Jane Huddleston is raising awareness and money for Home-Start UK by self-publishing the set of books which she wrote in just four months.
Mum-of-two Jane is a volunteer for Home-Start Morecambe, a charity dedicated to improving life for families, a role she plans to return to remotely now she is in remission.
Jane, 41, said: “Cancer meant I lost my hair, but found my confidence. Bring it on! Don’t let fear hold you back. It’s been a tough journey with many challenges that continue while in remission but my lesson is not to delay chasing the dream! If that message alone can empower somebody else I’ll be really happy.”
Jane left her job in academia as partnership development manager at Lancaster University at the end of 2019 after struggling with vague symptoms throughout that year, but had no diagnosis.
Told by medics it was probably stress-related, she was diagnosed with Lymphoma in March 2020 and chemo began as the country went into lockdown. Jane was home-schooling too, so life was not easy for the family.
In August 2020 she got the all-clear news that she was in remission and then she turned 40.
“I set myself a challenge to complete 40 walks in four months up the dragon hill near our home in Lancaster," she said. "After each walk I just had to get home and write.
“Walking was so inspiring, the views are stunning. It was different and wonderful in all weathers! On a good day you can see to the Isle of Man. I’d come home and write about the dragons living on that hill.
"Living a secret life in a magical mystery world. Do the dragons live among us? The seed was sown. I’d tip tap away then let the family read and review them. It was a team effort!”
Husband John and children Matthew, eight, and Charlotte, six, helped make edits and by Christmas she had completed her 10 book set about the Sunburst City Dragons.
The books are raising money for Home-Start UK, Lymphoma Action and Macmillan, Cancer Care.
“By writing the books I wanted to create a little piece of magic and a spark of joy for children," Jane said. "For them to wonder if there is magic and mystery in their everyday surroundings.
“I wanted characters to be strong and capable, especially the females, to be empowering positive, role models. It was about a team of friends doing what they love and having adventures.
“I never thought I’d write a book, I was so career focused, it never crossed my mind before, and it was an unusual set of circumstances that just felt right.
“The biggest lesson having cancer in lockdown has taught me is stop being afraid. What is the worst that will happen? If my books don’t do well it doesn’t matter, at least I tried. I didn’t want to leave this planet having achieved nothing of note in my career. I’m so glad I’ve done this.”
Not only that, but Jane’s children also like saying mummy’s a children’s book author.
“My nephew even took one of my books in to school on World Book Day when he was dressed as a dragon!" Jane said. "That felt so strange, but absolutely wonderful.”
Jane even appeared on the national BBC Breakfast show last month, which meant one of her books went into the Amazon Top 20 as a result.
So why is volunteering important to Jane?
“I finished the Home-Start UK volunteer training in April 2019 and was matched to support a refugee family," she said. "I gave practical support like showcasing the area so they could find things to do as a family with their children like local parks.”
She also helped them get their own computer.
“I put out a message on my university work intranet saying a refugee family were looking for a computer and a colleague messaged saying sadly her dad had died but he had an almost brand new Mac," Jane said. "He had been a refugee. She knew he would have wanted to pass the Mac to them. Stories like that are incredibly moving. The warmth of human kindness. That’s what being a Home Start volunteer is about.
"When I became a volunteer I thought I’d be giving a lot, but actually I received so much. It is a privilege to help others.
“We all have difficulties being a parent, it’s not easy, and can be rough at times. When I learnt more about how Home-Start works and its simple concept of volunteers helping others, I thought, what a wonderful organisation.
“That little bit of help would have made such a difference to me when I needed it had I known about Home Start then; that’s why I decided to offer to be a volunteer at Morecambe.”
Five of Jane's books have been published so far, with a Christmas one due for release in November. The remaining four are set for publication in 2022.
They are for sale at Amazon and Waterstone's Online and available to trade through Gardeners and Barnes and Noble. With artwork from Preston illustrator David Robinson, the books have bold images with a 60s and 70s feel.
Home-Start is a local community network of trained volunteers and expert support helping families with young children through their challenging times.
Families struggling with postnatal depression, isolation, physical health problems, bereavement and many other issues receive the support of a volunteer who will spend around two hours a week in a family’s home supporting them in the ways they need.