Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Yes to Life - Ten Years On

Today's post is written by Yes to Life's founder Robin Daly, who discusses how the charity came into being, the journey it has taken in the last decade and the personal reasons he is determined to see it continue to grow.

This summer it is ten years since the event that propelled me into creating Yes to Life as a charity - the untimely death of my beautiful 23 year old daughter, Bryony. At that time, Yes to Life already existed as a Trust to raise money for treatment to help Bryony, and the desperate need for a charity to support others with cancer looking for answers outside of standard treatments had already been acknowledged.

Bryony was unfortunate enough to have cancer at age 9, again at 13, and finally at 22. The first diagnosis was a rare and aggressive type of muscle tumour; the others were bone tumours caused by the radiotherapy used in her initial treatment. At every stage we, as parents desperate for answers, looked at every option we came across, although at the time of the first two diagnoses the internet and even mobile phones were some years away. So, unsurprisingly, our findings were pretty limited compared with the tidal wave of information awaiting anyone who looks for cancer treatment options on the internet now.

And therein lies one of the many problems facing people who are looking for solutions. The sheer quantity of information, all describing seemingly essential treatments, and pretty much being exclusively touted by people who stand to profit from them, is utterly daunting. People with cancer have neither the time nor the energy to begin to make sense of it all, to become minor experts on cancer, to sift out the hoaxes from the potential life-savers, to work out
which of the promising approaches could be relevant to their case, are affordable and are available from a trustworthy practitioner within a realistic distance - it is all far, far too much. And to cap it all, of course, all such treatment approaches are private medicine and often prohibitively expensive to cash strapped cancer patients.

What was clearly needed was an organisation with no agenda other than the wellbeing of patients, which could provide relevant, useful, trustworthy information quickly, and support those in financial need to obtain their chosen treatments.

So the blueprint for Yes to Life came directly from appreciating an urgent need first-hand. Add to that the realisation of how little awareness there is in the UK of the enormous breadth of choices outside the NHS, and you have the other side of our mission - public education - which has become an increasingly important focus for the charity.

So where has the organisation come in the last decade? It took more than a year before Yes to Life was a registered charity and a few months more before we started to offer any services. The Help Line was an answerphone in my home at the start, and we worked from a free office the size of an airing cupboard! We now have a team of highly trained call operators working under a Helpline Manager, giving a service that consistently attracts praise from beneficiaries for the quality of its staff and its efficiency. I am enormously proud of this service as I know how much I would have valued it myself. 

It took until 2010 for us to develop sufficient resources to be able to mount our first public seminar. We have gone on since to create a regular programme of seminars and workshops in a range of locations around the country, and are currently developing an international level conference for the spring of 2015. It’s enormously inspiring to me to interact with the public in this way and to experience their interest and enthusiasm to learn, as well as their appreciation for our efforts.
At this point I feel we are ‘sailing a tight ship’, a sound organisation that understands its beneficiaries and is efficiently delivering genuinely useful services. As such, I feel we are poised to do much more and I look forward to gaining a greater profile that will enable us to help many more people in the years to come and to be recognised as a charity well worth supporting financially.

We have just had a celebration to mark ten years since losing Bryony and setting out to create the charity, which was attended by family and friends as well as charity staff. It was an incredible event, held in the beautiful South Hams in Devon where Bryony grew up. There was plenty to celebrate, a great deal of laughter and also of course quite a few tears. Next year will be the charity’s ‘official’  ten year anniversary, and so we plan to have a more public acknowledgement of the contribution that the organisation has been able to make through the extraordinary generosity of our supporters and the dedicated efforts of our team.

I know Bryony would be completely over the moon with everything that Yes to Life has achieved in the last decade, and it is certainly very heartening for me that so much good has resulted from such a great loss.

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