Real lives: We all need some buddy to lean on
When you’re going through a life-changing experience, it helps to have someone who knows exactly how you’re feeling. Anna Moore meets eight women who found a special buddy
THE TRAVEL BUDDIES
When Hazel Bell’s daughter Kate announced that she was getting married in Las Vegas, Hazel, 56, a widow from Grimsby, looked online for a travelling companion. A reply came from Linda Tompkins, 63, a divorce from Suffolk
Linda, left, and Hazel at the Grand Canyon in 2010
In Rhodes last summer
HAZEL I panicked when Kate told me her wedding plans. The venue was the Chapel of the Flowers in Las Vegas and the only other guests were the groom’s parents – who I didn’t know very well. My husband died 20 years ago and I didn’t want to go alone. I placed an ad on the thelmaandlouise.com website, where women can advertise for a travel buddy, asking if anyone would like to come with me.
I got one reply and that was Linda’s. We met in March 2010 – five months before the wedding –
and I liked her instantly. After that one meeting, we went ahead and planned our trip. We both wanted an adventure and having each other gave us the confidence to pack more in. The itinerary took in Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and Alcatraz. It cost a lot of money and we’d only met once, so there was a huge amount of trust involved, but every aspect of the trip turned out to be fantastic, and the wedding was so sweet.
Sitting eating breakfast on a Sunday morning in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, it was unbelievable to think we’d only recently met. We’re still in touch by phone and have managed to squeeze in another holiday, to Rhodes.
LINDA When you get older, especially if you’re single and retired like me, your world shrinks. People don’t want to do so much any more, but I’m still an adventurer. I yearn to see the world but would never dream of going by myself. I loved the idea of the thelmaandlouise website and I liked Hazel straight away. She was smiley and up for adventures. Hazel’s father was seriously ill, so I did worry that she’d have to pull out or cut the trip short. But she gave me her word that she’d see the holiday through to the end whatever happened, and I trusted her.
The trip turned out to be more than I could have hoped for. The Grand Canyon was the most amazing part for me. Hazel had a lot going on at that time. Her only daughter was getting married and her father was very ill. I tried to support her, to be a friend, and the next year she treated me to a week’s holiday in Rhodes. She has a partner now and has become a grandmother, so she’s busy. We still phone and email each other – and if she ever needs a travel buddy again, I’m here!
THE BREAST CANCER BUDDIES
Jill Parry, 54, and Jen Hill, 59, were both diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2008 and supported one another through their identical treatments. Jill lives in Slough and Jen lives in Porthcawl. Both are married with two adult children
Jen, left, and Jill their first meeting in Mumbles, March 2009
Jen and Jill this September
JEN I was in absolute turmoil until Jill came along. I’d just had my first session of chemo and had suffered the worst reaction the hospital had ever seen – terrible muscle spasms, hallucinations and panic attacks. You don’t want to tell your family every detail – they’re dreadfully worried already. My husband has admitted he didn’t think I was going to make it. I found the cancerbuddiesnetwork.org website and left a message, saying I was desperate. The next day, I logged on and Jen’s message was waiting. She’d been diagnosed with the same stage 3 breast cancer as me in the same month. We both had two years of treatment before us – a lumpectomy, removal of lymph glands, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a year on the cancer drug Herceptin. Until Jill’s message I felt I was the only one. She said, ‘Don’t worry, we can do this together.’
At first we communicated through email. Sometimes I was too ill to go online, but when
I did, there’d be messages waiting. She just seemed to know what I was feeling. Three months later, Jill and her husband came to see us. It was the worst weather I’ve known – rain and gale-force winds. I had my wig on and Jill had a scarf and a hat on top of hers! We didn’t stop talking the entire afternoon.
Now it’s a never-ending conversation. Nearly four years on, we’re putting it behind us – though we’re on a Tamoxifen-type drug and could be for the next ten years. Last time she visited, Jill took photos of me. She said she wanted one on her mantelpiece so she could see me every day. I found that very touching.
JILL Jen and I needed support at different times. Jen had a bad experience with chemo whereas I struggled with the operations. I’d never had one in my life and was scared of never waking up. Jen talked me through it.
Cancer treatment is so tough, you don’t want to share it all with your family. When I was first diagnosed, I nearly passed out and I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack. You don’t want to keep reminding everyone around you how rubbish you feel – if you’re not positive, they think you’re not fighting the battle. But to have someone who knows how you feel is unbelievable. Jen and I could talk about anything, even the personal stuff, such as whether we’d started having sex again. It helps normalise the experience.
We try to get together every three months. We know each other’s important dates – mammograms, check-ups, anniversaries – but our relationship has moved beyond cancer. We’ve got very similar attitudes – we live life to the full. We’ll be friends for life.
