A mum who lost both her mother and eldest daughter to leukaemia has told how much Lancaster charity CancerCare helped her through the grieving process.
Stella Duffy now organises a fundraising festival every year in memory of her daughter Alanna, who was just 26 when she died in 2008.
Alanna left two young children when she passed away after losing a two-year battle with acute myeloid leukaemia.
At the time, heartbroken mum Stella was already having to deal with her own mother’s illness, after she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in 1997.
Despite being told she only had up to five years to live, Stella’s mother fought the disease for nearly 15 years, passing away in 2011.
In the wake of both tragedies, Stella and her younger daughter Katie have raised around £15,000 each for Christie’s Hospital and CancerCare.
Stella, who lives in Grayrigg Drive, Morecambe, said the support she received from CancerCare in the wake of Alanna’s death helped her comes to terms with it.
“I could not describe the loss I felt and I would wait till I was on my own and cry into my beautiful daughter’s picture,” Stella said. “I would silently cry myself to sleep. The pain was awful but I had to think of my family.”
Stella and her younger daughter Katie began fundraising for Christie’s, raising a total of £15,000 for the hospital.
“Life went on and I was having the odd meltdown, still smiling through and keeping the feelings to myself,” Stella said.
“Someone told me to go and see the doctor and I did and I poured my heart out in tears.
“He told me he could get me counselling either through a hospital or through CancerCare. I reluctantly said yes and an appointment was made in 2009.
“I think the first appointment I delayed as I didn’t like the idea but I eventually went and met a wonderful lady who was to be my counsellor for a year.
“There was never any pressure and I could come every two weeks or every month. If I had a bad few days and hadn’t seen her for a month I could ring and she would fit me in.
“I cannot explain what it is like and the relief you get talking to a stranger knowing you are not going to hurt their feelings as they are personally not connected to your loss.
“I am not sure if you would call it denial but I just could not believe that someone so beautiful and precious was taken away from us and I just didn’t get it, I didn’t understand how this was possible or why.
“My daughter had been so brave throughout, still smiling, still joking and had her whole life ahead of her.
“The fact was, with counselling I could talk about anything, I would laugh and joke but my counsellor could see right through me. She guided me and put me at so much ease.
“She explained if I wanted any of the aromatherapy or massages or wanted to join in any of the classes I could, but I always declined knowing there were other people that needed this more than me.
“When my counselling came to an end in 2010 and knowing first hand what CancerCare as a charity do for thousands of people and all for free, my daughter and I decided that any further fundraising events would be for CancerCare.”
Ever since, Stella and Katie have organised a family fun day at Heysham cricket club – known as AlannaFest, as well as activities such as bag packing at Morrisons and bucket collections around local pubs.
This year’s AlannaFest is being held on Sunday May 28, from noon until 6pm.
The event is expected to be bigger than ever, and includes an outside stage with local bands, a marquee with an outside bar, stalls, a bouncy castle, gladiator jousting and a raffle.
The family hopes to raise another £5,000 to help CancerCare.
“They are so nice and appreciative of what you do,” Stella said.
“I think a lot of people don’t realise they are there or how to go to them; we get a lot of people asking us about it when we are fundraising.
“I love it when we take the money into CancerCare that we have raised. The staff are so grateful.
“This is our way of giving back and I know my daughter Alanna would be very proud of us all and my team that help us to raise money for this worthy cause.”