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Jo's Story- running for my friend Beth

Jo ran last year’s Hospice Run 10k, in memory of her friend Beth. Here she remembers Beth and how the race helped her to work through the loss of someone so special.
Jo Paton at Hospice Run 2021

Beth loved life

‘She was passionate about everything she did – jumped in feet first.  She was very bubbly, proudly Welsh, a dedicated teacher and lived for her two children, Ruby and Drew.  She was a real character.. She loved dressing up, wearing crazy outfits. A real tour de force. I have lots of happy memories and photos.’

They met at Radnor House School, Sevenoaks, where Jo was working as a teaching assistant. ‘My husband was Head of School at the time and he appointed Beth deputy head of the Prep School because he immediately recognised her passion for teaching.  She was loved by everybody – children, parents, everyone.’

Jo and Beth formed a close friendship both in and out of school.  ‘She was many things to me. We got on very, very well. She inspired me.  I remember her very clearly  saying, “You’d be a great teacher. I believe in you. You can do this.”  She was very encouraging and I qualified just after she died.’

Beth’s cancer diagnosis came out of the blue in 2019. ‘She was staying with us in France and I noticed that she was avoiding eating. When I asked her she would say that sometimes it hurt to eat.

Jo's Story

‘A few months later I got a call to say that she was off sick from school. I rang her and she said she’d had a funny turn in the night and had collapsed. It wasn’t like Beth to be sick, so I drove down to see her. I had this horrible feeling the pit of my stomach – this is not right, it’s not a normal bug.  We talked about her going to the doctor, having some tests.  I look back now and wonder if she knew that it was something worse.’

Beth went for an endoscopy (a procedure to look inside the upper body). A blockage was detected. ‘They immediately ran tests and biopsies and she was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer.  It was a big shock as this type of cancer is normally found in elderly men. She was so young. It seemed very cruel and unreal.

‘I’m sure other people have this feeling. The person in front of you is alive and your age, 40, and yet they’re telling you they’re not going to be there in a couple of months. It’s very difficult to grasp.

Jo Paton after finsihing Hospice Run

Hospice Run was my chance to do something positive in memory of Beth

‘It wasn’t ever going to be a fight Beth could win, but I am still to this day in awe of how positive and brave she was. How amazingly strong.’

At the end of 2019 Beth became engaged to her partner Rob and they married soon after in Tunbridge Wells. ‘She looked amazing and it was a joyful occasion. She wanted it to be a party, a celebration and for everyone to have a good time. We did but it felt surreal.’

Beth spent the last few weeks of her life in the Hospice.  ‘In that time she was saying her goodbyes and the Hospice were really great. They accommodated people and gave Beth and her family the space they needed, and the care.

‘Beth wanted to spend as much time as possible with her children and prepare them. Hospice were fantastic at explaining what was happening, enabling them to be with her at the end. They helped Beth to make a cast of her hand and fingerprints – a lovely tangible memory  that her children can treasure.’

Beth passed away overnight on January 31 2021. Jo still finds it hard to believe her friend is no longer here. ‘Six weeks after Beth passed away we went into lockdown. We were due to mark her loss at the school with a celebration of her life and a memorial service. Cancelling that was difficult and one of the reasons why I thought doing the Hospice 10k was a positive way to mark her passing.’

It also helped Jo to process her sense of loss. Because of Covid, Jo trained and ran the race on her own rather than in a group. ‘I thought of Beth all the way round. I know she would have thought I was mad, but we would have gone round together. Slowly. At the end there is a last horrible hill, which I wasn’t expecting, so I was really digging deep and I cried when I crossed the finishing line.  But it did something positive in memory of Beth. It supported Hospice and the work they do for people. So it was a win-win really.’

Family running to finish line

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