Sunday, 18 August 2019

Brave Emily loses battle with cancer

Brave Emily loses battle with cancer

A HUSBAND has paid tribute to his “beautiful” wife who lost her fight against an incurable form of breast cancer just weeks after raising more than £40,000 for charity.

Emily Burkitt died at the Sue Ryder hospice in Nettlebed on Thursday last week surrounded by her family. She was 37.

Mrs Burkitt, who lived in Greys Road, Henley, with her husband James and children Poppy, six, and Charlie, four, was diagnosed in 2015, just four weeks after her son’s first birthday.

She underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment as well as having a mastectomy. But in August she felt a lump on her collar bone and discovered she had stage four triple negative breast cancer.

She organised a “black and white” dinner at Phyllis Court Club in Henley on June 15 to raise money for Breast Cancer Now and CoppaFeel!, a charity which raises awareness, but lost her battle against the disease less than four weeks later.

Her husband, 38, paid tribute to his wife saying: “Emily was a dynamo; a shining creative talent, a whirlwind of energy, a beautiful person and the epicentre of love and fun in our family.

“Hours before her passing our doting children Poppy and Charlie went to visit her to hold mummy’s hand one last time. 

“She leaves two bubbly, kind and happy children, whom she raised with endearing love, care and absolute devotion.

“I just think about all the great times. I’ve been going through so many old photographs of holidays, nights out and pictures we took of each other just remembering some incredible times.

“All the memories are really fun and there’s absolutely no regret in anything that we did in our lives. I’ll always remember the good times —  how beautiful she was and how much fun she was.

“I just remember if I hadn’t had those 17 years with her, and those 10 years of marriage, then I’d have lost a hell of a lot more in life.  I could be sat here at 38 years of age no way near as happy and fulfilled if I hadn’t been with her.

“There’s that proverb that says ‘there’s someone for everyone’ and Emily and I both met our someone. When people say they have lost their soulmate I think that’s a lazy sentence. She was just my Em. We literally had everything we could have wished for.”

The couple met at Newark Rowing Club in Nottinghamshire in 2002 and got together after a night out.

Mr Burkitt recalled: “It was more what Emily saw in me! She came over and basically said ‘right, I’m going to have you’. I had this beautiful girl come up to me and say that and I thought ‘yes you are’. Quite literally within minutes of me first meeting her that was it, she’d made her mind up, and that was that.

“She was beautiful, she was funny, she was full of life. She was a good person to be around and we had a lot of fun.”

The couple lost touch briefly as Mrs Burkitt left the club to attend Oxford Brookes University while Mr Burkitt headed to Henley and joined Leander Club in 2003 but their romance soon re-ignited.

At Oxford Brookes Mrs Burkitt was an accomplished coxswain, leading the crew to the semi-final of the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta in 2002.

The couple would spend weekends together as Mrs Burkitt was managing the catering at Blenheim Palace and living in Hailey at the time while Mr Burkitt was working in Harwell.

Mrs Burkitt then took a job managing the Loch Fyne restaurant in Beaconsfield and the couple bought a house together in School Lane, Wargrave, in 2006.

He recalled: “I’d been out rowing with my friend Matt and I called home and said ‘I’ll be home in a couple of hours because I’m finished and I’m going for a pizza with Matt’.

“She said ‘you’re in trouble, you need to come home’. I said to Matt ‘have I done anything wrong?’ I’m driving home thinking ‘what have I done now?’ I walked through the door and this little black thing runs up to me and I thought it was a black cat. Unbeknown to me she’d bought me a black Labrador.”

They married in September 2009 and stayed in Wargrave until 2012 before moving to Chazey Heath.

Around 2010 Mrs Burkitt went to work for PepsiCo running the catering at its head office near Theale. In 2012 she took a short sabbatical to run the catering at Dorney Lake during the London Olympics.

Their daughter was born the following year and their son arrived in the summer of 2014.

Mr Burkitt said: “She absolutely doted on the kids. She would make all homemade food for them. Where the kids were concerned nothing was ever too much trouble for her. She had a fabulous ability to paint, to sculpt, to bake and decorate the most ostentatious cakes under the label of the Henley Cake Company. She loved the buzz of being busy and of making and sharing experiences with people.”

In December 2014 the family moved to Deanfield Road and Mr Burkitt said his wife started to make lots of friends in the town.

She was a member of the Friends of St Mary’s School in Henley, where their children attend, and organised events there to help charities.

Mr Burkitt said: “St Mary’s has been nothing short of exceptional to our family and she was so proud to take our children through the gates everyday where the abundance of kindness and support within both the school and parents fuelled her desire to ignore her woes and keep racing towards the next opportunity.”

