27th May 1981 – 17th September 2021
This isn’t an obituary – more of a story.
In the summer of 1991, when my sister Zoe was 10 and I was 7, she was diagnosed with leukaemia. The next few years were very much dominated by leukaemia; in and out of school, long stays in St James’ Hospital in Leeds, parents taking it in turns to be there or at home, late-night dashes to the hospital if her temperature spiked. Overall she responded well to chemotherapy, and at one point went into remission. It did come back though, and the second time round she had chemo, radiotherapy, and a transplant with my bone marrow. Fairly sure that happened in ‘94/’95, and by the time I joined her at high school in September 1995 things were more or less back to ‘normal’.
During her treatment our family was lucky enough to go on a couple of holidays thanks to Candlelighters – a Leeds-based charity supporting families of children with cancer. They had a couple of chalets at two holiday parks on the East Yorkshire coast that families could use for a break at a time when funds were often very stretched. One of the chalets was built on an episode of the 90s TV show Challenge Anneka, if you remember that!
Candlelighters did all sorts of other stuff to help, so when a local group of women heard about Zoe’s condition and how our family had been supported by the charity, they wanted to fundraise. They did this by raffling off a colour TV – I like that it specifically states colour! I reckon £1450 is a hefty amount to be raised even by today’s standards.
The accompanying photo is from what I think of as ‘The Era of the Big Cheque’. Back when local newspapers sang the praises of fundraising efforts and the good things that were happening locally. Images such as this were commonplace in local news on print and screen (original photo caption further down).
Over recent years it’s often irked me that we don’t see much of that anymore, or much of anything positive at all. It’s safe to say that my experiences when I was younger made me really appreciate the effort people put into fundraising and doing good things. This was not the only Big Cheque handed over as a result of Zoe’s illness – there were many. Some even paid for our family to take a once in a lifetime trip to swim with dolphins, my sister’s wish.
A desire to see more positive news and reporting on fundraising efforts was a big part of why I jumped so eagerly into co-creating the Huddersfield Times we’ve become over the last (almost) ten months. The ‘Big Cheque’ might never make a comeback, but the fundraising is still going on. The people behind it deserve recognition.
Zoe’s battle against cancer left a big impression on her body, leaving her with a plethora of health issues that seemed to mount up more and more. When covid came along I was terrified that she’d catch it and she wouldn’t survive. Ironically, I was the one who caught it first and was very ill with it – she found out she had it by chance earlier this year, and was completely asymptomatic! That was such a big relief.
But it wasn’t to last. Not all that long ago, she found out she had cancer again. The plan was that she’d have surgery to remove it, but by the time everything that needed doing was done (such as making sure she’d survive the surgery), it had spread too much. Very soon afterwards, on September 4th, she went dramatically downhill and spent 13 days on end of life care before passing away early in the morning on September 17th 2021.
I’m not going to lie and say we were the closest of sisters. We were like chalk and cheese. Pretty much since I came into the world, we had completely different interests. She loved watching the soaps, I was a bookworm. She adored horse riding, I found it terribly dull and got into drama. Favourite bands, clothing, food, subjects at school, activities, we just didn’t meet on anything. But that doesn’t break a sisterly bond. We always had each other no matter what.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading all this. In a very roundabout way, my sister is the reason we’re here on this page together, and it felt fitting to tell others about her, and remember her, on it.
Zoe Featherstone, of Birkby (front, left) receives a cheque for £1,450 on behalf of the Candlelighters children’s charity, which raises money for the care of sufferers from leukaemia and for research into the condition. The group of women friends from Huddersfield raised the money by raffling a colour TV. They moved into action after hearing the daughter of a child minder was suffering from leukaemia. Also pictured are: (from back left) Mrs Linda Featherstone, holding Joanne Stewart, Mrs Joan Hollingworth and Mrs Janice Stewart, and (front) Kimberley Featherstone and Mrs Stephanie Saward. 22nd April 1992
Many thanks to Reach Photosales for kindly granting me permission to use this photo on the page. They didn’t have to, but they did it anyway, and I’m really grateful.