Carolyn is one of a number of Willow Champions who proudly spread the word about Special Days. In our latest blog post she explains how she first became aware of our work, how this ultimately resulted in a Special Day for a family member of her own and how she's running the London Marathon next weekend to create more...

"Back in 2013, one of my work colleagues asked if anyone fancied 'getting fit in the park' and our little running group was formed. At first I could hardly run 100 yards before I had to stop and catch my breath as I'm asthmatic, but I persevered.

Lucy, our leading light, felt we should have something to aim for to give us a purpose for our running and suggested the Willow 10K at Hatfield House. About 12 of us signed up and at the event my love for Willow started, as I listened to a Special Day beneficiary speak about their experience.

The following year some of us signed up again and the year after that my friend Joan and I entered the Willow 10k once more. It was at this run that the Willow CEO told us both about the new Willow shop in Stevenage that had just opened. A couple of days later we ran to the shop and signed up as volunteers and it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. I work on a Tuesday morning and if I'm free and they need an extra pair of hands, I help cover other shifts.

It was just after I started volunteering that we received the devastating news that our nephew Tom was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. I didn't want to upset him, but I explained that I helped at Willow and that he might be a suitable candidate for a Willow Special Day. He was so positive about everything to do with his illness and he liked the idea of a Special Day, so he applied.

Tom had 6 months of chemotherapy and I was able to be his 'chemo buddy' twice and it was heart-breaking to see what he had to endure. During this time his Special Day application was approved and he went with his girlfriend Holly to Heston Blumenthal's restaurant 'The Fat Duck'. They had an amazing evening and it came at just the right time as he was losing his hair and his eye brows had fallen out (Holly had to use eye brow pencil on him) and he had just one more chemo session to face.

I watched Tom throughout his illness and when he shared the memories of his Special Day, I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to make Special Days possible for other seriously ill young adults. By becoming a Willow Champion I can spread the word and make sure more people understand what Willow is all about.

I have always said I would never take part in a marathon, but when I realised I could do it for Willow, I thought "Well it’s now or never", so I applied for a place and got one!  My reason for taking part is to raise as much money as I can for a charity I am passionate about. It is not about the medal (although that will be amazing), it is about making sure the money I raise helps provide more Special Days for all the seriously ill young adults out there. Having watched someone close go through what Tom did, it makes such an impact on you personally.

Through Willow I have met some truly wonderful people, both at Head Office and at Willow events, and I'm honoured to call them friends.

Looking ahead, I'm hoping to give a talk to the 6th form at the school where I invigilate. They are at an age where, heaven forbid, they might find themselves or someone they know in need of a Special Day. I've discovered that a lot of people have never heard of Willow and even customers who come into the shop often ask, 'What exactly is Willow?' Now I am confident to share my knowledge with them."

If you have been inspired and would like to find out more about being a Willow Champion, please visit our Champion page or call Chris in our Community Team on 01707 259777 (option 2.)

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