Sponsored swim to honour cancer mum

PUBLISHED: 16:00 31 August 2001 | UPDATED: 10:29 03 March 2010

THIS weekend a team of keen volunteers will unite for a fundraising exercise in the name of Jo Young, a spirited Woodbridge mother who died of cancer.

Here, her husband Simon talks poignantly to DEBBIE WATSON about the tough battle to accept such a tragic loss.

THIS weekend a team of keen volunteers will unite for a fundraising exercise in the name of Jo Young, a spirited Woodbridge mother who died of cancer.

Here, her husband Simon talks poignantly to DEBBIE WATSON about the tough battle to accept such a tragic loss.

IT should have been a time of celebration in the Young's Woodbridge household this week.

Gifts, cards and flowers should have lined the mantelpiece in recognition of a special family birthday.

For Jo – a friend, a mother, a trusted confidante – should have been marking her 38th birthday among the friends and the family who love her.

Instead, her husband and her two children will have honoured her birthday by placing flowers at her graveside.

Jo, a well-loved member of the community, lost her fight against cancer three months ago.

Since 1998 she had known that she was suffering the disease, and despite an earlier 'all clear', the deadly disease later returned.

Today, Jo's husband Simon is doing all he can to overcome his grief at the family home in Bury Hill.

"It has been a really difficult few months for us all, and there have obviously been some very dark moments when it is harder to smile, harder to keep on being so positive," said Simon.

"You could sit back and get really angry about what has happened, but I have had to go on braving it.

"When you have children you can't get overwhelmed in your own self pity. I owe it to them, and to Jo, to be as positive as I possibly can be."

Simon, who works at the Port of Felixstowe, makes no secret of his pride in his two youngsters.

Both Georgina, 12, and Thomas, 14, are never far from his words – his love for them is abundantly clear.

"They have been terrific through all this," smiled Simon. "It has not been at all easy, but they have showed so much courage."

He said: "Of course they took it hard initially, but both Jo and I were conscious that they should be informed throughout even the most difficult of times.

"I believe, and I hope, that this has made it just a little easier for them to cope. After all, they have lived with their mum's fight against cancer for the last three years in all."

A creche worker at Ufford Park, Jo first faced the devastating discovery of cancer about three years ago.

"She had found a lump in her breast and was concerned enough to make an appointment with the doctor, but I think we all hoped it would come to nothing," said Simon.

"Cancer has never been in her family so it really didn't seem likely – until the diagnosis revealed what we had feared."

The first cancerous lump was successfully removed, and after chemotherapy treatment, it was thought that Jo had got over the worst. In fact, she and Simon received the 'all clear', and they set out to acknowledge the good news with a new home in Woodbridge.

"We moved from Bredfield to Woodbridge and thought it was behind us, but then it came back in July last year.

"It had spread to her liver, and the treatment started all over again."

Jo fought hard to win the battle, but despite her optimism, her constant smiles, and the sheer determination for which she was so admired, the disease claimed her life on May 17.

There was nothing more that could have been done.

"That realisation comes very hard," said Simon. "I had known that she was really poorly at the end, but you still keep on hoping.

"The only thing I take comfort in, is that it was relatively quick in the final stages. When you knew the active person that Jo was, it seemed awful to watch her so much weaker, and hardly able to talk."

It is the active Jo that had so clearly touched the hearts of those who met her.

In fact, so much so, that friends and colleagues very quickly set out to create a fundraising trust in her name.

Staff at Ufford Park have already held various small events in her honour, and this Sunday they will host a special sponsored swim to direct further financial support into cancer charities, and specifically, St Elizabeth's Hospice.

"I was so surprised when I heard that people were wanting to create a trust in Jo's name, but it is very touching," said Simon.

"It made me realise just how much people thought of her, and it shows that everyone realised how selfless she was.

"She was a genuinely good person, and everything she did was for her own children or others."

As a mother, and a carer of numerous youngsters in her crèche work, Jo also found time to voluntarily teach children at Deben Swimming Club.

"Even when she was going through treatment she was getting her qualifications to teach. She never let the cancer hold her back. She wanted to keep on living life – particularly for Tom and Georgina."

Simon, who had shared 17 years of marriage with Jo, said: "I'm sure the children have taken that on board. I'm sure they appreciate what a strong person she was, and I hope they will always remember that about Jo."

He confesses that, despite all his coping strategies, his late wife's selflessness has made it somewhat harder to accept her loss.

"When I get time to sit and think, I often find myself frustrated that someone so caring could be taken away like that.

"She was such a great mum and she made all her career decisions around making sure that she would be there for the kids at all times.

"I know that anger doesn't do anyone any good, but sometimes you really have to fight it. I have to keep reminding myself just how positive Jo was, and that makes me more determined to cope."

To his credit, Simon does exude a real positivity.

Any bitterness he feels, any self-pity or sorrow he would like to revel in – it is all brushed aside in his steadfast attempt to be the perfect parent to his two children.

"I cannot afford to let the grief get the better of me. I have Georgina and Thomas to think about, and I know that there are some hard times ahead for us to overcome together.

"I have a new role in life now, and it is taking a lot of getting used to, but I try my best and that is all I can do."

Simon smiles to himself as he talks of the domestic challenges which he is now having to get used to so suddenly.

"I am sure I still make a lot of mistakes," he remarked, "but with Jo's illness I had been 'in training' for quite a while.

"Every day that goes by, I realise how I didn't spend quite as much time with the children as I should have done. I also realise how proud they make me, and how much they have learned and benefited from a mother like Jo. They are a credit to her."

Throughout the long summer weeks Simon has been anxious to see his two children, both pupils at Farlingaye High School, throw themselves into new social outlets.

He has taken them on holiday, appreciated their young enthusiasm, and proudly watched as they have coped with the biggest of tragedies.

"I was determined that they shouldn't sit back and feel sorry for themselves, and I am lucky that they have the same energy and drive as their mum," he said.

"They are in to swimming, surfing, triathlons, and they even completed a diving qualification when I took them to Lanzarote for two weeks. They make me very, very proud."

Simon doesn't fail to acknowledge that he still has hurdles to overcome, but, for the sake of his wife's memory, he is staring into the future with a vision of positivity, hope and united strength.

"I know that it's never going to be easy now that Jo has gone," he said, "and I particularly worry about Georgina because I accept that girls have a real bond with their mums.

"But we will get though this, and I'm quite convinced that we will be a stronger unit because of everything we have shared."

"Jo was so very positive and full of love, and I owe it to her to be the same way," he said. "I see everything through different eyes now, and I know that nothing matters more than 'today'.

"If I can share that message with my children, then I will be helping them to get the strength to enjoy every minute that life offers. It is all that any parent can ever hope to do."

n If you would like to take part in the sponsored swim on Sunday, please call Ufford Park on 01394 386449.


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