Ellie Dawes
Posted by
Ellie Dawes

Annie Taylor's story

Ellie Dawes
Posted by
Ellie Dawes
27 Feb 2013

I had three lovely, healthy children – Jonathan the oldest, Oliver the middle one and Joanne the youngest – all close in age.  Then, out of the blue Oliver was diagnosed with Leukaemia (ALL) at the age of 5 and battled the disease with great courage for nine years.

Three times he was in remission, amazing the doctors, and he always had hope that he would beat the disease.  But it was not to be - it came back a fourth time in 1987.  This time the prognosis was not good and he sadly died that year aged 14.  

If Oliver’s hospital visits coincided with the school holidays Jonathan and Joanne would always accompany us, adding their support.  When he was well and in remission we did lots of fundraising together as a family.  Looking back, their childhood was unusual but they were happy and to them it was ‘normal’.

During his short life Oliver achieved so much, helping to raise thousands of pounds for other leukaemia and cancer sufferers. 

Oliver contracted leukaemia during his first year at the Pochin School in 1978.  Over the years his fellow pupils and staff saw how his courage overcame the distressing effects of the necessary treatment and long absences from school.

His cheerful and determined personality was an inspiration to all who knew him and so his headmaster, pupils, parents and staff decided to work to raise money to aid research into leukaemia and came up with the idea of compiling a cookbook with their favourite recipes. 

At first the book was going to be produced by the school and sold at a fund raising function, but as enthusiasm grew, it was decided that more money could be raised if it were published and sold on a national basis. The pupils started writing to famous people for their favourite recipes and amongst those who replied were the Prince and Princess of Wales, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Paul McCartney, Esther Rantzen and Sebastian Coe. The children were asked to draw their own Illustrations to be included with the recipes.  Oliver came up with the idea of a cartoon character called Chef O Glace - this little character and the drawings of his fellow pupils helped bring the book alive.

After a lot of hard work, The Pochin School Cookbook was published in 1986 and I am so pleased that Oliver was still with us at that time and able to see the book on sale in the shops.  One of his highlights was visiting 10 Downing Street and presenting Margaret Thatcher with a copy of the Cookbook.

Along with the fund-raising for Leukaemia Research there was another cause close to Oliver’s heart.  He had many friends on the Oncology Ward at Leicester Royal Infirmary – they always looked out for one another.   Unlike Oliver, some of the children and their families had to travel long distances to the hospital for regular treatment.

In 1985 a group of parents and friends of children suffering from either leukaemia or cancer set up the Children’s Leukaemia and Cancer Fund specifically to buy, furnish and decorate a small house in the vicinity of Leicester Royal Infirmary for parents and families to stay close to their children whilst they were in hospital.  Oliver became totally involved in the fund-raising for the house and the local community were so supportive. By January 1987 the group had fulfilled their aim of buying a house just 2 minutes from the hospital – Oliver was thrilled.

It was officially opened by Bob Champion in June 1988 just a few months after Oliver had passed away.  The house was named Oliver Lee House after Oliver and another young boy called Lee who had also lost his fight against leukaemia.

One of Oliver’s treasured possessions was a signed copy of Bob Champion’s book of his own fight against cancer.   We are comforted by the fact that although Oliver was not at the opening of the house, Bob Champion accepted the invitation to do the honours.

Despite his problems, Oliver remained cheerful and enjoyed life.  The story of his fund-raising became well known, in part due to presenter Tony Wadsworth of Radio Leicester, who became a very special friend to Oliver and the family after meeting Oliver at one of our charity events.

The radio programme, Oliver’s Story, came about soon after Oliver relapsed for the fourth time in September 1987.  Faced with hospital, tests and treatment which this time had no guarantee of success, Oliver decided to stay at home and fight the disease his own way.  We are fairly sure he knew what this meant, but nevertheless once he had made up his mind he would not change it.  He then began eight weeks of maintenance treatment. 

During this period Tony was in conversation with Oliver’s dad and he suggested the idea of a programme telling Oliver’s story, but only if Oliver wanted to do it.  We suggested it to Oliver when we thought the time was right and he agreed with the idea but said he would tell us when he was ready.  That time came about three weeks’ later and Tony came to the house and recorded his conversation with Oliver.  When Oliver had to rest, Tony interviewed and recorded the rest of the family individually.  A few days later Oliver passed away peacefully at home.

The programme went on air at Radio Leicester shortly after as a documentary telling the harrowing and moving tale of Oliver’s last few days and his courageous battle.   It was received with much acclaim and was nominated for Best Local Radio programme, a prestigious award.  Oliver’s dad and I were invited to the Sony Radio Awards held at Grosvenor House Hotel in London the following April and were very emotional when the programme actually won the category.  The tape went on to be used by doctors at the Leicester Royal Infirmary as an aid in helping other families cope in similar situations.

When my oldest son Jonathan reached 40, I realised that Oliver would not be here to celebrate his own 40th birthday on 30 July 2013 and we wondered how to mark the occasion. Oliver would have wanted it to mean something and it was then that we decided with the help of family and friends to organise or support events for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research to see how much we could raise between now and the date of his birthday as a tribute to his courage and inspiring example.  We wanted to make Oliver proud.

We got off to a good start with a fund raising event at Roots Farm Shop in Barkby Thorpe. Our major event last year was a show entitled “100 Years of Fashion” held at our local church – featuring complete outfits from 1900 to 1999 together with news, music and songs from each decade.  £2500 was raised, divided between Rainbows Hospice and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.

Photographs reproduced by kind permission of Syston Town News

All the family have been very supportive.  Joanne and my sister, Jane, have been by my side at various fund-raisers.  Jane held an “Afternoon Tea” party in her garden on a gloriously hot summer’s afternoon and is also planning to walk part of the West Highland Way (approximately 50 miles) with a friend in May.  My son-in-law Paul took part, along with his brothers, in a sponsored challenge held at our local Watermead Country Park, completing various challenges/games. Fellow members at New Barkby WI organised a Fun Auction. It was a lovely evening and almost everything was sold!  They have since raised more funds at a ‘bring & buy’ stall and monies in lieu of sending Christmas cards. In between there have been table-top stalls, E-bay sales, a 50/50 Auction and various donations.  Joanne is currently planning a coffee morning. To date we have raised over £4,400.

Our big event this year is the Three Peaks Challenge in June organised by my niece, Sarah.  Sarah is leading a team of 10, including her sister Laura.  Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research have given Sarah lots of help and advice and we are now going all out to get as much support as possible for the fund at  www.justgiving.com/teams/taylorstroupe - as every penny counts.