“I see parallels between climbing a mountain and caring for a loved one at the end of life”
Petra McMillan is a Marie Curie Patron in Dundee and Angus, raising awareness and funds in memory of her mum.
“Before Mum's terminal diagnosis, I knew Marie Curie had something to do with dying, but I had no cause to dig deeper. I was 36, with two children and a busy career – death happened to other people, not us.
"The brain tumour was aggressive and my Mum, Renate, was given three months to live. My dad died when I was 11 and Mum devoted her life to me, my brother and three sisters, and her 11 grandchildren, while also working as a carer for the elderly for 35 years.
"It took Mum until 60 to buy her first home and we knew she’d want to be there at the end. We devised a 24-hour care rota and all did our best, but it wasn’t enough. Just when we thought we might crumble, our district nurse suggested Marie Curie.
"Her last days were bathed in love"
"When Marie Curie Nurses were with Mum, we knew she was safe and comfortable and we could go home, rest and help our own children. It was a revelation. The nurses were all kind, competent and caring. Thanks to them, we held it together. Complications meant that Mum needed hospice care at the end, but her last days were bathed in love, with all of us at her side.
"In the fog of grief, it was my young daughter who reminded me that we should say thank you. Of course, she was right. We started small – baking cakes, doing fun runs – but a passion took hold. As a journalist, I started to write about activities in my NHS Tayside area. I organised events, got others involved and, six years later, I'm proud to say we're making a difference in our communities.
"Publicity has been pivotal"
"We have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds, set up two fundraising groups and encouraged more than 400 people from all over the UK to take part in challenges at home and abroad. We’ve also generated a wealth of column inches and broadcast minutes promoting Marie Curie.
In an area with no hospice or charity shop and only our nurses slipping in and out of homes, usually in the dead of night, this publicity has been pivotal to our local success.
"It's getting tougher"
In 2011, I was made a patron – a voluntary ambassador. This year, I’m especially proud to have helped secure funding from trusts for two nurses for three years. In fact, 2016 is a big year for me. I've always tried to inspire donors by taking on challenges, such as a marathon, cycling Vietnam to Cambodia, and climbing Ben Nevis. But it's getting tougher to find the superlatives, which is why I’ll be trekking Kilimanjaro next month.
I see parallels between climbing a mountain and caring for a loved one at the end of life. When Mum was sick, I felt woefully ill-prepared for the journey ahead. I was scared and doubted I had the strength to go on. Overcoming my fears and making it to the end with her was a profound experience.”
If you've felt inspired by Petra and want to help make a difference to the lives of people living with terminal illness, why not join your local Marie Curie fundraising group? Search for your nearest fundraising group and get involved today.