Thanks

The walk4andy has of course been a labour of love but I could never have achieved it on my own.  This is my opportunity to thank all those who have supported me (I just have to hope it doesn’t sound too much like an Oscars acceptance speech!) and it goes without saying that I wouldn’t have got very far at all if it hadn’t been for the man who built the Wall in the first place …

Publius Aelius Hadrianus

Thanks to all those who have joined me on my walk: Julie, Ian, Nathan, Erica, Scott, Tamara (and Charlie the greyhound!), Tony, Sue, James, Benjy, Hilary, David, Jonathan, Benjamin, Wendy and Val

 

Thanks to those who have helped with lifts and being around during the week: Allison, Will and Dan, Yvonne, Chris, Catherine and Anna, Mags, Matthew, Daniel and Lucy, and especially Barry (and Zac!)

Thanks to those who have given us hospitality, especially Michael and the folk at Carlisle Cathedral, and Benjamin and Stephanie, Elizabeth and Matilda.

Thanks to those I’ve met along the way – Michael, Dany, Clare and countless others whose names I never found out.

Thanks to Andy at the ATC who lent me his camel pack so I didn’t have to stop to drink.

Thanks to my Diabetes team at Leicester General who gave me my continuous glucose monitoring kit making it so much easier to avoid the hypos.

Thanks to Geraldine’s chiropodist who provided a kit for my feet which amazingly I haven’t had to use at all!

Thanks to those who have been praying for me, especially everyone back at St Denys who have been walking and praying in solidarity.  I have felt held in a way like never before.

Thanks to those who have been reading my blog and sending comments and words of encouragement.  It has meant a great deal to me.

Thanks to those who have supported by sponsoring me.  That is the most important part of this whole journey and I am gobsmacked to have raised nearly three times my target of £1000.  Thank you thank you.

And thanks to my family for putting up with me, not only through this week but through all the planning and practice walks, for agreeing to holiday in Carlisle and Derbyshire last year so that I could do some walking.  Thank you for your endless patience and your support this week.  To Erica and Hilary for your companionship on so much of the walk, and to Wendy for encouraging me and humbly getting on with the most boring job of bag-carrying, fetching and dropping off.  I know you had lots of tea and cake in pretty places to make up for it, but it did mean you had to get up when we did!

 

And finally, thanks to Andy, without whom I would not be the person I am today and would never have found the inspiration and determination to do something like this.  I laughed out loud when I read a comment from someone who knew Andy very well saying ‘I can’t help thinking Andy would want to know why you’re walking that far when you could drive!’  So true!  But I hope that this will go some distance to helping others with his condition to get more support and maybe help those who are working to find a cure for VHL.  Huge thanks to VHL UK/Ireland for all the work you do for families like ours.

 

 

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My mum

‘You knit me together in my mother’s womb’ – words from the psalm set for evening prayer yesterday, which I was able to say in the beautiful church in Corbridge after finishing day 8 of my walk4andy in the company of my eldest daughter and my mum.

My mum came up to join me last weekend and has been able to do part of the walk with me.  She is a great support and has even raised sponsorship herself.  But yesterday was the first opportunity I had had to really talk to her and ask her all sorts of things about what it was like when Andy and Dad were both diagnosed with VHL.  I was around Hilary’s age at the time and don’t really remember much at all.

As we walked side by side, Mum told me stuff today I had never known, about the time when Andy, aged 11, was in hospital next to Dad, both of them having cryotherapy treatment on retinal tumours.  And the time she went to Manchester with Andy about ten years ago to a VHL support meeting for those with VHL and their carers.  At that stage he was still reasonably able, and meeting others at later stages of the illness came as a huge shock to them both.

I knew my mum was brave but hearing her talk about those times filled me with a whole new appreciation for her courage and determination in the face of nearly losing both her husband and her son.  Now as a parent myself, I can’t imagine the pain of seeing your child suffer like Andy did.  He probably wouldn’t have realised at 11 what VHL meant, but Mum would have had a much better understanding of how it might progress which must have been terrifying.

She has been witness to more operations and emergency procedures than she can count, she has visited hospitals all over the country and sat in on numerous consultations bearing bad news.  But she also speaks so highly of the nurses on the wards who cared for Andy, how they became like family to her and remembered her each time Andy was admitted.

On her 60th birthday!

Mum has held close all of that heartache for such a long time.  More than ten years ago she nursed my stepfather through an agonising few months as he died of cancer at just 54.  And then shortly after Andy died in 2013, she also lost her mum, my grandmother, who she had been caring for.

