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Angela Dickson co-founded The Brain Tumour Charity with her husband, Neil after their daughter Samantha died from a brain tumour, aged just 16.
During Brain Tumour Awareness Month, we spoke to Angela Dickson who turned a personal tragedy into an awe-inspiring charity.
She told GoodtoKnow: ‘We’d lost our darling girl, Samantha, 16, two and a half years after she’d been diagnosed with a brain tumour.
‘Her death broke me, her dad, and our sons, James and William. She’d brought so much happiness to our lives.’
Samantha had been a keen flute and piano player, she’d excelled at athletics, badminton, dance and amateur dramatics and she was succeeding academically – there seemed to be nothing she wouldn’t try, any hobby she wouldn’t triumph in.
But as she started her GCSEs in September 1993, she started suffering from headaches.
First put down to exam stress, Samantha later suffered with short-term memory loss and collapsed whilst on a skiing holiday.
Angela said: ‘We were eventually given the devastating news that changed our lives forever. “Your daughter has a brain tumour,” the doctor said, and has approximately 18 months to 2 years to live.’
Their whole world was torn apart.
After trawling the internet and seeking additional advice, receiving pioneering treatment from Canada supported by Southampton hospital, Samantha lived an extra 2 ½ years before she eventually died on 31st October 1996, aged just 16.
‘When we received £20,000 in funeral donations, we spoke to the major cancer charities, as we wanted the money to go directly into research into brain tumours, but they couldn’t guarantee this specific request.
‘There was no charity specifically for research into brain tumours, despite them being responsible for more deaths in children and adults under 40 than any other cancer.’
Angela and Neil were horrified – but the shock propelled them into action.
In February 1997, in the midst of monumental grief, the couple registered the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust, which later became The Brain Tumour Charity.
It started off just the two of them in their study at home, arranging low-key local fundraising and taking calls from people seeking help.
But then it grew – they set up a scientific and medical advisory team and had celebrity patrons such as Dawn French come aboard.
Angela continued: ‘In the early days we concentrated on high quality biological research as so little was known about these tumours.
The decision was vindicated when in the mid 2000’s we had two international breakthroughs in childhood brain tumours which have since gone on to produce two new treatments throughout Europe.
‘Following this we were able to go back to our supporters to say what a difference their donations had made and this gave us a great growth in our income.
We now have scientists and clinicians all over the world working for us. Last year we raised £11.5m and were able to invest a further £6m in high quality research for the year.’
The Charity’s award winning campaign Headsmart was an amazing success and helped reduce the average time to diagnose a childhood brain tumour from 13 weeks to 6.5 week.
Angela and her team at The Brain Tumour Charity will be working tirelessly throughout March to raise awareness and funds.
Their long-term aim is to double survival and half the harm caused by brain tumours.
And there’s a very real and alarming reason we should all be listening and supporting the charities pushing for change.
Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40 with over 5,000 people losing their lives to a brain tumour each year in the UK.
Yet despite this, less than 3 percent of the £500m spent on cancer research every year is spent on brain tumours.
Check out our ideas for giant bakes (including a super-sized Bourbon biscuit) that would be perfect for the occassion.
The Brain Tumour Charity is TI Media and GoodtoKnow’s charity of the year.