In just a few days’ time, Mandy Cullen, from Biggin Hill in Kent, is taking on the ultimate stair climbing event, the Stadium Challenge. She will be raising money in memory of family friend Jess, who received end-of-life care and support from Shooting Star Children’s Hospices.
Despite never taking on a challenge like it, Mandy is channelling Jess’ mantra, “If anyone was worrying about her or feeling anxious Jess would say to us ‘Don’t worry. It’s a waste of a day – so stop!’ So that’s what I plan to do when taking on the Stadium Challenge,” explains Mandy.
Jess sadly died in September last year, just a month before her 11th birthday.
Jess suffered from Neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that mostly affects babies and young children. She was diagnosed when she was just 3 years old. “Jess’ life was a real rollercoaster. Over the years following her diagnosis she went from going into spontaneous remission, to relapsing five times and had numerous different treatments and trials with the fabulous team at Great Ormond Street; despite all of this we ultimately received the devastating news that the cancer had returned and there was nothing more they could do.”
Mandy was asked by Jess’ family if she could be in charge of her twitter account in order to help raise as much awareness about the disease and money for specialist treatment. “We initially set it up to raise as much as we could so Jess could receive specialist treatment in America. Over the years the support we had and still receive from people across the world is amazing,” said Mandy. When Jess’ prognosis changed, Mandy used the platform to help create special memories for her. “We had messages from her favourite singers like Megan Trainor, Katy Perry, and even a video from Ed Sheeran.”
Jess and her family were referred to Shooting Star Children’s Hospices at the beginning of 2018, providing much needed support to not only Jess, but to her brother Taylor and sister Mia. With Jess bed bound, the Hospice at Home team would visit her at home to help her grandparents with symptom management and ensure she was comfortable. Her brother and sister had the opportunity to come to the charity’s Hampton hospice, Shooting Star House to take advantage of their siblings’ days and therapies, giving them an opportunity to explore and express their feelings.
“Six months on since Jess has died, her family are very much still supported by Shooting Star Children’s Hospices. Taylor, Jess’ brother has recently started group therapy which is held at the hospice. It’s a chance for him to explore his feelings, take part in activities and be with other siblings going through the same situation.”
“When I heard about the Stadium Challenge I thought this is something I could do for them. I was set to do it on my own, but when I mentioned it to my son’s, Dan and Joe, and what it was for, they said they’d love to do it with me!” said Mandy. “What’s even more special is that it’s taking place on the same day as Taylor, Jess’ brother’s birthday – so even more reason to celebrate and enjoy it!”
The first of its kind in England, the Stadium Challenge is giving participants the chance to take on the iconic Twickenham Stadium and its thousands of steps this weekend, on Saturday 23 March.
The event is the charity’s biggest climbing challenge to date, and marks the first time Twickenham Stadium has ever hosted such an event. Every penny raised will go towards supporting the charity’s work at their two hospices, Shooting Star House, which is supporting Jess’ family, and Christopher’s in Guildford, as well as their Hospice at Home service which provides over 200 family visits every month.
Emma Edwards, Challenge Events Fundraiser at Shooting Star Children’s Hospices said, “The Stadium Challenge is taking place to hopefully raise as much as we can in order for us to continue to support family’s just like Jess’. In this current financial climate it’s becoming increasingly challenging to raise funds in order to continue to provide our service. We simply couldn’t provide the care that is so desperately needed to families across Surrey and London without our amazing supporters – so can’t thank Mandy and her son’s enough for signing up and taking part! We look forward to cheering them on at Twickenham Stadium this weekend!”
We need your help to continue to make every moment count for family’s like Jess’, please donate today. And if this has inspired you to step up and take on a challenge in aid of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, why not visit our Challenge Events page to find out more!