story 1 June 2019

Francesca credits DofE for giving her the resilience needed to comprehend her cancer diagnosis

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of rare cancer that attacks the immune system. Francesca was in her final year of university and at the same time was doing her Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE).

With a combination of radiotherapy and surgery, Francesca was able to fight off the disease and returned to university to finish her degree, and achieve her Gold Award.

Francesca took up learning Spanish for her Skills section and it was through this she met her husband, Manuel, who later supported her through yet another difficult period in her life. Being hit with the devastating news that she had developed cancer a second time at the age of 36, Francesca drew on the strength of her previous familiarities with the disease and the support of her network of friends and family, many of whom she met through doing her DofE. She commented; “Being told I had cancer again was a devastating blow but I found comfort in knowing I had the support of people around me. I am the resilient, optimistic person I am today thanks to the experiences I gained through my DofE.”

Wanting to give back to a programme that supported her through some particularly challenging periods of her life, Francesca decided to become a DofE Leader and within six months of signing up, was qualified as a Basic Expedition Leader and an Assessor too. She recalled; “Achieving my Silver and Gold DofE Awards was such a positive experience that the memories have stayed with me forever. I always wanted to give something back to the Charity that has helped me through a difficult time in my life, which is why I chose to become a DofE Leader. I work with young people with complex needs, autism and challenging behaviour so adapting their programmes to ensure it’s a personal challenge for each young person but also accessible to all requires a lot of creative thinking, but at the same time is extremely rewarding.”

Reminiscing on what she enjoyed most about her own DofE programmes, and now as a DofE Leader, Francesca said; “I loved the friendships formed in tough conditions, whether as a young participant with a heavy rucksack lost in France with my teammates, or as a Leader waiting in the rain for an expedition group to reach a checkpoint. One of my fondest memories as a Leader was when I was assessing a group of SEN learners for the Expedition section of their Bronze programmes. They found some charcoal from a campfire, painted their faces with it and then made up stories of how they had become so dirty. It was lovely to witness the camaraderie and friendships forming in the team.”

Having been diagnosed with, and survived, cancer twice, achieved her own Silver and Gold Awards plus helped many more young people with additional needs to achieve theirs, Francesca is a fantastic example of what can be accomplished with determination and perseverance and whose life experiences have helped to shape others. She concluded; “I’ve experienced some very tough personal challenges in my life but the experience of being part of the DofE pushes me and drives me to continuously challenge myself every day. I’ve abseiled, completed three marathons, and strived to achieve everything that I’ve set out to do. Life is short and the DofE helped me to develop an attitude that allows me to make the most of every single day.”

Francesca will be conquering her fear of confined spaces, as part of her DofE Diamond Challenge to celebrate the Charity’s Diamond Anniversary, by going caving at a local outdoor education facility.

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