What Avanade’s Macmillan Coffee Morning event means to me

  • Posted on October 29, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes

As many of my colleagues know, baking is very close to my heart. Something that’s less well-known about me is that my family runs a charity called the Beez Foundation, which is on a mission to fight paediatric brain cancer. 

So, when the Avanade UK team began organising our annual Macmillan Coffee Morning, in support of MacMillan Cancer Support, it seemed the perfect time to share my experiences. 

My niece, Jenn “Beez” Beisswanger, suffered a Grand Mal Seizure in her first year at University.  It was diagnosed as a cancerous tumour which was the size of a lemon, which required emergency surgery to save her life.  Over the next three years, Jenn had more than a few battles to fight, two more surgeries, radiation therapy, scans every 3 months – but through it all she never lost her sense of humour or her humanity.  I remember a story her surgeon told us: after one of her surgeries, she was so knocked back she could barely lift her head. But, in the middle of the night an elderly woman was crying with pain and Jenn got out of bed and comforted her until the nurses arrived – her surgeon still doesn’t know where she got the strength to do it.   Throughout this time, Jenn worked as a camp counsellor with little kids, and whilst undergoing chemotherapy treatments volunteered at the hospital to work with paediatric dialysis patients.

Which taught me the first lesson of cancer:  It knocks you down – but get back up and don’t let it take over your life

In year 3, Jenn went in for a regular scan, one we thought would give her the all clear only to find out that it was back – more aggressive then before and inoperable.  She was out of treatment options and given a year to live. Or she could try what was then a radical treatment: high dose chemo with stem cell replacement.  Her surgeon was pretty honest – he told her it had a 60%+ mortality rate but if it worked she’d be cured.  She took some time to think and do a few things on her bucket list - get a tattoo, swim with dolphins.  Then of course she did the treatment. I remember her telling me that she wasn’t going to let the cancer win. 

Which taught me the second lesson of cancer:  It’s a perfidious beast you have to fight every day.

Jenn did the treatment and she beat the cancer!  However, during recovery she developed a staph infection and, unfortunately, we lost her in April 2001 at the age of 22. Shortly after her death, her family and friends founded the Beez Foundation in her memory with a mission to fund research to help end paediatric brain cancer, the number one cancer killer in kids.   I’m happy to say that the treatment Jenn went through, which was radical at the time, is now a considered treatment for paediatric medulloblastoma and has helped cure many kids.  

Anyone who has had cancer strike someone they love could tell a similar story: the interminable waiting; the unending sense of helplessness, the boundless rage you feel at times, the deep sadness. But I’d imagine they got through it the same way I did – through amazing support from my friends, my colleagues and our family.  

Which taught me the last lesson about cancer: It doesn’t just strike one person – it affects everyone who loves them.

That’s why an organisation like Macmillan Cancer Support is so vital – it provides the support, the relief, the help and the network that cancer patients, their friends and their families need to fight this horrible disease.

Avanade UK’s Macmillan Coffee Morning was hugely successful. With the help of Avanade employees and Avanade Gives, which matched our donations, we were able to raise more than £700 for Macmillan. I want to extend my sincerest thank you to all the employees who participated; every little bit helps!

In addition to Macmillan, there are many things you can do to support families fighting cancer. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Bring dinner to a neighbour, friend or family fighting cancer. A good nutritious meal is often an afterthought when you are juggling treatments.
  • Volunteer for a support network, a hospice or to be a driver.
  • Simply support any one of a number of great charities that fund cancer research, nursing and hospice care, support networks, etc.

Most importantly, let people know they don’t have to fight this battle alone. Everyone affected by cancer – the patient, family and friends – needs the kind of support we had.  Which is why providing support and hope is one way my family and friends honour my niece,  Jenn.

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