A heartfelt tribute

You might or might not know that Rosie was a Facebook fiend. In fact without her maniacal love of it I would never have returned to use it again after a six-year absence. It is all too often derided by many (me included) as a place for fake friendships and innumerable and pointless photos of cats (sorry to all those cat lovers out there). But in Facebook Rosie found an outlet. A number of years ago she started the Wonderful Working Mums group – to date is has 2,601 members. The name says it all. It is a group for working mums to get together and to swap tips on everything from child care to career advancement.

And then there are the various cancer support groups which she took inspiration from and participated in. One of these, the Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK), founded by Victoria Yates, was so very important to her in the year since her diagnosis. It was here that she met and made so many true friends; friends who since her death have been in regular contact with me. Almost every message I receive begins with the words “I never met Rosie, but…”. To me it is a sign of her strength and powerful personality that friendships forged online have lasted beyond her life in a way that friendships do in the real world.

Throughout the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, YBCN has been telling the stories of young women who have survived and succumbed to breast cancer. Their campaign is named #nottooyoung. In the words of one of their members the campaign is “trying to counter the pink and fluffy side of Breast Cancer Awareness month, so that women understand it’s not as straightforward as buying a pink pair of pants or showing your bra strap to make a genuine difference to research and development of a cure for the disease. We want to try to encourage women to look, check and get changes investigated early, and to understand most of all that breast cancer is not an older womens’ disease.”

I was asked if I’d be willing to allow Rosie’s story to be told. There was no debate, of course they could use her story. Below are the elegant words which were written about Rosie. For those of you on Facebook you can check out this campaign for yourselves here.

I want to endorse the sentiments of the campaign and reinforce its message. Rosie’s charity will be aiming to do a great deal of this too and I hope we can make a small but significant contribution to eradicating this appalling killer.

Elliot

Rosie, 38, ‪#‎nottooyoung‬

This is Rosie. Rosie lived in North West London. Rosie was a wife, mother of two, Oxford graduate and partner in a City law firm. She was diagnosed in June 2014 with primary breast cancer. Then in December 2014, just as she had finished her course of chemotherapy, Rosie found a new lump. The cancer had returned and spread to her liver. This meant that the cancer was now incurable. Rosie died in June 2015, just one year after her initial diagnosis. She was 38 years old.

Throughout her illness, Rosie blogged about her experiences as a breast cancer patient, winning international acclaim and awards for her blog, Fighting Ghengis. Though originally written as a private journal, her final message was covered by the English and Irish media and The Huffington Post, which gives you an indication of how far and wide she managed to spread her message.

Rosie provided many members of YBCN with comforting words, advice and support often on a personal, one to one level. She was an active member of our online community, leading discussions about symptoms and side effects, chipping in with advice on how to manage some of the problems we all encounter as breast cancer patients, and making many of us howl with laughter with her wicked sense of humour, despite the personal challenges she was facing.

Rosie was incredibly motivated and organised, arranging a YBCN social event whilst in the midst of her treatment. She mobilised dozens of our members from across the country to meet up in central London for afternoon tea and, later that evening, a meal, vodka shots and dancing!

Her enthusiasm for life shone through in her posts, and her wisdom and kindness were almost palpable to those who ‘met’ her through YBCN. Her warmth and sincerity came through the screen and into people’s lives.

So who was Rosie? She read jurisprudence at Brasenose College Oxford, attaining a double first with a prize in European law. While at Oxford she developed many close friendships, which endured with her. After law school, she networked hard to secure a rare internship in competition law at the European Commission.

She was a partner at her second firm by the age of 33 and from there, moved to a significant partnership role at Bristow’s, where she flourished.

Within five weeks of meeting Rosie, her husband Elliot had determined that he had found the one. As a mother, Rosie was peerless. She was a hard-working, highly successful city lawyer and a fully engaged parent. She never did anything by halves. She started the very successful “Wonderful Working Mums” network on Facebook.

Rosie loved her two children, Natalie and Joseph, for all their individuality. She saw so many of her own good traits in Natalie; the bookworm and the natural born leader, whilst Joey would be there to defend Natalie. He was a protector of the family and she loved that in him. She loved his sheer joy of life and his force of personality.

