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Mairi's story

I will never have another friend like Cathrin but I take comfort from the privilege of having had her in my life

8th June 2021

From risks and diagnoses to survival rates and improvements, key information about cancer is driven by facts and figures. But it’s vital to remember that behind each of these statistics are real people with lives and loved ones – mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, best friends and colleagues.

We’re always so incredibly grateful to everyone who shares their perspectives and treasured memories of loved ones to raise awareness of the urgent need for new cancer research.

Recently we shared Anne's heartbreaking story of the loss of her beloved daughter Cathrin. Cathrin was only 38 when she passed away in May 2020, just four years after she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer that sadly spread to her brain.

Cathrin meant so much to everyone who knew her — she was a beloved daughter and sister, a loving wife, a devoted mother and a cherished friend to so many. Here Cathrin’s lifelong friend, Mairi W, shares her own memories — and her hope that more people will donate to fund urgently needed cancer research in the future. 

A photo of Anne and her daughter Cathrin hugging each other tightly

I still cry every day for the loss of Cathrin. She was my first-born child, and it’s like losing a huge part of myself.

Cathrin and her friend Mairi sitting together and smiling at a table at a formal event Mairi W (left) and Cathrin

"It’s difficult to think of a favourite memory of Cathrin. She was my lifelong best friend and we shared many treasured experiences over the years."

I have so many memories. Almost too many, in fact, to make sense of in a way that would convey the wonderful person that she was. My first memory is of her at age four, crying her eyes out on the first day of Primary One. I, being the youngest of four children who had been counting down the days until I was allowed to start school, didn’t really understand why she was so upset. ‘Stop crying' I said to her ‘come on, you’ll be fine’. From that moment, we became best friends.

No doubt my fondest memories are of our childhood together. We would spend summer holidays side by side, staying over at each other’s houses most nights and enjoying long summer days playing with all of the other neighbourhood kids. Each night we’d beg and bargain with our parents for another half an hour or another ten minutes, saying that the street lights hadn’t come on yet or that we weren’t tired. In adulthood when we found ourselves in challenging or sad situations, we often looked back fondly and reminisced about those idyllic, simple times.

"Cathrin and I were best friends, but we were so much more than that. Our shared childhood, teenage years, adulthood and motherhood meant that we understood each other in a unique way."

We’d experienced it all together and, most importantly, we’d talked about it all together. Over a coffee and cake, we’d analyse and dissect all aspects of life, from every possible angle and sometimes a hundred times over. We’d not always agree and we’d challenge each other at times, but it was all with love, compassion and our shared sense of humour. This dry humour meant we found something to laugh about in even the saddest of situations.

The thing I miss most about her is the feeling I had all the time I was around her – that I wasn’t alone. The year before her diagnosis, my marriage ended and I was left with a toddler and a new baby. I was devastated, broken-hearted and at times had no idea how I would carry on.

Cathrin slowly but surely picked up the pieces and put them back together for me. She showed me love, loyalty and friendship. She looked after my children when I was unable to, and she got all of us through it. She talked of what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. She made me believe that I wasn’t alone and that I’d be okay. And I was, with her at my side.

"Cathrin’s illness taught me how to live with hope."

When she received her first diagnosis she said ‘I’ve got breast cancer. But it’s okay. The doctor is working on a treatment plan and we’re going to deal with it’. But then she was dealt blow after blow. It had spread to her lymph nodes, then her lungs and to her adrenal glands and then ultimately to her brain, which had always been her biggest fear.

Each bit of bad news was a devastating setback. And each time she took time to process it, reflecting on the possibility that she wouldn’t be around to celebrate her 40th birthday or to experience important milestones in her daughters’ lives.

But then Cathrin chose hope. She chose to make the most of the time she had. She loved her daughters with all of her heart. She lived in the moment and created memories with her family and friends. 

"Cathrin died near the start of the first lockdown in Scotland. There were so many people whose lives she touched and who desperately wanted to get together to say goodbye and to properly celebrate her life."

After all the pain she had gone through, she couldn’t even have the funeral that she deserved. This felt, and still feels, acutely unfair. Grieving my friend without normal support structures due to COVID-19 restrictions has made things even more difficult than they would otherwise have been.

There are times when my heart breaks, especially for her daughters, and also for her family, all her friends and for myself. I know I will never have another friend like Cathrin.

In dark times like these, I take comfort from the privilege of having had her in my life for 34 years. I try and face the world with the bravery and hope that she taught me.

"On some level, I’ve always been aware of the importance of cancer research. However, it wasn’t until I stood by in despair watching someone I loved die from this terrible disease that I fully understood just how urgently it is needed."

I often reflect on the ‘what ifs’…what if the treatment had worked that last time, what if the doctor had found an alternative option just in the nick of time, what if they had managed to stop this horrible, aggressive strain of the disease.

For Cathrin, it wasn’t possible. But with funding and hard work, this outcome may be avoided in the future. Young children may not have to grow up without a loving mummy, a husband may not have to grieve his beautiful wife, a mother and father may not have to experience the horror of losing their perfect daughter at such a young age.

So, if anyone is thinking of donating, please do so now. This work is so important and could prevent another tragedy like losing Cathrin so young.

We need your help to keep starting new cures around the world

Will you give £24 to fund an hour of research, or a special gift of your own, so that one day nobody will have to face the heartbreak of losing a loved one to cancer?

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