Meet the team: Tessa

In our final 'meet the team' section, we hear from Annabel's best friend Tessa, who also happens to be the Annabel's Angels secretary. Take it away Tessa.... Hi, I’m Tessa and I live in Littleover, Derby with my husband Chris and two cheeky young daughters, Charlotte (7) and Isobel (very nearly 4). I was born in Derby and have lived here for most of my life apart from when I was studying at University. I work as a Social Worker/Care Manager in the Younger Adults Team at the Council House in Derby. I have worked there for 14 years and now feel I am part of the furniture! I find the work very rewarding, challenging but stressful!

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How did you get involved with Annabel's Angels?

I met Simon through Annabel who was my closest friend, having met her whilst we were both studying ‘A’ levels at Wilmorton College. We developed a special friendship having a mutual sense of humour and zest for life, sharing lots of laughs along the way. I feel so fortunate having being part of her life as she was such a beautiful and selfless person. I was devastated when she passed away and I miss her every day.  But what I have got which will never be taken away from me are the fond memories I have of her. Both Annabel and Simon have been a large and significant part of my life and since Annabel’s tragic death Simon and I have become closer friends. When Simon asked me to be part of Annabel’s Angels I jumped at the chance because I wanted to be part of such a worthy cause, helping and supporting people affected by cancer which also keeps Annabel’s memory alive.

I am so proud and privileged to be part of this group and this also allows me/AA’s the opportunity to continue Annabel’s legacy, continuing to support people affected by cancer like Annabel selflessly did when she was suffering pain and undergoing treatment.

Tessa AA How involved are you/what do you do?

I am the secretary of Annabel’s Angels and I try to get involved as much as possible in events and meetings. I feel very honoured to be given this role and even though I am not actively involved like other people are (who I find very inspirational), I feel I am doing as much as I can to make Annabel Angel’s a success. I would love to be more involved but I find it difficult juggling work and family and I feel I haven’t got the knowledge and expertise like other members have. I type minutes of our bi-monthly meetings and also support Simon as much as I can in offering help and advice, participating in fundraising events, presentations and development meetings with other agencies.


Give an example of what you’ve done and what you’ve learnt since getting involved.

I do as much as I can to become involved in any fundraising opportunities as I find it extremely rewarding, enjoyable and fulfilling. I take part in all that I can; including fundraising bag packs, bucket collections at Pride Park, setting up and co-ordinating the team for the Race for Life last July, and helping towards the charity auction in Derby. To be part of this group has made me realise how many people have or know people who have been affected by cancer. I hear lots of inspirational stories how even cancer sufferers like Annabel have reached out to support others. This I feel has helped me in becoming a better and less selfish person, and I've learnt not to take life for granted. I also lost my Mum to cancer last year and in reflecting upon this it makes me more determined to develop this group further and for it to become a successful charity.


How do you see Annabel’s Angels progressing?

Annabel’s Angels has been set up since May 2013.  It has been a very successful year, considering how small the group is, and it's very positive to hear how nationwide the group has become. This I feel would not have been made possible without Simon's dedication and enthusiasm. I wish I shared his traits! He and other members have driven this group to be a success and I strongly believe that it will continue to thrive. Becoming a fully registered charitable trust will help us thrive even more too. It will give us more credence and illustrate how dedicated we are in aiming to improve the quality of lives of people affected by cancer and their carers. I have every belief that we will become a successful charity and I am proud to be part of it

Tessa x

Meet the team: Matt

In this week's meet the team, we hear from Matt, or as we like to call him, the tea boy. He's one of those guys who always seems to know someone to help with something, no matter what the issue is. A fundraiser, a fixer. Read on: Who are you?

I'm Matt, Simon's better looking brother. I'm 36 years old and I live in Derby with my amazing wife Elle and two awesome boys Ethan and Ashton. I've been working in logistics at Rolls-Royce for almost ten years now. My wife Elle works at Pride Veterinary Centre and my two boys attend Chellaston junior and Chellaston infant school and are both doing pretty well. These guys are my world.

