Natalie Richards
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Celebrating friendship

Natalie Richards
Posted by
04 Aug 2017

From shaving their hair in solidarity and visiting me in hospital to helping me host fundraising tea parties my friends are amazing and have been with me every step of the way through my treatment for blood cancer.

From the day I got diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (which later transformed into AML) to this day (128 days’ post stem cell transplant) I have been blown away with the amount of support and kindness my friends and extended family have shown me and my immediate family. There is no way I could recount every single gesture made by my many friends and associates over the last nine months, there are too many to recount. But I appreciate each and every one for helping me through by far the hardest part of my life to date.

Once treatment commenced I was inundated with messages from friends and family asking how I was, offering help and supportive comments. I found it inspiring, I had to get through each day and I had to show all these people have grateful I was for their love and support. However, at one point over the Christmas period I was so extremely unwell, that I wasn’t able to respond to the multiple messages I would receive daily and I began I distance myself.

Amazing support

I asked for only my mom and husband to visit as I didn’t have the energy to talk or even smile. In all honestly I don’t remember this period too well, only that nobody gave up on me. If my well-wishers didn't get a response from me they would message my mom or husband. My best friend and close work colleges consistently asked to visit and I would get video calls from those who preferred not to visit on account of my compromised immune system. I slowly began to improve and then had the mammoth job of replying to all the people who had been concerned for me over the last few weeks.

I have always know that my best friend Samantha Campbell was a very special person, the kind that is caring and loving and always trying to help others. When she came to visit me in hospital I had been improving over the last few days and didn’t have the heart to tell her yet again I wasn’t up for visitors. However she didn’t bat an eyelid at seeing me so unwell and walked into the ward with her woolly bobble hat on. We hugged and she sat down and removed her hat and coat. I did a double take and then gawked at her in shock! She was bald too!!! I don’t recall exactly what I said only that I cried and then she showed me her fundraising page on JustGiving. She had shaved off her head in order to help me to cope with losing my hair.

She had decided she would also see if she could raise £200 for Bloodwise and raise a little awareness for patients with blood cancer and the Bloodwise charity in the process. All this for me!

We took a ‘selfie’ or our little bald heads and shared with all of our friends on social media along with a link to her JustGiving page and the Bloodwise website. I instantly felt relieved as my baldness was out there. Many of the people I knew had now seen me bald and I wasn’t alone. I no longer had a reason to feel self-conscious. Sam’s special gesture inspired so many people, over the next few days the donations keep coming, our close friends and family shared the post on social media with their friends too and eventually Sam managed to raise over £1500 for Bloodwise and many of our friends became aware of the charity.

Now I am home in remission and recovering. However I still get a lot of support from my family, friends and associates. I was adamant whilst in hospital that as soon as I was out and able I wanted to do something to give back to the charities and organisations which had helped me and many more people like me through blood cancer, stem cell transplant and chemotherapy.

Following Sam’s amazing fundraising effort, we were invited to an event with Bloodwise. Sam was unable to make it but I went along with my sister (also my stem cell donor). We heard stories from other patients and got an insight into the research currently taking place into many different types of blood cancer funded by Bloodwise. It was one of their annual Impact Day events and it was here that I first became aware of the ‘Tea with the Girls’ campaign.

Tea with the Girls

The idea behind ‘Tea with the Girls’ is simple. Host a tea party, invite a few of your closest girlfriends, bake a cake or two, put the kettle on and ask guests to make a small donation to Bloodwise when they come along. I decided to host my own tea with the girls to catch up with all those lovely people who supported me through my treatment, to raise money and awareness for Bloodwise and also to show myself how far I had come, that I was able to host a tea party and could give back to the charities who give so much to people with blood cancer and continue to fund research into finding a cure.                   

