Swimming together to remember Gordon

Gordon Johnson was a former Great Britain swimmer and remained passionate about swimming even until the end, when he died of cancer. His wife Sue and their daughter Grace tell us why taking part in the Swimathon challenge is a great way to remember Gordon and support Marie Curie. 

Gordon, making a big splash with his children (l-r):  Robert, Ben, Grace and James

Grace, Gordon’s youngest child, remembers fondly her dad’s love of swimming and the important role it played in her life growing up. 

“Dad had always loved swimming. He coached as well. He took me to swimming lessons and taught me how to dive. It was something we did together.” 

Gordon was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in 2011 but made a full recovery after treatment. However, the cancer returned in May 2014 – this time in his stomach and lungs – and he was told it was terminal.

Grace says: “Dad didn’t let it bother him. He just lived with it. He was the bravest person I have ever met.

"Dad didn’t want to stop doing anything – he even kept swimming because he wanted to do the same things. He never let cancer change how he was.”

Home was where he wanted to be

Towards the end of 2014, Gordon became very poorly. His wish was to spend his final days in his own home.

“Gordon didn’t want to go into hospital. That was his big wish,” remembers Sue. “But on his last night, I had to call an ambulance as he was having difficulty breathing. The ambulance came and said he had to go into hospital as they couldn’t leave us with the oxygen tank.

“It was a terrible choice. But when I said he really didn’t want to go to hospital, they called Marie Curie and two nurses arrived. Without the Marie Curie Nurses, I really don’t know how we would have managed. I'm thankful the nurses were there so he didn’t have to go into hospital.”

Grace with her dad, Gordon

Precious time together

Gordon died peacefully in his home that night surrounded by his family.

Grace says: “We were all there when he died – my mum, my brothers, me, my grandma, my aunt and my cousin. We didn’t want him to go on his own.”

Gordon kept his sense of humour, even towards the end. “In his last few hours, he had to have an oxygen mask on but he was still giving us the thumbs up and joking, asking ‘why are you all looking so miserable?’. He was a happy person.”

The support from Marie Curie Nurses helped Grace and her family during this difficult time.

Grace says: “They looked after my dad and were friendly. They knew when the time had come and gave us space to say our goodbyes.

“After my dad passed away, they sorted everything and did not leave until we felt comfortable. I will never forget what they helped us through and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Happy together: Gordon and Sue Johnson

Swimming as a family 

The care Marie Curie Nurses provided on that last night has stayed with Sue and the rest of the family.

Sue says: “They came in and gave him whatever he needed – they were just kind and gentle with him. In all that misery and despair, they offered something special.”

In memory of Gordon and the support he received from Marie Curie, Sue, Grace, her older brother Richard and three of their friends signed up for a swimming challenge in 2015.  

A tough but worthwhile challenge

Sue thinks Gordon would’ve been proud of their efforts – particularly Grace, who encouraged her family and friends to take part in Swimathon, the world’s biggest annual fundraising swim.

“She was brilliant in the way she organised us all – she just wants to help other families. I’m not a very strong swimmer so doing 2.5k was a real challenge for me. It was tough but Grace encouraged me to keep going, and I wanted to do it for Gordon.

“In the end, our team of six completed a total of 20km and we raised £1,000 for Marie Curie through our JustGiving fundraising page. I was the last one out of the pool but everyone kept cheering me on!

“We all miss Gordon incredibly. Our Swimathon challenge was a great way to remember him and raise money for a cause we really care about.”

Sue with her Swimathon team. Go Team Johnson!

Sue and Grace are taking part in Swimathon 2018 in support of Marie Curie and Cancer Research UK. If you’re inspired by their story, then sign up today for Swimathon for your greatest swim ever.

Challenge yourself by swimming 400m, 1.5k, 2.5k or 5k at a participating pool near you while you raise money for charitable causes. Or get together with friends and family to swim 1.5k or 5k as a team. The further you go, the more you’ll achieve!