Rosie was a brilliant, accomplished young woman of tenacity, resilience, strength and determination. Yet on being called ‘inspirational’ we’re told she had retorted that she was simply “doing the very best she could in a shitty situation.”

And yet Rosie gave inspiration. She championed everybody to be the best person they could be. She gave life a massive ‘yes’.
Rosie never let go of her wish for life and was determined to do the best she could. Her instruction to her loved ones? “Life’s too short. Do the right thing.”

We miss you Rosie. You’ll always shine brightly as one of the YBCN family.

Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK)'s photo.

Happy birthday Rosie

On this day, 39 years ago, Rosemary Sara Kalman was born. This year, for the first time, we must celebrate Rosie’s birthday without her. The sense of loss is as great today as it has been at any point over the last four months. Rosie lived for birthdays, so much so that she had already started planning her 40th; including her list of invitees. Who knows, perhaps next year we will feel able to have a proper party. For now I comfort myself with the company of our two wonderful children, and in a gesture that I’m sure Rosie would appreciate the three of us will light candles on a cake and sing happy birthday.

I’ve said this before and I’ll no doubt say it again. If you have a loved one give them a hug and tell them how much they mean to you. Live for today and don’t worry about getting older; in fact thank whoever or whatever you thank for being able to grow old. It’s a gift. Don’t take it for granted.

Happy birthday Ro. Happy birthday my darling xxx

Elliot

100_0327

Two birthdays and an anniversary

October was always a big month in the Choueka household. Rosie’s mum has her birthday on the 14th, Rosie had hers on the 15th and we celebrated our wedding anniversary on 24th. Last year, while in the midst of her first chemo battering, Rosie managed to find the strength to celebrate all three; one in particular in great style. Rosie alluded to it in this post. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one for birthdays or celebrations, but Rosie and I weren’t going to let our 10th anniversary pass without marking it in some spectacular way. The day unfolded amid carefully planned surprise after surprise. It culminated in the gift Rosie had always wanted, a beautiful eternity ring, which had in part belonged to her grandma. As she said, there were tears. It’s only now almost a year later and less than four short months since her passing that I realise the full irony of the gift.

I’d always half jokingly said to Rosie that I wouldn’t giver her an eternity ring until we’d been together for an eternity. After all, I reasoned, an eternity ring should be a sign of achievement not an aspiration. Well how bitterly right I was. It was our eternity together. It certainly was for Rosie.

Sitting here now writing about this month it feels so odd that while we remember two important dates (my mother-in-law’s birthday will, I hope, still be a celebration) the country also marks Breast Cancer Awareness month during October. Just before she died Rosie instructed me to set up a charity. She wanted it to raise funds to research secondary breast cancer. She wanted me to publish this blog as a book and she wanted any money to be split equally between the children and the charity. Since June I have been thinking and working on both. With the support of a dedicated band of friends and family we work towards the establishment of the charity; and with the help of a different set of equally dedicated friends I am navigating the difficult world of publishing.

I’ll admit that the concept of establishing a charity to do such important work hangs heavily over me. I know, because I’ve been told by anyone who cares to tell me, that it is fantastically hard to start a charity. There are so many competing for limited support. Why the hell would I take on this challenge while I have two little children to care for? Well the answer is obvious. Because Rosie asked me to. There were scant few things that Rosie ever asked of me that I didn’t (eventually) agree to. My friends, quite rightly, question the wisdom of doing this right now. A few days ago my best friend asked if I’d be starting a charity if Rosie hadn’t asked me to. “Of course not.” I replied in a flash. But equally quickly I added that she did ask me to and so I had to. No question.

And yet I feel so very torn. The charity will do great things. It will raise large sums for a significant and important cause. But most importantly it will help to cement Rosie’s legacy for a long time to come. When our daughter talks about selling her Disney Princess dresses and dolls to raise money for “mummy’s charity” what option do I have? Really?

So we will work to set up the charity and unless some excellent reason prevents me from doing so I hope to enlist your help at some point. Watch this space as they say.

In the meantime I continue to care for and nurture my little children. This morning before the sun rose Joey climbed into my bed. He asked me, as only a four-year old can, “When is mummy coming home?”. What can I say? I’d like to know the answer to that one too.

Elliot