marathon adventure.

If you’d like to take on a challenge for St Christopher’s you can find out more on our events calendar

Poppy’s marathon story

Marathon Runner Poppy Younger

Poppy’s father Ricky spent seven and half weeks being cared for at St Christopher’s before he died on 1 March, having been diagnosed with inoperable cancer in October 2022.

“We’d heard of St Christopher’s and been to the charity shops but had never been to the hospice and had no idea what it was really like. Coming from hospital, the difference was amazing. Everyone from reception to the café staff, nurses and volunteers, they were all so lovely. We felt so welcome and at home. My mum stayed over for the last two weeks and I was often there until midnight. It was just a magical place for us to spend the last few weeks with Dad.

“He particularly loved the foot massages, which made him feel relaxed, and the ice creams – he couldn’t get enough of them.”

When Ricky died, aged 62, Poppy and her mother and brother Josh, vowed to raise as much money as they could for St Christopher’s. He was a familiar and popular figure in the community having been the site manager at a local school and the family quickly raised £5,000 for the hospice.

Poppy was determined to do more. She and her mother had been to watch the London Marathon for years – supporting friends and enjoying the atmosphere.

“For ages I’ve said I’d run it one year and I just thought there would never be a better year to do it so I applied, without telling anyone, not really thinking I’d be successful and then when I heard I’d got a place, the reality set in.”

Poppy describes herself as fit-ish. Her dad taught her to play golf and she started going to the gym regularly over the last few months. She’d never really done any running though.

“I’d be out of breath just running for a bus, so it was hard work when I started training in September.”

A few months into training, and Poppy is now running for an hour three to four times a week but is acutely aware of the challenge and distance ahead as her morning commute to Tunbridge Wells is 25 miles – just less than the marathon distance. She says everywhere she goes she is conscious of distances.

So far, Poppy thinks she’s on track to be ready for the big day and says that having the personal motivation really helps on those days when she’s just not feeling it.

“It can be hard when it’s dark and chilly. But I am determined to keep going and know Dad’s laughing at me and saying, ‘get your backside in gear!’.”

A carol concert at St David’s school in West Wickham, where Poppy’s mother works, gave a serious boost to her £2,500 fundraising target.

Looking ahead to the big day in April, Poppy is expecting sizeable support from her large family and friendship group and expects the crowd will help carry her to the finish line.

“I feel good running on my own but I’m also getting used to crowds by doing Park Runs at the weekend. If I hit the wall at about 18 miles, I expect I’ll probably just burst into tears. I’m not worried about times; I just want to get to the finish.

“But I can’t wait to have the medal, put it in a frame on my wall, have that amazing feeling of being able to say I’ve done it and raised as much money as I can for St Christopher’s as my way of giving something back.”

If you’d like to take on a challenge for St Christopher’s you can find out more on our events calendar

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