My beautiful, kind, bright, fun, sparkly friend Kate died on 26th October. Today was her memorial service, and I was honoured to be asked to contribute to it. I found it difficult to write about Kate, because it felt like no words were enough - she was truly one of the most amazing people I've ever met.
Less than a week after I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself last July, I started chatting to Kate online through the Younger Breast Cancer Network. Like anyone newly diagnosed with cancer, I was terrified. She realised I lived in Leicester and suggested we meet up, so we went for a drink a few days later. I will never forget that day because meeting Kate changed my life. All I could think when I went home that night was, "I want to be just like Kate". And that has stayed with me ever since.
In the couple of hours I spent in the pub with Kate that evening my whole perspective changed. It went from one of fear, dread and assumptions that I'd be leaving my bed only for visits to the hospital, to one of hope, positivity and determination that like Kate, I'd be out and about and living my life to the full. She was truly inspirational. Kate had not quite finished her initial cancer treatment herself at this point- she was still having radiotherapy. But you wouldn't know it. I'm sure that everyone here will know what I mean when I say I thought she sparkled. That incredible sparkle is what made Kate stand out in a crowd.
While I am the one stood here speaking, I am really doing this on behalf of the whole Younger Breast Cancer Network. YBCN has well over a thousand members, but there are a few who really stand out. Kate is one of those, and I know she has made so much difference to countless women, through her thoughtful posts, kind, supportive and positive comments, and funny, up front and honest blog. Myself and Laura along with many others all know how lucky we are to have really gotten to know Kate and be able to call her our friend.
Many of my happiest times over the last year have included Kate. As I think back I realise that most of them have involved drinking wine or cocktails and talking extensively about important matters such as men! Newly single for the first time in 12 years, I loved listening to Kate's stories of online dating! One in particular of course... I am so glad that Kate and Adam met - the first time I got to hear all about him was when Kate visited me in hospital at the beginning of January after I'd had surgery. It was early days but I could tell from Kate's complete inability to stop smiling that Mr Gibraltar was someone special. I mentioned to Adam that one of my favourite Kate moments is when she told me and Laura all about the art print he had bought her. Adam summed it up better than I could when he said "She was so kind but she also had that little bit of devil in her that I loved - I remember when she told me she hated the picture - I loved that honesty!" (Kate did absolutely wholeheartedly hate that picture!)
Alongside Kate's honesty and sparkle, one of the things that really stood out was her kindness and compassion. Kate was incredibly active on the YBCN forum, constantly reassuring others that treatment was do-able and that they'd get through it. As a friend she always remembered when you had something going on - a scan, a chemo appointment, a meeting with the oncologist. She'd always get in touch with words of encouragement and support.
She also gave great perspective. Kate told us about how when she was initially undergoing treatment for her primary breast cancer, she was in touch with another woman who had had a secondary diagnosis. This woman had told Kate that she regretted spending the time between primary and secondary diagnosis worrying so much and letting fear about cancer take over her life - even when she was well and not having any treatment. Kate took this on board, and made sure the rest of us did too. When she got her own secondary diagnosis, she told us how glad she was that she had made sure to live life to the full every single day, something that she absolutely continued to do.
I will think of Kate every day, and it will remind me to be bold, to be bright, to love with an open heart, and most importantly to have fun and enjoy life. None of us know how many days we have left. But I cannot think of any better way for each of us to honour Kate than by going away and making sure each one of them counts.