1 Million Miles for Ellie
To lose a child under any circumstance is hard to come to terms with; to lose a child to a disease that has blighted our family twice and taken a child already is unbearable. I was devastated and lost and was given the space by my family to cry and cry and do little else, but this was not sustainable nor healthy emotionally, physically or for those still living.
In February the weather broke for a week and was beautiful; blue skies, sunshine, dry and little wind. I was able to walk every day, sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for hours not wanting to turn back. On one of these walks I started thinking “How many miles do I need to walk before I feel better? One thousand, ten thousand, a million?” I settled on a million as I really didn’t believe that any number of miles would really make me feel better but that number of miles was a huge challenge and surely would be enough.
I returned home, grabbed the calculator and started working out how many miles I would need to do a day if I lived until I was 60, 70, 80 and was beginning to realise that the task was looking nigh on impossible; Angus, Ellie’s father, confirmed this when he came in and asked me what I was doing. He promptly told me that the task would have been difficult even if I had started as soon as I was born and attempted to live a normal, productive life!
The next day, I left the house for my walk feeling disheartened; my route to healing myself seemed blocked. And then I had one of those rare lightbulb/ eureka moments and it was inspired by the lovely Katie Cutler who, in 48 hours, had raised around £270,000 through social media for Alan Barnes, a pensioner who had been assaulted. I did not need to do a million miles on my own! I could do it with the help of Ellie’s friends and their friends, our friends and their friends, using social media and hopefully inspiring strangers to take part as well. A concept was born, “A Million Miles for Ellie, a million pounds for those touched by cancer”!
My family still thought that I was a little crazy and setting myself a huge task but discussions with friends, Fiona at Cancer Research and Claire at the Maggie’s Centre in Dundee gave me confidence that anything is possible. The concept became a campaign!
As the months have passed the ideas of how to fundraise have grown organically but inspired by the theme of a million miles for Ellie, a million pounds for those touched by cancer. Alexander, our youngest, announced that he would do a million steps for Ellie and Alastair, a very good friend, asked how long a million minutes is; it turned out that it is just under two years – perfect, the campaign will last a million minutes. That takes us through two summers and gives plenty of time to come up with different fundraising ideas.
Walking was obviously the original driving force behind the idea but I hope that this campaign will inspire so much more. Whether you decide to do the ordinary – walk to the shops for a week and contribute the money saved on fuel or bus fares to the cause or push your child in a pushchair with friends round a park or your friend or neighbour in their wheelchair; pick something from Ellie’s bucket list or yours – make one if you haven’t already, anything is possible. Or you may decide to do something extraordinary, a triathlon, climb a mountain, ski down a mountain, kayak for miles, camel ride it, bungee jump it, parachute jump it, cycle it, sail it, swim it, hike it, horse ride it, fly it, dance it, tough mudder it, or munro bag it to name quite a few.
Ellie grew up as a shy, modest girl but always setting herself challenges. She had an inner strength which meant that whatever she decided to do, she did and did for herself or for fundraising for good causes and never in order to brag. The only two things she didn’t conquer well were horse riding and driving, the latter appearing on her bucket list, but she travelled the world, was an au pair in Spain, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, kayaked across Scotland, tried sailing, surfing, rowing and even briefly piloted a helicopter. She loved her kayak and was in it with Alexander and her father just weeks before she died. She was bedbound for her last few weeks but a few days before she died, she asked her father, Robert, her boyfriend, and myself to help her stand, determined that if she stood the fluid would move from her legs and she would start getting better to be well enough to get her next chemotherapy. She never gave up and the smile on her face after she stood was pure and powerful and full of joy – she believed that anything was possible.
I’ve explained the concept of the miles but why raise money for those touched by cancer? Because it is a disease that has no respect for age, living standards, genetic make-up or geography and more importantly “Destroy Cancer” is number 1 on Ellie’s bucket list. A few months before Ellie died, Robert set them both the challenge of drawing up bucket lists independently and then sharing them. They set themselves the target of 10 bullet points. Ellie was very private and didn’t share the whole process of creating her list but one day, she did share with me the fact that she had sixteen things listed and had to cut it down. She also did not know if she should waste one of her points on getting better, as she believed that she would beat cancer, after all she’d seen her mother do it twice and it might be better to include something else that was fun and challenging.
When Robert shared her bucket list with us after she died, we saw “Destroy Cancer” as the number one wish on her list. Not only had she decided to include it, it was number one and the emotion behind it was very clear – destroy cancer. Ellie gave me the inspiration with those two words to do something in her name to make a difference for those touched by cancer. I could have decided to give all of the money to Cancer Research, a very worthy cause in itself, but my experiences and the nine months spent with Ellie whilst she underwent her treatment made me want to do more than that. The Maggie’s Centre next to Ninewells Hospital is a wonderful facility; I went in there on one of my lowest days and was shown compassion, friendship and given lunch. That gave me the strength to carry on the rest of that day and the days to come knowing that I was able to go in whenever I needed to. A friend from New Zealand, who we met whilst her husband was in Ninewells, used the centre regularly to be able to put her head down and grab a nap as she was living in the hospital caring for her husband and not getting much sleep at night and when Ellie died, the centre looked after her friends and gave them the space they needed and support too.The third beneficiary is MacMillan Cancer Support; I believe passionately that your surroundings can help your recovery, give you courage whilst going through treatment and make someone's passing more bearable. MacMillan Cancer Support work in partnership with hospitals to provide a better environment for those being treated for cancer and their family and friends travelling that journey with them and I have asked that their share of the funds raised will go towards that work.
Three very different aspects of patient care will benefit from this campaign, the science looking for treatments, prevention and a cure;and the emotional side with a more comfortable environment available within hospital wards.
I hope that those reading this will be inspired to do something to make a difference; do it for Ellie, for yourself and for those you know and don’t know who are touched by cancer. We can all make a difference! A penny, ten pennies, a pound or pounds – any amount large or small will make a difference to so many!
“1 Million Miles for Ellie, 1 million pounds for those touched by cancer!”
Michelle MacDonald - Ellie's Mother