How anyone can go through so much and still want to open their heart to the risks that come with love, I cannot guess, but it was an absolute privilege to be able to marry her to her new husband Barry last January.  This has been a painful journey for me but it is as nothing compared to the journey my mum has been on.

Mum and her boys in 1999 at my wedding

Andy, Dad, my stepfather and grandmother are all now on that farther shore, safe in the arms of the God who created them and loved them.  As Mum left last night before she travels home to Leicester this morning, we hugged one another tight, struggling to hold back the tears, like a pair of shipwrecked sailors clinging to a piece of driftwood as they are tossed and thrown by the waves around them.  But maybe, just maybe, we can see a bit of land coming into view now, something to look forward to and give us hope and peace.

God bless you, Mum!

 

 

A new day dawns

Radio 2 are currently running a series of Pauses for Thought in the early hours that I have contributed to.  This morning just before 3am they broadcast a particularly appropriate message for how I am feeling at the moment in my walk4andy. I’ll post more later but for now you can find the broadcast at 52:40 by following this link.

Previous broadcasts (all of them at 52:40) ….

On Colourblindness

On Hospitality

On Walking

On Memories

Burdens laid down

Is it wrong that I’m enjoying this?

Heavenfield

Ok, this has been the hardest post to write so far and so should come with a health warning!  The walk4andy was meant to be about Andy, about celebrating his life and doing something positive in his memory.  And yes, I am spending a lot of time thinking about him and talking about him, but if this was meant to be a hardship endured out of love for him or for some other wonderfully holy, altruistic motive, then I hate to disappoint but that’s not how it really is.

 

I have loved the walking and the fresh air, I have loved the stunning scenery and the time to think, I have loved the company and the conversation, the sense of achievement at the end of each day.  But this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, is it?

It’s not the first time I’ve felt a lot of guilt on account of Andy…

It started when I was just a few years old and managed to cut off the end of his finger in the chain of his bike.  Oops!

Then there was the time I hit him in the eye with the cricket ball, chased him round the house with a pair of scissors and there was the ‘sleeping bag’ tobogganing down the stairs incident which left him with a bleeding head wound!

But as we got older, and Andy was diagnosed with VHL, I too was taken for regular testing, put through CT and MRI scans, blood tests, eye tests and so on to make sure it was caught early should I too develop VHL.  I was well aware that Andy was ill but not really how that might impact me, but it felt like a shared experience to some extent at least.

Around the time I went to university I was offered the option of a blood test.  The faulty gene had been identified and I could have the DNA test to see if I was likely to develop VHL in the future or at risk of passing it on to my children, not something that was high on my agenda at the age of 18.

The test came back clear some time during my first year in Cambridge and I still have the letter telling me the news in a very brief and official kind of way.  I’m quite surprised I kept it, as it didn’t really mean a lot to me then.  I just carried on with all the fun of being a student!

It has only been later in life, as I’ve gone on to get married and have children, to work and make friends, to meet others whose lives have been affected by complicated illness or family tragedy.  Over the years, the guilt began to take root – why Andy?  why not me?  Apparently, it was 50/50 either way.

There was a part of me that was relieved when I was diagnosed with diabetes at 28.  Finally, my life wasn’t the perfect world I thought it must seem to Andy, and I had my own inherited illness.  I’m so ashamed that I felt that way but it’s the truth.

Of course, when Andy died, it was worse.  Much as I missed him, the pain at losing him was mixed again with what I guess could now be called ‘survivor’s guilt’.  It could so easily have been me that had had VHL, that had died at 38, leaving Andy to mourn my passing.  What would he have done?  How would he have marked the ending of his brother’s life?

Guilt is something Christians can be particularly bad at handling, which is something of a surprise when you think that our whole belief system is built on God’s grace removing our guilt and sin, setting us free through Jesus’ death on the cross from those burdens we like to carry around with us.  The Bible says that ‘as far as the east is from the west, so far ha he set our sins from us.’

As I walk from the west coast to the east, I am learning to see that it is not my fault that I was the lucky one, but that I can choose what to do with the life that I have been given now, the post-40 life that Andy will never see.  The culmination of 3 and a half years working through all those emotions is the walk4andy.

This is why it matters so much to me.  Yes, it is an opportunity to do something positive in his memory but, perhaps selfishly, it is also about freeing myself from that burden of guilt and finding my own path to forgiveness and freedom so that I can do what I know in my heart Andy would have wanted which is for me to squeeze every drop of hope and joy and love from the years of life that God has granted me in his unfathomable wisdom.

Words from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim:

Must here the Burden fall from off my back?

Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?

One day

A lot can happen in one day.  A lot can happen in one moment.  A life can be changed forever.

With the people of Manchester uppermost in my thoughts and prayers today, I am conscious that I have just one day left to get myself sorted before I head up to Carlisle ready to begin the #walk4andy on Thursday.

It is three and a half years since the night he died.  This day has been a long time coming but somewhere in my wrestling with God and grief I found the resolve to do something positive, to be different because Andy lived and not because he died.

So today I am drawing up lists and packing bags, checking on hotel bookings and route maps.  I even went on a short 5 mile walk this morning with Rolo and a small group from church.

Unfortunately, we got stuck in a field with a large herd of cows and their calves.  I have rarely been so terrified, faced with an angry mother cow mooing and snorting just inches from my face.  Perhaps wrongly, I scooped up into my arms a cowering and whimpering Rolo  before he got trodden on or kicked and I stood my ground together with my companions.

Eventually, the herd thinned out and we could see our escape route become clear.  I walked cautiously towards the stile, still with Rolo in my arms, and breathed a mammoth sigh of relief when I got to the other side.

IMG_0240I pray that all those in Manchester and across the world who are facing one day they never thought would come will know the love of a God who longs to scoop them up and just hold them in his arms and never let them go.

 

Food glorious food!

Andy loved his food.  Here he is back in his twenties enjoying a barbecue in the back garden:

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Andy liked all sorts of food and wasn’t afraid to try new things.  He loved hot spicy curries and chilli as well as steaks and bacon sarnies.  I don’t think he could ever have been a vegetarian!

I’m looking forward to walking from Evington to Mountsorrel next Saturday to enjoy a bacon sandwich and a piece of chocolate cake in his memory with his friends at Christ Church.

Image result for bacon sandwichWhat I noticed about Andy’s love of food was that it wasn’t just about the eating.  He really enjoyed the preparing and he was good at it, certainly better than me!  I think if things had worked out differently he could have made a living out of it or even made it through to Masterchef.

Andy knew the satisfaction that came from a job well done and I think enjoyed his food all the more for having cooked it up himself.  He found he could exercise his God-given creativity in cooking in a way I never have.  (As a teenager I once fed my family French onion soup but forgot to adjust down the quantities of wine given in the recipe – I think they enjoyed it anyway!)

Now I have a love/hate relationship with food.  Much as I love eating it, I hate having to try to count everything to calculate how much insulin to take.  It means that packaged food is easier than cooking yourself or eating out.  You can just read what it says on the label!

But I think Andy understood that food was about much more than calories or carbohydrates.  It can involve great creativity and skill, as well as fun and fellowship.  Maybe I need to put on my apron and get into the kitchen a bit more!

 

Sorrel4Andy

Mountsorrel Butter Market with Andy’s flat behind

Andy and I grew up in the village of Mountsorrel halfway between Loughborough and Leicester.  Although I didn’t appreciate it growing up, the village has a lot going for it with the Butter Market, Soar Valley Leisure Centre, canal, farm, quarry and newly opened heritage railway.

It also has a great church.  We didn’t go to church much when we were growing up but when Andy moved back to Mountsorrel he decided to do an Alpha course at Christ Church.  The friendly folk he met, especially Christine and Mick Butcher, had a massive impact on him and he made the decision to go back to church.  Here he is talking to Bishop Tim back in 2009 at the Cromwell Road Coffee House (he appears with his mouth full about 7 minutes into the video!).

For Andy, friendship was always important (as well as food!).  Through the human contact he experienced as part of the church family at Christ Church, he had a profound and life-changing experience of the love of God.  In fact, he told his friends there that he thanked God for his VHL because without it he wouldn’t have met Jesus.

And just as his new-found friends had an impact on him, he had a lasting impact on them too.  He is still fondly remembered, and I am so thankful that the church in Mountsorrel are holding two events to support my walk and raise money for VHL.

The first is a Quiz4Andy on Friday 5th May at 7pm, probably with lots of questions about cars that I wouldn’t be able to answer!

The second event is a Coffee/LunchDay4Andy on Saturday 13th May 10am-2pm.  There will be lots of Andy’s favourite food including bacon sarnies and chocolate cake.  I’m planning to join them on the Saturday, walking from Evington to Mountsorrel (about 10 miles) to be there in time for lunch.

St Paul talked about the church family being like a body where if one part hurts the whole body suffers.  I love the fact that I still have brothers and sisters in Mountsorrel who feel what I feel, will pray with me when I’m finding things tough and who want to do their bit to help.  Thank you to all of you!