As she recovers from treatment for breast cancer Sarah, Duchess of York, knows better than most the impact such an illness can have on families and loved ones.
In this exclusive interview with HELLO!, Sarah describes how her daughters Princess Beatrice, 35, and Princess Eugenie, 33, rallied around following her mastectomy in the summer and also tells how Beatrice worried about her younger sister when Eugenie underwent spinal surgery at the age of 12.
“A cancer diagnosis is like a bomb going off for the whole family,” Sarah explains. “Normal life comes to an end. My girls, in particular, were very affected by my illness; they just wanted to make it okay and were magnificent in terms of visiting me and supporting me in the aftermath of my mastectomy. Some time away from home to clear your mind and focus on wellness and the future can be so important.”
Sarah, 64, is Patron of Ruddi’s Retreat, a charity which offers families dealing with cancer or other life limiting illnesses respite stays at Primrose Valley caravan park in Filey, Yorkshire. The facility was founded by Ali Jones, whose 15-year-old son Ruddi was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer, when he was just six months old, and who wanted to help others going through the same ordeal. The charity has four luxury adapted caravans and hopes to buy more so they can help more families.
“Since 2012 Ruddi’s Retreat has helped more than 3,000 families from all over the UK and the respite breaks provide a chance for the whole family to come together and spend quality time free from day-to-day concerns and build precious memories,” Sarah explains. “Sadly, some of the children and parents staying only have a few months to live so these memories really do mean the world. Families report seeing a significant reduction in the level of stress with health benefits for the individual, both mentally and physically, and for other family members, including siblings. A simple recharging of the batteries for the family is sometimes all that is needed. It’s about bringing a little bit of joy and kindness into these families’ lives.
“I’m still recovering from surgery for breast cancer and my experience has given me a new appreciation of what the families Ruddi’s Retreat helps are going through,” she adds. “I was lucky in that my cancer was caught early thanks to a mammogram which I nearly put off. I only went because my sister Jane nagged me to go.”
It’s not just parents who are impacted when a child falls ill, as Sarah knows only too well.
“I remember the impact on Beatrice when Eugenie had to undergo major surgery for scoliosis at the age of 12,” she recalls. “She was so concerned for her sister. What many of the families Ruddi’s Retreat are going through is obviously much worse. Any parent’s instinct is to want to fix their children’s problems, but sometimes that isn’t possible. Siblings absorb a lot of the disruption and stress that is caused by a serious illness in the family and can often feel neglected because of the understandable focus on the sick child. A holiday with the whole family where they can focus on joy for a short period can make all the difference.
“Ruddi is the most incredible young man and I adore him and his family,” Sarah adds. “Ruddi is now a kind, loving and very loud 15-year-old. He is left with some limitations, but he lives life to the fullest and loves nothing more than spending time with his family and helps out with the charity, which is inspiring to see.”
Sarah urges HELLO! readers to consider making a donation to Big Give’s Christmas Challenge, no matter how small.
“We’d love to buy more caravans and continue to help bring some light to those dark times,” she says. “What Big Give does is really miraculous. Anything your readers give to Ruddi’s Retreat or any of the other 1,000 plus charities taking part will be doubled. I know it’s a tough time for lots of people because of the cost-of-living crisis and many perhaps won’t be able to afford to give as much as they normally would to charity. So why not do it through the Big Give website, where £10 becomes £20 for your favourite charity? It’s a really crucial fundraiser for Ruddi’s Retreat and I urge people to give whatever they can and allow Big Give to make their generosity go further.”