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Despite triple tragedy Rita’s rallying against cancer one step at a time

25 March 2015


It’s fair to say that 72 year old Rita Redfern, from Rayleigh, has endured a triple whammy of tragedy that would leave most of us reeling, having lost both a husband and partner to cancer and faced a battle with bowel cancer herself.

After taking on the Great Pier Walk with her family in aide of Southend Hospital's Keyhole Cancer Appeal last year, they are back again for 2015 - with Rita and her daughters becoming  unwitting 'poster girls' for the Walk as it includes a picture of them taking part in the event last year.

Rita and daughters Nikki, 51 and Sam, 42 - she also has a son, Jeremy, 48 - are staunch supporters of Southend Hospital's Keyhole Cancer Appeal. The women will again be putting their best foot forward for this year's Great Pier Walk; which is being being held on Sunday March 29.

"I just want to do my bit," says Rita. "I think it's great that the hospital has this appeal because it raises awareness of bowel cancer. Fear of the unknown is such a big thing and when I had bowel cancer, I felt I couldn't talk about it. Now we have the appeal, and if you can have keyhole surgery rather than being opened up, well, that's fantastic."

At the age of 54, Rita lost her husband Doug, father of the couple's three grown-up children, to kidney cancer just six weeks after he was diagnosed at the age of 56.

Unfortunately he died just three months after the birth of his first grandchild.

Devastated, his widow threw herself into her job as a practice manager for a busy GP surgery in Rayleigh, as well as running a small social club for people who had lost loved ones to cancer.

It was there, in 2008, 11 years after the death of her husband, that Rita met widower Chris Purcell. Romance blossomed, giving both of them a second chance of happiness and they were welcomed into each other's families.

Then, just two years later, Rita discovered she had bowel cancer following a colonoscopy (an investigative procedure). "I was terrified," she says candidly.

The grandmother-of-two underwent hours of major and invasive surgery at Southend Hospital to remove a large section of the area. She declined chemotherapy (she is diabetic which can cause complications) and was back at work after three weeks.

"The care I received at Southend Hospital was superb," Rita says. "I will always remember Mr Praveen [colorectal surgeon Mr Bandipalyam  Praveen] drawing me a diagram and saying 'you have it here and here and we will remove that part and you will be fine'. Of course I had my low moments but he was so positive and matter-of-fact and so was I."

Rita and Chris got on with their lives for the next year or so. But then Chris, a keen cyclist and walker who had always embraced healthy living, started becoming tired.

 "We had come back from Madeira in the October, and we knew he was ill," Rita recalls. "But then when they said they thought it was cancer, it just came of the blue. They thought it was in the bone, but they weren't sure where. By January he was having tests at the hospital."

Chris died suddenly the next month. He was just 62.

Rita refuses to be consumed by (understandable) bitterness. "I consider that I am a positive person and I have survived," she says. "I have been blessed with a lovely family and friends. That's not to say that my losses weren't terrible things to happen - they were both lovely men who did not deserve to die."

The Great Pier Walk 2015 will take place on Sunday 29 March from 10am till 4pm. If you would like to take part please call the hospital fundraising team on 01702 385337 or email fundraising@southend.nhs.uk

To ensure that your entry fee benefits the Keyhole Cancer Appeal, walkers MUST register in advance.  Any entry fees taken on the day will be split between the Rotary Club's chosen charities.

The Keyhole Cancer Appeal aims to raise £600,000 for the provision of a new state-of-the-art laparoscopic (keyhole surgery) theatre suite at Southend University Hospital. 

Surgeons will be able to perform the latest and most complex keyhole procedures for patients undergoing cancer and general surgery.

Hundreds of Southend patients are likely to benefit each year, these include people suffering with bowel and prostate cancer or gynaecological conditions. 


Image: Rita and Doug, Spring Bank Holiday 1996