THE IVF BUDDIES
Hannah Leber and Donna Smith, both 26, were about to embark on IVF when last December they found one another on the website fertilityfriends.co.uk. Hannah is a nanny and lives in Bournemouth with her husband while Donna, who works in an embroidery factory, lives in the Scottish Borders with her partner
Hannah, left, and Donna meet for the first time at Bournemouth Station
Hannah and Donna
HANNAH I’m a trained nanny – I love children and always wanted to be a mum. I met my husband when I was 16 and married at 21. After a few years of trying for a baby, we found that my fallopian tubes were blocked. Last November, we went to see a consultant who booked us in for IVF in January. He advised me to look on the fertilityfriends.co.uk site for someone going through the same thing.
I left a message on the website and Donna replied. She was the same age and having the same treatment just a week or two ahead of me. We messaged for a week, then went on to Facebook, text, phone and Skype. It started with IVF talk, then went beyond that. We wanted to find out everything about each other. At that stage, we were really excited.
The wait for the treatment seemed endless. When it finally came, Donna was ahead of me so
it was really helpful knowing what to expect. You go through real highs and lows with IVF – the drugs and the hormones, the pain and bloating. There are days when you feel positive and convinced it’s working and other times when you’re so fed up with the unfairness, you cry and cry. If I hadn’t had Donna, I’d have gone insane. We talked each other through it. Other friends don’t know what you’re on about when you try to explain your ‘day 21’ is coming up or you’re about to start buserelin injections. Partners are good for cuddles – but they’re blokes. Only Donna instantly got me every time.
Donna found that her IVF hadn’t worked. That was a big black cloud. I felt terrible for her and doubtful for myself. You think, ‘It hasn’t happened for her, why would it for me’ My cycle failed too and since then we’ve both had second attempts which also failed. Now I’m having a bit of a break from fertility treatment as it’s so intense. You need time out.
You can count on so many other people to say the wrong thing. ‘You’re young, you’ve got lots of time’; ‘Don’t worry! I had to try for a year; it happened in the end.’ Only Donna will always understand how I feel. We still text each other all day, every day.
DONNA Hannah and I are so similar. I’m a qualified nursery nurse, Hannah’s a qualified nanny. We’ve both got dogs. Our attitudes and opinions are so similar, we’re like twins, even though up until this photo shoot we’d never met! It’s just too expensive to get together because we live so far apart. At the moment, I’m working nights in a factory saving for another round of IVF.
We’ve talked about how one of us would feel if the other got pregnant and I honestly don’t think there’d be an ounce of jealousy. When other friends get pregnant – which is starting to happen now – you can’t help feeling devastated for yourself. But Hannah isn’t like other friends. We’ve gone through this together – we’re so connected. If she got pregnant now, I honestly couldn’t be happier for her – and selfishly, it would give a little bit of hope to me too.
THE BUSINESS BUDDIES
Sunny Moran was a PR account manager when one of her first clients, Hannah Sutter, inspired her to start her own business. The women have supported one another ever since. Sunny, 32, is co-founder and director of newyoubootcamp.com and lives in Bournemouth, while Hannah, 51, is founder of golower.co.uk and lives in Edinburgh
Business minds think alike: Sunny, left, with Hannah, who inspired her to take a risk
HANNAH I first met Sunny many years ago at the health product Vitality show in London’s Earls Court. I’d just left my job as a partner in an international law firm to bring a health bar on to the market. Sunny was in her early 20s, starting out in health PR and she came over to say how much she loved my product. She was so enthusiastic, I gave her the contract. She helped me launch the Go Lower bar – but I knew there was more to her than working for someone else’s PR company. When she told me about her idea for her own boot-camp business, I thought it was brilliant.
We help each other out all the time and complement one another’s skills. My product has developed a lot since then. I don’t need to employ a PR company, I can do it all with the help of my mate Sunny! She gives me advice on marketing, positioning and celebrity endorsement and has really helped me get the most out of the press – as a former lawyer, I’d been a bit suspicious of the media. Likewise, Sunny will come to me with legal questions about franchises, subsidiaries, overseas companies – questions that she’d have to pay a lawyer for if she didn’t have me.
What I also like about Sunny is that she lives life to the full. Yes, business is a big passion, but she has a personal life too. In all those ways we’re very similar.
SUNNY I’m quite a bit younger than Hannah and when we met I was full of admiration for the risk she’d taken, stepping off a very well paid, secure career path to do something she believed in.
We spent a lot of time together launching her product and one day I started asking her questions about how and why she’d made the jump. She must have detected something, because she got a twinkle in her eye and said, ‘Whatever you’re thinking of doing, go for it. You only get one chance in life, so do something you’re passionate about.’ I did have an idea of bringing boot camps to Britain. It was something I’d been discussing with an old school friend, Jacqui Cleaver – the two of us were always trying to lose weight. Hannah’s advice spurred me on. I didn’t want to be working for someone else for the next 30 years. So I left my job to launch New You Boot Camp with Jacqui.
We were the first to introduce boot camps to the UK and I was worried that people wouldn’t want to
go on them. But Hannah believed in it straight away and that was such a boost.
We talk all the time, letting each other know what has worked well for the business, such as internet targeting. I could talk about business till the cows come home – but don’t want to bore my husband to death! Hannah and I never tire of it. We live at opposite ends of the country and meet whenever we’re in London – and every Christmas we make sure we get together to forget business and talk about our families.