In Sept 2019 my Mum, June Cooper, and my Step-Father Brian were in Tenerife, they’d been loads of times, about 35 times!
We saw her in late August at a family thing at the local pub just up the road, and she was complaining she had a slight pain in her hip, and it was a little bit uncomfortable. She’d had a hip replacement, so she thought it was something to do with that, so she was just going to keep an eye on it and make sure she was alright.
I spoke to her the day before her holiday, and asked if she’d been to the Doctors about it. She said she hadn’t and she’d put it off until she came back, in case they told her it was something not good, and told her not to go on holiday.
Whilst on holiday, I got a few strange texts from my mother, totally incoherent which was totally unlike her – but she could have been on the brandy by then! I text my Step-Father to ask if everything was OK.
Friday 13th September 2019, we got a call from Tenerife, to say that Mum’s ankles had swollen up really badly and she’d been taken in to hospital on the Tuesday, and they had diagnosed on that Friday, that she had terminal cancer, secondary cancer of the liver and possibly the blood, but they didn’t know where the primary cancer was. 8 days later, we managed to get her back as her insurance was wonderful, and the air ambulance flew her to Southmead hospital in Bristol. So we got to see her, and she died on the Wednesday- 12 days after diagnosis she was dead. Obviously, it was a massive shock to us all, as she was only 79 and her parents had lived to 93 and 89 so we all thought she was fire-proof. She’d never shown any sign of any serious illness and she was fit and slim and healthy.
Her funeral was 11th October 2019, and after the shock, I thought I have to do something. I’d always wanted to get back into swimming because I’d done the Swimathon and always been a swimmer, but for many reasons, I’d put off going back. I’d taken part in Swimathon back in 1996, when I was obviously a lot younger!
I looked up the Swimathon page and then when it said it was for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie, I thought now that’s exactly it then, I’ve got to do it. So I did! So I committed to it and joined the local pool up the road and basically, within a few weeks, I was going 5-6 times a week. In the end I was going every single day.
I joined the pool and started training straight away. It was the 11th November – I think I did something like 60 lengths that time. I built it up to 80 then 100, by February I was able to do the full distance without a problem, which was 200 lengths of a 25m pool. I did all that, because Mum had died of cancer, and obviously we all get affected by it, and people who have had family members affected by it. Cancer Research UK I knew loads about anyway, and Marie Curie I was slightly aware of what they did, but the care that Mum got, especially the palliative care Mum received at Southmead hospital, end of life stuff effectively, it wasn’t from Marie Curie, but it was from NHS in the same field and it was so wonderful. I thought there must be some way I can give something back, and when Swimathon was for those two charities, it was a no-brainer for me.
Marie Curie is a wonderful charity, and irrelevant whether it was Marie Curie or not, it was still like-minded, dedicated professional people. The people who looked after Mum in those last few days were some of the kindest, most gentle professionals dignified people that I’ve ever met. They treated my Mum with dignity and care and respect, and I’ll never ever forget that, and that’s really the reason for it (Swimathon).
My Mum was a Glaswegian, and she moved with my Grandfather’s job, to Bristol, when she was 15. She moved to Hampshire for a few years, but in 1969 she moved back to Bristol after her divorce. We lived with my Grandparents for a few years, which meant we always remained a very very strong and tight-knit family. They were the bosses of the family! Mum got a job in the Civil Service and retired when she was 60. She kept herself very busy – when she was younger she did a load of amateur dramatics stuff; through my brother’s school, as they had an amateur dramatics society. She did a pantomime every year and a couple of other things, it was always good fun. She did it until she was in her 50’s, so long after my brother had left the school- she really enjoyed that.
She helped run a business they set-up, a fancy dress shop, partly because of what she’d done in the past, she’d make a lot of the costumes for the amateur dramatics stuff. Brian is incredibly skilful with his hands, anything with electronics, plumbing, carpentry, and he made the sets for the amateur dramatic group for a considerable time. Up until recently he made his own reindeer for the garden at Christmas!
Mum was a very gentle soul, she loved to be with people, not the centre of attention, she just loved having people around her, whether that was family or friends. To her, that was her idea of absolute heaven. was to be around people, so she always was. She would have long holidays, with just her and Brian, and they’d be happy with their own company, because they’d go out for long walks and such. I think, when they were in Tenerife, they might accidentally find a bar at 12 o’clock, and then go for a little walk, and then find somewhere for lunch, which would have a bar at 2pm! Nothing unusual for a Glaswegian!
