Monday, 23 December 2013
Every now and again you meet one of those people who touches something inside of you; a person who has the capability to inspire you and who does something that lives on for a long time in your memory. Let me tell you a little about Louise Miller for she is one who I will walk with forever.
When I first went "long", beyond the standard distance of an Ironman and into the uncharted regions of the Double Ironman, I had asked people to lend me their support. "Text me whenever you can", I implored anyone who would listen, rather pitifully. "Help me get through the night. Your texts mean a lot to me." I really did mean it and I expected to feel pretty lonely and pretty scared as I knew that I would be cycling well into the small hours and into the following morning on the 224 mile ride.
Sure enough people responded and sent text after text. As I cycled around I could hear my phone "pinging" in my jacket pocket. Between about 10pm and Midnight the messages reached a crescendo as people got ready for bed or crashed in from the pub. The majority of messages ran something like "Rather you than me" and I could see why they may think that a warm bed was preferable to endless miles on a bike at night. But as the night settled into silence I began to appreciate the uniqueness of my position. The dark, and quiet whirring of the chain became a calming mantra as my thoughts drifted from one island of topic to another. Then at about 3.00 am my phone pinged. I was intrigued and in the enshrouding darkness I stopped my bike, fished my phone out and read the message. It was from Louise Miller.
I had employed Louise as PR Officer for the hospice that I worked at. She was totally unqualified for the job, but every facet of her nature made it impossible not view her as a worthy addition to any place - work or social. But, as I was on the phone to her making a verbal job offer I noticed that she had filled in the section that asked how much time she had off through illness with the cryptic comment "nothing apart from the obvious". When I asked her about this she told me that she had been a cancer patient and had actually used some of the very hospice services that she would now be promoting. "It's okay," she said "I feel great and the cancer has gone".
For the next two years she was an integral part of the team. She just got on with people and drew them close to our work. She had a serenity and poise about her that meant she rose above any standard office politics. One of those special people. Very special. I only saw her knocked off balance the one time. It was a Monday morning and she knocked on my office door and sat down breathless. She was ashen faced and had aged overnight. "I have lumps in my neck, Paul. Can I take some time off to see my specialist?" Typical Louise. Even in a situation that threatened her mortality she wanted to check I was okay with her taking time off.
The next three years were hard for her. The cancer never abated and she never gave up. Cancer can rarely have had to deal with such resilience, such humour and such acceptance. She put all of our problems into perspective. In her department she was the person who never moaned, never let the job get on top of her. During the course of an ill-judged merger that created massive stress, she rose above all the petty politics and made us all look hard at our actions. Cancer was an inconvenience that needed to be patronised, but wasn't going to hamper Louise's life. Even when it had spread to her bones and then into her brain she continued to come into work and behave normally whilst acknowledging that she had to undergo treatment and wouldn't "for the time being" be on top form. Louise never wanted to let on what this insidious disease was doing to her.
And so at 3 o'clock in the morning I read her message. This is what it said:
"Paul, I so admire what you do. You are mad and an inspiration. Try not to stop. Sometimes I get really frightened. It all seems so hard. Keep going."
It was the only time she ever acknowledged any fear or doubt. I still had another 70 miles to cycle, and then a 52 mile run to complete the event. I had been going for 18 hours and had another 15 hours of exercise ahead of me. But I knew, once I had read that text, that nothing was going to make me stop. What a piffling challenge I had to face compared to my lovely friend and colleague, Louise.
Louise died on the 8th December 2013. She died at home surrounded by her family.