Friday, 6 January 2012


Nicole with famous Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb. Pic from Rotary International UK

May 2010 saw the death of cancer victim Nicole Dryburgh.
News of the 21 year old young English woman was not widely spread and very few of us including myself had been aware of the deceased previously. Recently BBC London showed a documentary of Nicole as she braved herself against a disease which had left her paralysed and incapable of seeing or hearing. Yet in her ten year battle Nicole managed to raise 100,000 pounds for Teenage Cancer Trust, published two books, had her own website and won numerous awards.

Nicole was born 9th February, 1989 in Seasalter, off the North Sea coast of Canterbury, Kent in south East England. Seasalter used to be the centre of salt production during the Iron Age. When she was eleven years old in 2000 she banged her arm while swimming and from then on developed a series of problems that would eventually kill her. The ailments started with a peripheral sheath tumour which distresses the nervous system.
After two years tumours had spread and she had to have chemotherapy to ease pain and afflictions in her spine, brain and soon she had Stevens Johnson Syndrome.  SJS is a form of life threatening condition which affects the skin and mucous membrane.  Biologically, mucous membrane  are connected to skin and secrete mucus unto  ears, eyes, genitals, the anus, lips, mouth, nose etc.
Things got worse as Nicole developed so many complications and by 2007 (now aged 18) she had Neurofibromatosis which gave rise to deafness and shortly she would also be blind.  Another person would have been bed-ridden and quite badly off. However, snapshots of Nicole on the internet show a sick wheelchair bound youthful female with a permanent smile, holding a dog or on the back of a horse. No idea how she managed to climb on a horse. The impression you get is a person who loved life; a human being with a big, gargantuan spirit and a will to keep going...

The BBC TV documentary similarly conveys this mood; her affable personality, a positive a character, enriched with a high sense of humour, optimistic and passionate about writing and charity work.
“To be clear is highly important and often very difficult,” wrote, Dale Carnegie, the American self confidence psychologist of early 20th century, “That’s why Jesus Christ declared he had to teach in parables.”
Nicole used writing.
At the height of her illness in 2007 she released a book “The Way I see it” by Hodder Children’s Books publishers. The list of her woes and troubles meanwhile included regular pain and tiny splattering of blood in her brain. Before her death she would publish another book “Talk to the hand.” Instead of talking about her pain she said: “I keep myself busy organising fundraising events for my favourite charities.” In 2008 she proclaimed on her website: “I don’t let my disabilities let me down.”
Besides raising money to build awareness of young cancer victims, the young author was honest and open. She had a column in her local regional newspaper “ Kentish Gazette”, where she wrote regular diaries and let her readers know her personal tastes for example - favourite colour (pink) and her crash on Prince Harry(the younger royal heir) “because he is a rebel. And I like a rebel.” Eventually she would meet Prince Harry before she died.
Despite her constant pain hers was a decade of multiple achievements.  After her death from a brain haemorrhage a Rehabilitation Unit was opened in her memory at King’s College Hospital south east London. Newton Faulkner, Regional Fundraising manager for Teenage Trust Cancer said Nicole had “achieved so much in her short life.”
Hundreds of comments continue to flock on her site and blogs two years after her departure.  Jasmine, a fan declares:
 “I recently got Talk to the Hand out of my school library and reading the book I was impressed at how she managed to write such an inspiring book yet be deaf, blind and not have the use of her legs.  She was such an inspiration to young girls with cancer. “

Jude Brown: “So sad to hear Nicole died. I am one of the many people who read her diaries in the paper, her struggles with her illness felt very personal...she was such a brave young woman who focused not on what was being done for her but what she could for others.”
And to our beloved East African readers. This is a simple true story of an inspirational individual. I am sure we too know such unsung heroes and heroines, somewhere. Visit Nicole’s site here.

Published Citizen Tanzania: Friday 6th January, 2012:

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