Couple raise £150,000 in son’s honour
- Credit: Matthew Usher
Michael and Wendy Foot have raised £150,000 in memory of their son Robert after he died of leukaemia more than 10 years ago. They told ANDREW PAPWORTH about how they created a fund in their son's honour.
'Nothing worse can happen to parents than to lose a child,' said Wendy Foot, mother of leukaemia sufferer Robert Foot, who died from the illness nearly 11 years ago.
'But it would be an insult to Robert to let it devastate our lives to an extent where we can't do anything else.'
And 11 years on from his death the couple have honoured their son's memory by reaching a £150,000 fundraising target for their charity the Robert Foot Memorial Leukaemia Fund.
Both Wendy and her husband Michael said they were shell-shocked when the highly-respected former Ministry of Defence civil servant, who had been working as a political adviser in Sierra Leone, died on Tuesday, November 5, 2002, aged just 33.
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Two years earlier, having been flown home ill from the African country to Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London, he had defiantly told his mother he would fight on.
'When he told us, it was devastating,' she added. 'I stayed with him and he was at that stage very upset at having to tell us. We just sat, holding hands and not saying much at all – just quietly coming to terms with it.'
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Having been diagnosed on, of all days, Friday, September 13, 2000, he phoned his mother a few days later to confirm his diagnosis – but said: 'I'm not giving up on this, mum.'
She replied: 'No, of course you're not – we'll be with you all the way.'
His father Michael added: 'Although it was frightening and horrible, for most of the last two years we lived with the possibility he would survive,' as Robert was not given a terminal diagnosis until the end.
He spent part of the next two years living with his parents in Folgate Lane, Walpole St Peter while going to Guy's and St Thomas' for treatment under the guidance of consultant oncologist Dr Robert Carr.
Having worked as a pharmacist, his then fiancé Kath knew a great deal about cancer treatment. Michael said she, Robert and Dr Carr had a 'rather special relationship' as they 'discussed every aspect of the treatment'.
Later Robert and Kath moved into a house in North Brink, where he increasingly attended the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn, for treatment, with Dr Peter Coates as his consultant. As radiology services were not available there, Robert also visited Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
However while Michael and Wendy were on a holiday in Italy, Robert had a relapse in his condition as was given a terminal diagnosis on, believe it or not, Friday, September 13, 2002 – two years to the day after his original diagnosis.
He and Kath had a wedding planned for later in the year near to hear home in Lancashire but wed earlier following the diagnosis, to ensure they had tied the knot by the time Mr Foot died.
His doctors made a last-ditch attempt to save him but to no avail.
'I can remember him saying: 'We didn't get our miracle, mum,'' Mrs Foot said.
His father added: 'It was absolutely desperate, awful. However there was this sense in his life that he had made a difference to people.
'He was 33 when he died. Why should it stop then? Why should he stop making a difference to people?'
In its early days the charity attracted some high profile support, with Lord Sir Gus O'Donnell, who went on become Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service, pledging support alongside General Sir David Richards, who later became head of the Army, and ex-Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon. All had known Mr Foot and were impressed by his work.
Over time the Robert Foot Memorial Leukaemia Fund has attracted a host of celebrity support, including from Sarah Brown, wife of ex-Prime Minister Gordon, Samantha Cameron, wife of the current Prime Minister, and the famous baker and television personality Mary Berry.
However much has come from ordinary members of the public touched by the cause and wanting to do everything they can to help the places where Robert was treated.
A beer festival in King's Lynn and a santa run in Downham Market are among the events where proceeds have been donated to the Fund and Wendy has also sold homemade jam to raise vital funds.
Robert's parents also discovered a series of unknown poems that he had written during his two-year illness, which they later published in a book entitled Fireworks – in memory of how Robert died on bonfire night, just as fireworks could be heard nearby.
To date, it has raised £150,000 – and the couple now want to keep the fund going long into the future and continue to raise money for patient comforts at Addenbrooke's, Guy's and St Thomas' and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn, to help pay for items where NHS funding is not available. 'This fund, it's what we do for Robert,' Mrs Foot said. 'We can't do anything else for him now, so it's very important to us.
'We like to talk about him and we like mentioning him. It is important to show our love for Robert and to make his life valuable today.'
To donate to the Robert Foot Memorial Leukaemia Fund, contact Michael and Wendy Foot on 01945 780468.