NEWS of a death is never welcome, especially if the person is young.
When popular Balerno minister and community stalwart Louise Duncan passed away from cancer in February, leaving behind her husband Derek and eight-year-old son Tom, it was a fitting tribute that over 1,200 people attended the service of celebration and thanksgiving for her life.
A keen runner, Louise believed the pain in her hip was a sports-related injury until an MRI scan four days before her 41st birthday told her otherwise.
“We thought for a long time that she had an injury that was related to running,” says Derek.
“We were just waiting on scan results and she was taken in for an MRI last August. We were called in the next day and told she had a rare form of bone cancer.
“It was obviously a shock to the system. She went from running substantial distances in around March or April to not being able to walk the length of the house in August.
“Louise coped with it remarkably. I don’t think anybody could have dealt with it better. She didn’t let it defeat her.
“She was somebody that loved life a lot and loved living it as fully as she possibly could.
“In latter years she took up things like marathon running and half marathons and doing a lot of sponsored events. This was partly because of her job as a minister and partly because of her personality. She was very outward looking.”
Straight after her diagnosis, Louise identified that Marie Curie would be a useful point of contact.
Marie Curie provides care and support to people living with a terminal illness, across the Lothians in the Marie Curie Hospice at Fairmilehead and through its community services.
The charity’s nurses work night and day, in people’s homes providing hands-on care and vital emotional support.
Last year the charity visited 418 people living with a terminal illness in the Lothians at home or in a home setting through its community nursing team, which is equal to 4,152 visits and more than 16,500 community nursing hours across the region.
It also cared for 480 people inpatients in the Marie Curie Hospice and carried out more than 2,200 clinical nurse specialist visits to patients in Edinburgh and more than 1,000 in West Lothian.
Because of its vital work, 95 per cent of Marie Curie patients were able to die in their place of choice.
Louise announced soon after her diagnosis that if she couldn’t die at home, she wanted to die at the Marie Curie hospice at Fairmilehead.
“She really enjoyed going to the hospice to provide pastoral care to parishioners,” remembers Louise’s close friend Ishbel Smith.
“She had done that for quite a few years so it’s kind of ironic that she was then there herself.
“She was with Marie Curie both as an inpatient and an outpatient. She was there for pain management as well. It wasn’t just the place she died.”
The family welcomed regular visits from Marie Curie nurses, although on a few occasions the pain was so severe that Louise opted to go to the hospice.
“In reality what happened was there were a couple of times where things were moving about in her hip and she was in the hospice for pain control,” says Derek.
“When she passed away it was a fairly scary evening but we managed to get her from the hospital to Marie Curie.
“At her funeral we stated that the money we collected was for the St Joseph’s centre development project and we also wanted to mark what Marie Curie had done in a special way in the future.”
The whole community of Balerno gathered in August for “Run for me, Dance for me, Think of me”, a series of fund-raising events based around activities Louise had always enjoyed.
“We called our fundraising events ‘Run for Me, Dance for me, Think of me’ because Louise recorded a message for her own funeral in which she suggested people ran for her, danced for her and thought of her,” says Derek.
“That’s where the idea came from and over the course of a weekend we showed a film to an audience of over 200, then on the Saturday morning we had a sponsored run for people of all ages – the most elderly runner was 90.
“At the same time there was a coffee morning that was run in conjunction with the Marie Curie volunteers.
“There’s a fundraising group in the village. People had to queue up to get into the church hall all morning.”
Louise had a wild enthusiasm for discos and a particular weakness for Abba and Queen. The day’s events were followed, quite appropriately, by an evening of dancing.
“The Sunday was more reflective – think of me,” explains Derek.
“We had an out of the ordinary church service with different aspects to it. It included a champagne Communion and some of the things that were important and special to Louise.
“We all then had a community picnic. For Louise it was important that the community was brought together, not just the church community.”
Take a trip down memory lane
MARIE Curie is calling on food fans to hold a retro-inspired dinner party in aid of the charity this November.
Inspired by the surge of interest in retro food, Dinner Down Memory Lane, is about holding a dinner party and recreating your favourite nostalgic food.
By inviting friends to make a donation in return for dinner, fundraisers will be helping Marie Curie nurses provide care
and support to people living with a terminal illness and their families.
TO sign up and get your free fundraising pack visit www.mariecurie.org.uk/retronight or call 0800 716 146.
Marie Curie is the UK’s leading charity for people with any terminal illness.
The charity helps people living with a terminal illness and their families make the most of the time they have together by delivering expert hands-on care, emotional support, research and guidance.