I love football. I co-run a local football team and love watching the Rams at the stadium when I can, and Chelsea on the box. I love boxing too. I'd love to see a big fight in Las Vegas one day. I have a cross breed dog called Nikita who is now 13 years old but still going strong even if a little scatty.

How did I get involved?

As soon as my brother decided to go ahead with the Annabel's Angels idea I was 100% behind him and I always will be. Losing my sister-in-law Annabel hit me and all of us hard, and I can't imagine what my brother went through. I have so much respect,admiration and pride towards him. He is such an inspirational person and drives on others as did Annabel and its a testament to them both to gather such a great team with a vast amount of different skills. Obviously with being Simon's brother I will support him in anything he does so this was obviously a NO brainer.

How involved are you/ what do you do?

To be truly honest I am not as hands on as some of the other guys (who are amazing) but I attend every meeting and I am chief tea maker. I also sample and make sure all the biscuits and cakes are edible for the other members. I enjoy that part of the role. I chip in with the odd ideas for fundraising and also attend the community events  whenever I can. I like to think I have lots of contacts in the local area, people and businesses to call upon for support.

How do I think we are doing and what have we achieved?

For saying we are only approaching our first year it has been an amazing, emotional and truly fullfilling year. We have achieved so much from setting up all the Race for life events around the UK, my brother and his boys Will and Sam opening the Derby Race for life, the bucket collection at the Derby v Leeds game, bag packs at Asda, fun days at Betty's Farm, ongoing donations, sales and many more. One of the highlights for me was to be asked along with nine other local causes and charities to take part in the Guinness world record Grand Charity auction at the Westfield. This was such a privilege as we are such a new charity and any others could have been asked. But for me the highlight was the generosity of the people who donated all the prizes and lots to our cause ( it was truly unbelievable). To be tasked with getting 150 lots and already 4-5 months behind everybody else was always going to be difficult for us. But we managed to make the right contacts and pull the donations in.  Helping out on the day with our team and the volunteers from the other charities is something I will never forget.

But the proudest moment/moments have definitely been the 'giving back to others'. From the money we have raised through fund-raising, we have now provided the combined day unit with funding towards some new blood pumps, and also provided the Derby Breast Cancer Support Group with sufficient funds to purchase a range of specialist mastectomy bras ( around 35 ) for women post surgery. We will be passing on more funding to local groups in the coming months so WATCH THIS SPACE! My own personal highlight was running the four X runner 10k obtacle courses throughout 2013. Boy, was this tough, not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. I decided to raise money and awareness for Macmillan Cancer Support who helped Annabel so much during her cancer journey. With so much generosity from friends, family and work colleagues I raised a total of £1237 which I am very proud of.Bro

How do I see Annabel's Angels progressing?

I see Annabel's Angels progressing rapidly this year. We have a few more members to add to the committee team and we are looking at becoming an official charity later this year. We have loads more fundraising events happening including several bag packs at Asda, the Race for Life events, a firewalk, a Ben Nevis climb. There's even talk of a skydive. So watch this space. I would just like to keep giving back and helping any way I can with the charity and building on the relationships that we have with our friends Macmillan Cancer Support, the combined day unit, Derby Breast Cancer Support Group, Mummy's Star and hopefully many more.

I would also like to help people who are in different situations to my brother, e.g, single parents with cancer, people with cancer who might not have anyone to talk to, to help them share their thoughts, questions etc and to help families address the financial impact of living with cancer. Don't get me wrong, what my brother went through and still goes through from time to time is horrific and trust me I have witnessed it, but he has a large network of family and friends around him to get him to where he is today. But not everybody has that and they need that support and others to talk to, and hopefully we can do something to help address that. We need to remember too that it's not just the cancer patient going through hell, but also the husband/wife/partner/parent who automatically becomes a carer overnight and the worst case scenario if the person passes away means it's the husband/wife/kids that need some kind of support.

I hope I haven't bored anyone with this ramble. If you feel you could add to the team, have some ideas or just need a chat then please like and message the Annabel's Angels Facebook page. We'll be pleased to hear from you.