I set up an event on social media and invited all of the wonderful ladies on my friends list. I also made a poster to display both in my work place and my mom’s workplace (where I used to work) and handwrote a few invites for my friends and neighbours who aren’t on social media (included in the ‘tea with the girls’ pack sent from Bloodwise). I initially planned to host the tea party in my own home on a sunny day so my guests could either sit indoors or in the garden. I estimated somewhere between 10 and 20 people attending and began to practice making cupcakes. But then one of my friends whom I had invited sent me a private message asking if I wanted to use her tearoom for the event.

Since I was unsure how many people would be attending and because I wanted to avoid her having to reserve her tearoom for the day for me when only a few people may attend I told her that I would get back to her once I had an idea of numbers. As the invitation acceptance messages began to come in I began to panic that my poor baking skills were far from up to scratch! I asked a few local tearooms if they would be willing to donate a cake for my event and both cakes-a-daisy in Cheslyn hay and Cupcake lane in Codsall produced beautiful bakes for me to sell. As the acceptance messages keep coming I become more and more worried that I wouldn’t have enough cake or enough room!

I accepted my friends offer of the tearoom and contacted my local Tesco store to see if they too would be willing to donate a few cakes. They donated 60 cupcakes and a bottle of champagne which I decided to use for a raffle. I enlisted my mom ‘head of the raffle’ and she brought a raffle ticket book from a local store and gathered a few raffle prizes for guests. I had brought a Bloodwise bear whilst at the Impact Day event and got my sister to create a ‘name the bear poster’. The ‘Tea with the Girls’ fundraising pack provided by Bloodwise also included a poster for people to guess the number of cherries in the jar so I grabbed an old jar from my kitchen cupboard brought a few packs of cherries from my local super market and filled it. And i purchased a bottle of wine for the winner.

As over 60 people had accepted my invite and acceptance messages were still coming in I also decided to turn the tea party into more of an awareness event. I contacted Bloodwise who sent me table cloths, banners, balloons, and mini flags to pop into my cakes. I also contacted DKMS who provided online training on how to sign up any of my willing guests to the stem cell donor register. I then contacted the national blood service who provided information leaflets to try to encourage a few of my guests to become blood donors.

Many of my family and friends offered to bake cakes for my event, my mom and step-dad made apple pie, egg custards, bread pudding and scones, my mother-in-law made over 50 cupcakes, her mother-in-law made fruit cake and a beautifully decorated Victoria sponge. A family friend made a chocolate fudge and a banana and walnut cake while my friend who offered me the tea room made a coffee and walnut cake an equally beautiful Victoria sponge and I made a lemon drizzle loaf cake, a chocolate fudge cake and red velvet cupcakes. Along with the donated cakes I began I worry that I had over done things and that I would have far too much cake!

My Tea party was a huge success - I managed to raise over £1100 for Bloodwise! Plus £15 and a new donor on the register for DKMS (potentially saving the life of someone in future). It was an amazing day and I couldn't have done it without all the help of my friends who rallied round me yet again. They're support with the event and in general has been amazing and had so many of my friends not already signed up to the stem cell donor register whilst I was in hospital, I have no doubt I would have had many more names to the register. Several friends also promised to sign up to the blood donor register and I have had a few messages since from people asking for points of contact and information on how to sign up.

The party took place over two hours and for the whole time me, my husband, mom and sister were run off our feet serving tea, coffee, and cake whilst running the raffle, name the bear and guest the cherries tables. I almost sold out of cake! Many of the people who couldn’t make the d8ay donated to my online JustGiving page and I have had many requests to host another event soon. I am planning another Tea with the Girls event’ later this year but will open it up to the boys this time too!

I really hope that all my family and friends rally around helping out as they did before as I would never have made such a huge impact and success without all of their help and fabulous cakes. It was a fantastic day, something I am very proud to of achieved and a great opportunity to catch up with all the wonderful people there for me and my family during my treatment. 

Find out more about hosting your own Tea with the Girls

Read more about Natalie's blood cancer experiences

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