A young graduate, who kept the fact that she lost both her parents from nearly everyone she knew, has decided to share her story and run the Virgin Money London Marathon, to keep a promise to her parents years later.
Jessica Stoate, 23, from Walton-on-Thames, kept her family tragedy a secret until recently. Jessica, who has a half-sister and brother who live abroad, decided to release a video of herself singing on Mother’s Day, something she hadn’t done since losing her mum, to kick start her ‘Jessica’s promise’ campaign for blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan.
She said: ‘I’m running the marathon and finally speaking out about my story as part of a promise I made to my parents - to do anything I could think of to make sure that as many Mums and Dads as possible could survive cancer and be around to watch their children grow. No-one should grow up feeling, as I did, like they’re ‘nobody’s child’. Anthony Nolan is a charity that can stop that happening to other families.’
Explaining why she kept her a secret all these years, Jessica says, ‘I never wanted to be defined by what I’d lost.’
‘It got to Mothers’ Day and I was really miserable, I was missing my mum and struggling with my degree. I began to wonder what a difference I could make if I finally told my story.’
Jessica lost her father Richard 19 years ago when she was just four years old from a heart defect, and her mother Samantha nearly 10 years later to cancer.
‘I decided to make a video of myself singing, to tell my story and promote the fact I was running the marathon for Anthony Nolan. It was a really big thing for me to sing as it was something so special between my mum and me. Whenever things got tough or stressful we went for a drive with the roof down and sang. It took years to get to that point of being able to sing again, as it always reminded me of what I’d lost.’
This video was hugely popular, and kick-started Jessica’s campaign to raise money for blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan in memory of her parents and she set up the Facebook page ‘Jessica’s promise’.
‘I’m hoping to show people that we are not defined by our darkest moments. I can't change how my story ended, but by running 26.2 miles and helping Anthony Nolan save the lives of people with blood cancer, I hope I can be a part of somebody else's happy ending.’
Jessica was 9 years old when her mum Samantha was diagnosed with breast cancer.
‘It was just me and my mum after my dad died. When she had cancer, she just sat me down and said “Ok, I’ve got cancer, but we are going to fight this together” and that was all that she said.’
‘She was such a strong woman, she kept everything so normal. I was so young I couldn’t understand the gravity of it. When she lost her hair, she took me to pick a wig for her. She made it all so normal and the cancer became just another part of our everyday life.’
Jessica’s mum went into remission but it was revealed around four years later that the cancer had return and it had spread.
‘I had been away on a Duke of Edinburgh weekend and everyone’s mum and dad came to pick them up and my mum didn’t. I thought she would be well enough to do it but when I got home and she opened the door I saw she had deteriorated so much over the weekend and I realised then that this isn’t going to be ok.’
A few weeks later Samantha was rushed to hospital and she later passed away at home. It was June 2006 and Jessica was 14 years old. It was exactly 10 years after Richard had died.
Jessica lived with her aunty until she was 16 and completed her school and recently graduated from Surrey University with a first class degree in psychology.
After volunteering at last year’s London Marathon as a cheerer Jessica was inspired to take on the London Marathon 2015.
Jessica, who also recently shared a touching and humorous video of her taking on her first ever half marathon, joked, “I’m not remotely a runner, I must be insane. The last time I ran anywhere was for the bus when I was 14. I missed it.”
Jessica will be running for Anthony Nolan, a charity she discovered whilst at university volunteering for Marrow, a group that supports Anthony Nolan.
Jessica says, ‘When my Mum was in hospital, there was nothing I could do. I used to sit on the cancer ward holding her hand, and think about how I could change this ending for other people facing the same future. Supporting Anthony Nolan became the opportunity to do exactly that – they re-write people’s stories everyday by matching selfless strangers with people in desperate need of a transplant, completely changing their destiny.’
‘This isn’t the life I would have chosen, and growing up without either of my parents has meant that a part of me will always be missing. But I am the luckiest person in the world for having had two people so exceptional to lose.’
To donate to ‘Jessica’s Promise’ go to https://www.justgiving.com/Jessica-Stoate/