Here's to an exciting and hopefully great 2014.

Thanks for everybody that has supported, and is supporting, our charity, and to those who are helping my brother and the kids, and looking out for others affected by cancer. Let's keep it going.

Forever grateful

Matt.:-) X

Meet the team - Denise

In this week's meet the team, it's the lovely Denise's turn to share her story about how and why she's involved with the charity. I too, like Dorothee and Ali, became a member of Annabel's Angels at the beginning of 2013 after meeting Annabel and the girls on the Macmillan forum in 2012 after we were all diagnosed with breast cancer.

After the initial feeling of terror and fear of dying I composed myself and gave myself a good talking to. With the help and support of a wonderful husband, great friends and family, I began the treatment journey that would absorb nearly a year of my life.

The old me was slowly disappearing and the new me has taken quite some time to get used to and is still evolving.

But out of this awful situation I found myself in, I made new friends with other ladies going through a very similar treatment plan experience to me on the Macmillan forum. So many offered support and comfort on the Macmillan chat forum.....we laughed, we cried, gave great advice and support and slowly grew new friendships online which we called “the class of 2012”.

The worst part online for me was seeing Annie40 as a title on a new thread and I had this awful feeling, which sadly was confirmed when I read that she had lost her battle with this awful disease. All I could think about was her husband, Simon, the children and her family and friends. Plus I was concerned as to how this would impact on all my lovely friends brought it home to us all the reality and confirmation that this disease is a killer.

But 2013 was a new year which started with the amazing creation of Annabel’s Angels.............and how proud I am to be an angel!

Ali started the ball rolling with the Race For Life idea and all of our teams running under the name of Annabel’s Angels. Then all the great work and vision that Simon wanted from Annabel’s Angels has paid off through lots and lots of hard work during 2013.

My contribution came from not only getting a team together for Race For Life in Folkestone, but lots of craft fairs and fundraising events to help raise as much money as possible for such a worthy cause.

My organisational skills came into play when Simon asked if I would catalogue all the auction lots for the Guinness World Record Charity Auction event that Annabel’s Angels had been invited to join, which took place at the end of November in Derby. What a challenge this was, especially as my chemo brain was really bad, I hadn’t created a spreadsheet in over 18 months and where were we going to get 150 auction lots from in such a short space of time? But I didn’t want to let Simon down, as this could be the biggest fundraising event of the year, I had to think logically about who to contact to ask for items to sell. My friends and family didn’t disappoint.....items started rolling in....phew. What an amazing event this was raising thousands of pounds for the 10 charities and causes.

Annabel's Angels meet the team

What do I want from 2014..........well in February I will be two years on from diagnosis.......the breast cancer treatment has left it’s toll on my body and I am hoping to have an operation in the new year to help with my lymphoedema in my right arm. I am taking my hubby on a dream holiday to Canada, which will be out of this world plus I will also continue fundraising throughout the year and support Annabel’s Angels in any way I can.

One thing being diagnosed has taught me is never to take anything for granted because at any moment in time things can change. So I promise to share my love of life with as many people I can and have lots of wonderful times ahead.

Thank you

Denise xxx




Meet the team - Ali

In this weeks episode of meet the team, we say hello to Alison Gordon, or Ali as many of us will know her.   

December is often a reflective time and as we approach the anniversary of Annabel’s death, I’d like to share how someone I’d never met in person had such a profound effect on my life and the incredible things we’ve achieved in this first year since the development of Annabel’s Angels in January.

When they said life begins at 40, I was pretty sure being diagnosed with Breast Cancer wasn't what they meant. Like most women I was busy juggling my life, kids, career, and friends.

Breast Cancer Awareness month came and went in its pink flurry and I'm ashamed to admit I didn't know what the signs and symptoms of breast cancer were. Could knowing this have made a difference? Quite possibly. So when I detected a lump in my breast after being injured in a martial arts lesson I wasn't unduly concerned. I mean I felt well, had no family history, exercised regularly and wasn't overweight, all of those factors surely meant it wouldn't be serious? Sounds terribly naïve now.

