Swimming the Channel for the nurses who granted Granny’s secret wish

For the 150th anniversary of Dr Marie Curie’s birth, we’re celebrating the women who embody her legacy – both through their connections to the charity that Dr Curie inspired, and their commitment to facing their own challenges.

For 24-year-old Rose Hawkins, there was no one quite like her beloved granny, Anne. When Anne was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Marie Curie Nurses were there to help Rose and her family look after Anne at home in her final weeks. This year Rose decided to dive in at the deep end with an incredible challenge to repay those nights of care.

Fundraiser, Channel-swimmer and granddaughter: Rose Hawkins. Illustration by Lizzy Stewart.

“I’m swimming to France today”

"I arrived at Dover harbour at 6am on 1 September and stepped on to the boat that would follow me to France. My family were beside me as my crew brought us round to the starting beach 20 minutes away. I was so nervous.

I was taken to shore in a little dingy to begin my swim, but as soon as I waded out into the sea the nerves just melted away. The water wasn’t too cold, the sun was rising and I remember thinking calmly to myself: “I’m swimming to France today!”

It was always a dream of mine to swim the Channel. As a family we used to spend time at the beach in Bournemouth and my dad would say: ‘If you keep swimming you’ll end up in France!’ My granny was actually the one who taught me how to swim, and it was incredible to be able to raise so much money for the charity that looked after her."

Fulfilling Granny’s final wish

"Granny was a very selfless person; she was so giving, and did everything for everyone. She told us she wanted to be in a hospice in her final days, but we knew it was because she didn’t want to be a ‘burden’. We knew that what she truly wanted was to be at home – that was her secret, final wish."

Anne teaching Rose how to knit

"When Marie Curie got involved, that weight was lifted away from her – she couldn’t argue! Towards the end, having a nurse there with her at night was such a comfort. We asked them to wake us up if anything happened; sure enough there was one night when Granny called out for us, and the nurse came to get us straight away. The nurse was so kind; I just remember spending the whole night telling anyone who’d listen how lovely she was.

It was a hard time, but we knew Granny was comfortable in the end, which was all that mattered. We’re a really close family, and the nurses understood that immediately."

Letting it all sink in

"When the sea got rough during my swim, I was thinking of Granny and Granddad. Whenever I faced a challenge, Granny always used to tell me: ‘I’ll say a prayer for you!’ I remember sending a little prayer up to them when the wind was blowing hard over the water. Not long after, the clouds broke apart and the sun shone through.

When I reached France, I stepped out of the sea and climbed up onto the rocks in the darkness – I had to be clear of the water to officially finish. I stood there in the night air for two minutes while it sunk in: I’d done it.

I was so glad to have done something like this, to return the kindness that the nurses showed my Granny and what they did for my family. My Mum had told me before my swim: ‘Your Granny and Granddad will be looking over you; they’ll take care of you.’ And she was right."

Without supporters like Rose, Marie Curie wouldn’t be able to be there to support people at the end of their lives. Help keep us in the homes and communities where we’re urgently needed by donating today.