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Essex cancer survivor marries love of her life with help from Red Cross

Madeleine and Ray Wickett

A woman who survived cancer, proposed to her partner, and used a Red Cross wheelchair on her wedding day, wants people to volunteer this International Wheelchair Day – so more people can be helped to regain their independence, just like she did.

Madeleine Wickett, 64, from Althorne, was given just hours to live when she was rushed to hospital after having a reaction to her treatment for ovarian cancer. Her daughter Melissa (33) remembers the day well.

Melissa says: “All I kept thinking was that I’ve got to say goodbye to my mum. They put her on end-of-life care and they were just waiting for her heart to stop.”

Against all odds, Madeleine slowly began to make a recovery. However, she was not yet out of the woods and her family stayed by her side in hospital as she fought for her life.

“The doctors and nurses kept calling Mum an enigma, saying ‘we’ve not seen this before’,” says Melissa. “It was a rollercoaster of emotions. We slept by Mum’s hospital bed for three solid weeks and I think I cried more in those three weeks than I’ve ever cried in my entire life.”

As Madeleine began to grow more lucid, she was transferred back home but the ordeal had left her feeling weak and she struggled to return to her daily routine.

Madeleine says: “I didn’t have much strength. I couldn’t get out, I couldn’t move my legs, I couldn’t even get to the front door. That’s where the Red Cross came in.”

She came across an advert for a Red Cross mobility aids service in Maldon, which loans out equipment, such as wheelchairs and toilet aids, to help people cope with temporary mobility issues due to illness or injury.

“We phoned up and they were so helpful,” Melissa remembers. “The volunteer was so polite and nice and he was talking us through everything.”

The wheelchair loan helped Madeleine to regain her independence and quality of life after her traumatic ordeal.

Madeleine says: “That wheelchair was a godsend and if I hadn’t seen that advert I don’t know what we would have done. I was housebound before. The wheelchair helped me to get outside, in the sunlight and the fresh air.”

The Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian network of 17 million dedicated volunteers, working in almost every country in the world. The mobility aids service dates back to the First World War and now, over 100 years later, helps thousands of people thanks to 1,200 volunteers and 130 staff.

As she recovered from her ordeal, Madeleine decided to marry Ray, the love of her life, after 24 years together.

Madeleine recalls how her special day came about: “I phoned Ray up one day and said ‘hello darling, just a quickie — yes or no — will you marry me? He said yes and I said ‘thanks, darling’ and put the phone down.’”

The pair were married in Orsett Hall in November 2018 and although Madeleine was happily able to walk down the aisle unaided, the Red Cross wheelchair came in handy for dress shopping — and also on the special day itself.

“We were really worried that Mum wasn’t going to be able to walk down the aisle,” says Melissa. “The wheelchair took a lot of pressure off. Mum wouldn’t have been able to do it without it.”

After being given hours to live, Madeleine found it difficult to believe she was at her own wedding day.

She recalls: “It’s been a whirlwind year. At the wedding I was sitting in my chair just watching everyone because it felt as if it was happening to someone else and not me.”

Madeleine and Melissa say their sense of humour and close family have kept them going and the two don’t go a day without talking to each other.

Madeleine says: “I’ll start a sentence and she’ll finish it!”

She continues: “I want to let other people know don’t give up because they’re fighting the biggest battles of their lives. My mother was a strong woman so I think I get my strength from my mum…”

“…and I get it from mine!” Melissa finishes.

Michael Lascelles, British Red Cross mobility aids hub manager responsible for Essex, says: “British Red Cross believes everyone who needs a wheelchair should be able to get one that is right for them to help with their recovery, and the tireless efforts of our volunteers help to make this possible. We are so proud to have been a part of Melissa and Ray’s special day and we wish them every happiness for the future.”

If you would like to find out more about volunteering to help other people like Madeleine adjust after illness or injury, contact Ben Weatherburn at: bweatherburn@redcross.org.uk or on 07718 242801.

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