I wrote a post a while ago about the amazing challenge my friend Michael Long has taken on to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care, The Stroke Association and for my sister Rachel and her family. If you missed that, later this month he’s running 127 miles from his front door (London) to mine (Leicestershire) over the course of six days, using only his phone for navigation, buying food and drink and booking hotels. I hope it’s cooled down a bit by then.
A while ago, Michael mentioned that he was planning a fundraising drinks event in London. He invited me. It was on the day of my book publication, a couple of days before I was going to be in London for my launch party. Paul said I should go, that he’d make it work. We booked the kids into nursery for an extra day. I was going to London for three nights instead of one.
On the day, I met Michael outside the venue he’d booked in the early evening. It’s a coffee shop by day and a cocktail bar by night, right in the middle of Covent Garden. He came laden with bags full of raffle prizes he’d charmed out of friends and colleagues. Michael always dresses impeccably, and I admired his world map bow tie. Before I knew it, he was off to the toilets to get changed. The world map bow tie had just been his work attire. His evening bow tie had feathers on.
Michael had said he was going to say a few words about the challenge and had asked if I would speak, to tell my family’s story. I’d said yes without giving it much thought. I’ve told this story many times. On this blog, on the radio, to friends. But what I hadn’t factored in is that I’m usually just telling my story. And it’s Rachel’s story that kills me.
The room began to fill up. There were some familiar faces and plenty of unfamiliar ones. When it was time for me to speak, I felt the weight of everyone’s eyes on me. I introduced myself, told them about my breast cancer diagnosis, about Elodie’s rocky start to life, and then about Rachel’s stroke. And I fell apart. Michael took hold of my hand and took over until I was composed again, and I got to the end of the story. I thanked everyone for coming. I thanked Michael for what he was doing for us. I’ll never be able to thank him enough.
There were representatives from Breast Cancer Care and The Stroke Association there. They sold raffle tickets. They’d brought three full books and they sold out. Afterwards, a friend told me that she’d overheard one man saying ‘I’ll take the whole book’. An hour later, I pulled out the winning tickets and Michael handed out the prizes. Signed copies of both of our books (his is about another running challenge and is a great read), hotel stays, travel vouchers.
People came up to me afterwards, said that I was brave, touched my arm. I’ve had to be brave. What else could I have been? One woman gave me the spiderman figure she’d won in the raffle for Joseph (he loved it, and then broke it, and then fixed it again). The representatives from the charities talked to me, made sure our family were aware of the support they can offer us. I was grateful, to all of them.
Yesterday, I went for a run. I managed three kilometres. On one of the days of his challenge, Michael is going to run thirty-two miles. And that’s just one day out of six. I can’t quite comprehend it. All I can do is thank him, and be here with a glass of champagne for when he arrives at the finishing line.