In August the following year she found a lump in her breast but her husband said she remained strong throughout her fight with disease.

Mr Burkitt said: “From that point on she never let it get her down. She might have cried for five minutes but then the gloves came off and she said ‘I’m going to fight it’.”

Her father Charles attended every chemotherapy session with her. Mr Burkitt recalled: “They would come out with Blackadder quotes to make each other laugh, they would do quiz books and take cakes in for the chemotherapy nurses and go for lunch at the Pack Saddle in Mapledurham afterwards.

“She always said she never wanted cancer to define her but, in a way, it did a little bit. She was always a very positive, very hard-working and creative person but it just galvanised her.

“She had something that was trying to kill her and beat her up and she refused to let that happen and she became a stronger and more positive person because of it.”

In 2016, less than six months following major surgery, Mrs Burkitt completed a 100km walk, the Thames Path Challenge, from Putney to Henley raising nearly £7,000 for Cancer Research.

The same year the family moved to Greys Road in Henley and Mr Burkitt credits his wife with making their home in Deanfield Road look so beautiful it sold over the asking price within days of going on the market.

About a  year later they built an extension and he said: “She created a new lovely home for us. I would say last summer was probably the best year of my life. I’d got back into rowing and rowed at the regatta and we had a summer of  socialising.

“We literally had it all at that point in time. We had a nice house, nice life, two wonderful kids and we completely loved each other. Spending time together was effortless.”

But last August Mrs Burkitt felt a lump on her neck and was told her cancer had returned. This time she attended chemotherapy sessions with different friends. Her husband said: “She always made an event of it. It was a case of ‘I’m going for my poison and screw you cancer do what you want’.

“Her mum Jane was just incredible all through those four years. When Emily was on various different treatments her mum never left her side.”

Mrs Burkitt underwent six rounds of chemotherapy treatment at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and a scan in February effectively showed she was clear.

The family enjoyed breaks in Salcombe, Devon, and in Marbella and she organised the fund-raising dinner with Tanya Roda, from Caversham, with whom she went through chemotherapy treatment at the same time in 2015 and they became friends.

The organising committee also included fund-raiser and events manager Harriet Barcella and former cardiac nurse Maria Lawrence.  Mr Burkitt said: “What she was doing wasn’t going to save her life but might save somebody else’s life in future and that was important to her.

“It was her steadfast desire to do something meaningful, to find a way of helping others and simply to have a bloody good time that got her radiance to the ball that night.”

But in the days that followed the dinner Mrs Burkitt’s condition worsened and she was admitted to the Royal Berkshire Hospital  less than a week later. The family were then told the cancer had spread to her  brain.

She was discharged on June 27 and spent several days at home and on June 28 her husband managed to qualify for Henley Royal Regatta’s Thames Challenge Cup with Upper Thames Rowing Club in a boat his crewmates had renamed Emily.

Mrs Burkitt was admitted to the Sue Ryder hospice on June 30.

“The guys up there are absolutely brilliant,” her husband said. “They are kind and caring and nothing is too much  trouble for them.

“I’d go up with the kids so they could see her when she was peaceful, and sleeping and there were times when she was able to hold their hand and give them a kiss and a cuddle. They went to her bedside to tell their wonderful mummy how much they loved her.”

Mr Burkitt said he wanted to create happy memories for his children and organised a picnic in the grounds of the hospice on July 5 which more than 40 people attended. He was at her bedside along with her mother, father, and sister Sabrina when she died.

“There were so many flowers and cards and it’s just what makes it so desperately sad,” he said. “She had so much to give. We had such a great family life at home, it was just incredible, and now it’s all gone. You’re left with this absolute emptiness.”

Mr Burkitt said he would miss receiving a text message from his wife or calling her to ask if she needed him to pick up anything on his way home.  “Those really simple, effortless things that we do in life  are gone and that’s really sad for me,” he said.

“Her life is defined by her wonderful spirit, her kindness, her jackpot smile, her family, her friends, her ‘never say die’ attitude and the fact that she simply wouldn’t quit…. not even in an argument!

“As I told Emily in her final days ‘I feel so happy that I feel so sad, because if I didn’t feel so sad the last 17 years would have been for nothing. But they weren’t, they were everything.”

Family and friends are invited to celebrate Mrs Burkitt’s life at a short service at Reading Crematorium at 1pm next Friday.

This will be followed by a memorial service at 2pm in St Mary’s Church, Henley, before a reception at  Leander Club. Guests are asked to dress with colour and vibrance. Family flowers only.

Donations to the Sue Ryder hospice  can be arranged with funeral directors Tomalin & Sons on (01491) 573370.

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