As a family, Phoebe Heins, her mum Barbara and dad Paul were staunch supporters of the Cancer Research Relay For Life event in Luton, taking part as Barb’s Barmy Army.
Barbara was being treated for ovarian cancer and she would join the Survivors’ Lap with other people living with cancer, cheered on by Paul and Phoebe. But in March 2012 Barbara lost her battle for life, aged 48, just a few months after she had married long-time partner Paul.
In September 2013 Phoebe, now 14, took over her mum’s role as captain of Barb’s Barmy Army and led friends, family and school chums dressed ascharacters from Alice In Wonderland on the 24-hour relay run and walk around Stockwood Park athletics track.
Phoebe says Barbara was with them in spirit every step of the way. The Barmy Army looks set to raise £5,000 on top of the £5,000 donated last year. It’s a remarkable tribute to Barbara and to Phoebe’s determination to keep her memory alive and help others suffering ovarian cancer.
Phoebe, of Talbot Road, Luton, has been nominated for a Bedfordshire Young People Of the Year (YOPEY) award.
YOPEY, now in its seventh year in Beds, is open to young people, aged 10-25, who live, work or study in the county.
Typical entries include fundraisers, young carers, club leaders, volunteers on projects at home or abroad and young leaders who pass on academic or sporting skills.
Phoebe was put forward by family friend Fabiana Panetta who describes her enthusiasm for fundraising as infectious. “She took this on as a mission and does it with joy and love,” she said.
“She can be very persuasive. She engages with adults, youngsters and headteachers with her irresistible will and joy. Phoebe is not only, I believe, a role model for her peers but for anyone who has the luck to meet her.”
Barbara, a senior lecturer with The Open University, began to feel unwell in 2006.
“It was put down as IBS, although Barbara felt it was something more serious. It wasn’t until 2008 we had the diagnosis of ovarian cancer,” said Paul. “Phoebe was eight and we made the decision to be straight with her about her mum’s illness and she came on the journey with us.”
Paul, who is a young 66, working for a community arts charity in Luton and as a jazz musician, said: “Barbara’s illness brought us all closer together and we went on family trips including seeing the Northern Lights.”
In November 2011 her condition worsened and the couple were married at Mount Vernon Hospital just before Christmas. Barbara came home and died in March 2012, just missing seeing Phoebe become a teenager. Her birthday is at the beginning of April.
Phoebe had already lost her maternal grandfather to cancer in January of that year.
“Continuing with mum’s Barmy Army helped me get through my grief,” she said.
She said mum would have approved of the Alice theme with its tea party and games of croquet at the relay. Paul dressed up as Tweedledum.
The fundraising continues at Phoebe’s school, Stopsley High, with regular cake sales. The family also support Target Ovarian Cancer which aims to raise awareness of the disease among women and the medical profession. Phoebe is helping Paul organise jazz concerts at a restaurant in London’s Soho for Target.
The YOPEY awards ceremony will be held at the Luton campus of the University of Bedfordshire in April.
To nominate someone logon to yopey.org or write, enclosing an SAE, to YOPEY, Woodfarm Cottage, Bury Road, Stradishall, Newmarket CB8 8YN for paper entry form.