I can safely say, exercise saved my life, had I never been injured – maybe I’d never have detected the lump that was clearly deeply rooted and only thrust to the surface in a freak accident. That being said I still took another two weeks before I went to my Gp as my lack of awareness of symptoms of cancer and perhaps my selfless attitude, putting everything and everyone before me meant I was in no rush. I cannot urge anyone reading this to not make the same decisions as me and if you find anything unusual for you, act upon it promptly.

So from May 2012, my life changed, I started my ‘cancer career break,’ which was a bit of an extreme way to escape the huge pressures at work, working within Adults Social Care management I’d often dreamt of taking a year out and travelling in the months leading up to my diagnosis. Hmmm, 9 months out on a cancer journey is not quite the same. My treatment started in June 2012, including a mastectomy, followed by 6 cycles of chemotherapy that ended by Christmas 2012, radiotherapy followed into February 2013 and finally being prescribed hormonal therapy for the next 5 years.

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Being diagnosed with cancer can be a mine field, after the knee buckling shock and fog of the initial diagnosis lifts, you can be left with many unanswered questions and seemingly no one to turn to. Shortly after being diagnosed I discovered Macmillan Community Forum and initially started blogging as an outlet, before finding a breast cancer group. The women I met, my Macland mates, Annabel, Dorothee, Denise and many others really understood where you were coming from. We became the Class of 2012, as we’d all been diagnosed at similar times and could share, relate and help one another through the unsteady path of uncertainty that cancer brings. There are silver linings to a diagnosis, the support these new friends from all over the country can bring and are there with you through every milestone and every symptom.

However not everyone graduates from Boot Camp or Tanning, as Dorothee calls them.  Breast cancer still kills women, despite research and treatment now available.  Sadly our friend Annabel, amongst others didn’t graduate with us, however her good nature and caring qualities towards others has inspired many people in what has been an action packed year.

I'd like to reassure anyone that worries about being diagnosed with Breast Cancer , that although at the beginning it seems overwhelming and that things may never be the same, it hasn't ruined my life or prevented me from participating or living life to the full, sure there are challenges, and things to be worked through, but when isn’t there ?  I’m also aware that this is my subjective experience and many others may have a different experience.

In 2013, like Dorothee, I’ve set myself physical challenges, represented Annabel’s Angels at Race for Life 10K London and 5k in Derby, entered Moonwalk, returned to my beloved mixed martial arts and learnt to surf.

I returned to work full time and spent the summer travelling Europe. I think the sporting challenges perhaps are an act of defiance, a two finger salute to cancer, you will not interrupt my life further, and almost look what I can do now, and many people find new passions or seek adventures.

Life beyond cancer is at times daunting, of course nothing is guaranteed, and you have to work around fears of recurrence and learn to trust your body again. In many ways you have a greater appreciation of life and what matters most. It's also fair to say over time, things settle back into a new normal, and you can discover a new found confidence, that again varies and needs time. Repair, restore, recover – reboot are vital and there really is no time specific period this takes, it takes the time it needs to and like grief fluctuates.

In January 2013 I promised I would dedicate the coming year to Annabel and I was fuelled with determination to make a difference.

My initial aim – getting a clean bill of health and completing treatment. Followed swiftly with aims of challenging people’s perception of cancer, spreading awareness about the benefits of early detection, and helping others diagnosed to access peer support which isn’t readily available throughout the UK. As the year has progressed we’ve worked together to explore what’s available and fundraise to develop supportive services for people diagnosed with cancer in Annabel’s home town of Derby. We developed a peer support Facebook group available to anyone diagnosed as well as our community page.

I’ve also worked with London Health Improvement Board, Cancer Programme as an Exemplary Cancer Activist to begin to train others to raise awareness of early detection in London areas.  To say I’m passionate about change would be an understatement.

Looking back on 2013, I feel proud of our accomplishments and excited by our aims for the coming year. Do you dare to make a difference too? Can you help us to help others?