The Dunn family's story – our support has come full circle

Monday 12 September 2022

Maggie's Cardiff

When Emily Dunn was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma aged 16, it came completely out of the blue to mum, Donna, and younger sister, Holly. Years later, they found support from Maggie's in a way they didn't expect.

Diagnosed in December 

All Emily ever wanted was to get to university to study microbiology for cancer research. She was a geek; the science textbook was her favourite book.  

At 16, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was Christmas Jumper day at school, and she came down feeling that her clothes were too tight. We quickly knew something was wrong.  

We were told it was inoperable and incurable, and that I should take her home and enjoy Christmas because she only had a matter of weeks left to live.

I pushed for them to do a biopsy and get a second opinion. I’m so pleased I did because it gave her a few years.     

I remember me and my husband thinking bizarrely that Christmas was the perfect time for us as a family because all the kids were off school. There was no school run to do and for the first few weeks I could concentrate on Emily and be there for each other.  

Taking control of her treatment 

Because Emily was so passionate about science, when she first went to hospital, she said to me that she’d found her people. 

When her medical team spoke to her, they never talked to her like a patient, they talked to her like a medical student.  

She blogged, she shared information for others, raising awareness and providing support for others going through what she did.

She learned the ins and outs of her treatment in an incredible way. But we knew we were up against it. In the end, Emily lived for another few years before she died in 2016.

Fundraising for a library 

After Emily’s death, we wanted to put some positivity back into the cancer community. 

Our experience made us reflect on how we could make things better for other people.

For instance, in the first month after Emily was diagnosed, our parking charges were more than our mortgage.  So we know about the importance of finding a place that could provide crucial financial support.  

Holly and I started fundraising with a few bars of chocolate for teenagers on the ward, but ended up with so many donations that it filled the entire living room. My house was like a chocolate factory.

Someone suggested we take it to Maggie’s Swansea. As soon as we walked through the door, the warmth, the friendliness, the acceptance just blew us away. And Holly said: this just feels like Emily in a building.  

A staff member mentioned they were building a new centre in Cardiff, and we heard there was an opportunity to fundraise for it. Holly felt there would be nothing more appropriate for Emily than a library. 

Through some good planning, lots of hard work and bit of good fortune, we raised the money for the library, which is named in her honour. It’s the perfect lasting legacy for Emily.  

Emily's personal legacy  

Emily shared her story throughout on her blog and she was always open and honest. And she didn’t want anyone to be afraid of a cancer diagnosis. Death shouldn’t be a taboo subject, and neither should cancer.

Emily really believed there should be good stories about cancer as well. And whilst we didn’t get our happy ending, there is goodness that has come out of it.

We miss her terribly, but I whole heartedly believe that some more good can come out of this story, and so we will continue Emily’s legacy.    

Needing our own support

We came to Maggie’s 'the wrong way around' and we never dreamed that they would be supporting us. That has all changed.
My mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019. Her diagnosis became incurable, and she died suddenly at home in 2021. 
It was a huge shock and trauma for the family. Everyone has been grieving in their own way but my dad, Nick, really struggled.
My sister wanted to come to Maggie’s and brought Dad with her. He was reluctant to come, but wanting to help my sister got him through the doors.
I’d bet that he hasn’t missed a week at Maggie’s since that day. It has become his lifeline. 

Finding confidence

Dad began having one-to-one support and, when he was ready, he went to the bereavement support group.

It was cathartic, and he gave as much as he got out of it.
It helped him to realise that, even though my mum died too soon, it was a privilege to have been with her for 53 years. 
He’s found the confidence to try new things and meet new people, which he would never have done if he hadn’t been able to understand and accept his grief.
And it means we haven’t had to worry about him being stuck in the house, sad and lonely.

Full circle

My mum’s greatest fear was that dad wouldn’t speak to anybody after she died, and thanks to Maggie’s that did not come true.
The only reason we weren’t supported by Maggie’s when Emily died is because Maggie’s wasn’t there yet.
We wanted to give other families that opportunity.

Now we’ve come full circle.

A lasting tribute to Emily 

Holly and her siblings reflect on the memory of Emily, and how they keep her legacy and personality alive.

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If you, your family or friends need support during this time, please call us on 0300 123 180, email or book a time to visit us.

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