She was a gentle and loving lady, and she left a big hole in a lot of our hearts when she left, but she will never be forgotten. We still celebrate her life now. When it was a year to the day that she’d died, we were out – it was a time when we were allowed to, so me and my wife, my brother and his wife and my Step Father, we all went out for a meal. We see one another regularly as we all live in Bristol. We regularly talk about her, it’s not a subject that is taboo, and it’ll often be – do you remember when she did that – that sort of thing. She is remembered very fondly by an awful lot of people. That can be reflected in her funeral, where it was standing room only in the Crematorium.
I didn’t notice it so much, as I grew up with her accent, but people she would meet would say she still had her Glaswegian accent. Her Mother, my Grandmother, was from the Gorbals, a real rough part of Glasgow when she was growing up, and she never lost her accent! 80, 90 years old and still a really strong East Glasgow accent, really quite strong.
I wanted to raise money for cancer charities, and when I googled Swimathon and saw that it was for Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie, that was it for me. It was doing something I liked, and something I could get back into, and doing it for two great charities.
I last did Swimathon when I was young, fit and not riddled with arthritis in my leg. The little pool and gym I joined is a little Council gym, and is a 15-20 minute walk away. The walk there and back was my warm up and down, which was ideal. From the moment I went in there, the staff were really friendly. The facilities were dated, but the swimming pool was clean and the showers worked! I found out when the lane swimming was, I put it into my phone, until it was ingrained in me what times I could go swimming!
I started in the medium lane and did that for several weeks, until one of the lifeguards said to me to go into the fast lane. I didn’t think I was ready, but the lifeguard said they’d been watching me, and I was just as fast as those in the fast lane. That gave me more motivation to push myself, so I wasn’t holding people up. It gave me the added impetus to train harder. The ultimate thing was that I was enjoying getting fit again, it did me the world of good for my physical health. I had a really bad football accident in 2003, quadruple fracture to my right tibia and fibula and that’s where I got the arthritis. It also was helping out with other muscular stuff and bad posture, as I do a sedentary job and don’t get up and walk about enough.
It also helped out with mental health; Mum having died in the September and me starting this in the middle of November, it was still quite raw. The fact that there was something tangible at the end of it, and the two charities would be getting however much I raised, in a selfish way there was a fitness aspect, but then it was something I could say I’d done it.
I had tremendous support from my wife – she joined the gym as well, so it really worked out well for us both. Quite often we’d go up together. I ended up going 6 to 7 times a week, I got to know quite a few of the swimmers, a few of them were training for the same thing, and the lifeguards were asking me how I was getting on, what time I was aiming for and when I was going to do the full distance. So my first aim was to do it under 2 hours. In 1996 I’d done it in 1 hour and 43 minutes, and I ended up doing it 2 minutes slower than 1996! Which wasn’t bad going! I pushed myself, thoroughly enjoyed it, got fit and lost a bit of mid-50s beer gut!
I love swimming, but there was always a reason I never got back into it, holidays, bit cold out, don’t want to get wet, so I’d left for years. I used to go with my son, but then he got good at it, so he went to a Swimming Club, so I’d take him to that, but not swim myself. There was always an excuse, but once I got back into it, I’d look forward, throughout the day to going swimming that evening, or if it was at lunchtime, or getting up on a Sunday morning to go. It was something to really look forward to.
I put the post on Facebook with my Just Giving page, and in the very first day, there were loads of money going on – people were very generous. If people had invested time and money, I knew they were genuine friends and family, and they would have known my Mum. A dear friend at work said she could only a fiver, but that meant as much to me as someone who is loaded giving a couple of hundred quid.
I thought I’d do an update each week, on a Sunday, when I was doing my longest swim. A lot of people had said “I can’t afford to sponsor you this month, remind me next month”, so I did! I tarted myself round work, and sent an email to everyone in the building at work, and a load of people from there donated. I’m a season ticket holder at Bristol Rovers FC, and am part of an internet forum for the club, so I put the link on there and people donated, some of whom I may have seen at football, but I don’t know the names of these people. People are inherently good, so if they think there is something they can do that might help, that might do a little bit of good, then people are generous. I never once felt like it was begging, I just put an update on, and said if anyone has the will or inclination, then please give what you can.
This year, I was supposed to have done my 5k on 27th March, but when we were getting near lockdown, Swimathon said you could do it in your own time. So I went on Thursday 19th March, and thought ‘I’ll see how I get on’ and I did the whole distance. I had done the distance previously, but this was in the time period Swimathon had said you could do it. Then on the Friday, which was the very last day the pools were open, there was about 2 of us in the pool, and I did it a minute quicker! Had the pool been open on the Saturday, I would have done it again, and know that I could of. I would actually sign up for a longer distance than that.