The festive season means a lot for many, but for crafty supporter Debbi Douglas, it’s a time that she honours her sister who died from lung cancer at just 47 years old, with a creative fundraiser that has raised more than £1,000 in the last four years.
“I’ve always been very creative, even owning my own business Deb’s Dazzling Designs Xxx, and just before Christmas in 2018 I decided to create Santa edits on photos. It was just an idea that I soon turned into a fundraiser by asking those who wanted the designs to make a donation of any size to the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.
“It was my sister, Nicky who inspired and supported the idea as she was diagnosed with lung cancer in November that same year.
“I was overwhelmed with how popular the Santa edits became and I thought that if I could get just £1 per edit, then I could raise a lot of money for the charity.”
I thought this would make me feel like I was doing something to help as at that time I felt totally helpless. Nicky thought it was a fantastic idea and I promised her I would do the edits every year.
Nicky’s lung cancer diagnosis
“The diagnosis came as a massive shock, my sister had been so healthy, running the London Marathon twice, the Brighton Half Marathon and just before she got her diagnosis, she ran a half marathon in Ireland with her boyfriend.
“Nicky’s first symptoms were a persistent cough, she’d had it about eight weeks but with no change, she went to the doctor.
“When we got the results that it was terminal lung cancer with Nicky having just two to four months to live – we were devastated.”
Treatments and side effects
“The following months were hard on us all, especially Nicky who had started her treatment. She first had her lung drained which was a nasty procedure, but she recovered reasonably well. However, the operation didn’t work how the doctors wanted and she had to have her lung continually drained.
“Sadly, follow up scans revealed her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and liver, and in January 2019 she began immunotherapy.
“Again, Nicky didn’t respond well, and she had terrible side effects. The treatment gave her an upset stomach, caused a rash, it lowered her blood count and also affected her blood pressure.
“We knew at this point there wasn’t much more that could be done, so she decided to make the most out of the time she had left, making memories with her loved ones.
“In her final months, breathing became very difficult due to the build-up of fluid in her lung. She had an oxygen tank installed in her home, which she became reliant on. Hospital trips became more frequent during that time and eventually, she was prescribed liquid morphine but that made her terribly sick.
“It was awful to see her suffering so much, not only with cancer but the side effects of the medication.
“Nicky was 47 when she died in March 2019.”
The importance of Christmas
“We knew 2018 was the last Christmas we would probably spend with Nicky, so we did our best to make it special. All the family came together, and I even managed to get a special video message from Ed Sheeran which made her smile.
“Nicky was a wonderful person, always putting people before herself. She always said she had no regrets and enjoyed everything in her life. She had been with her boyfriend for five years and they were happy, even talking about buying a house together.”
Despite the initial shock and gruelling months of treatment, Nicky seemed to take it pretty well. She used to say that this is just how my life has been mapped out.
“Since 2018 I’ve raised over £1,000 with my Santa edits as well as taking on other fundraisers. In February 2020, 38 of Nicky’s friends and family took on the Brighton Half Marathon, one of her favourite places to run, with around 50 others supporting us on the day.
“We raised over £5,000 for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation and Peace Hospice with the race and received lovely letters and notes from the team at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.”