ZOE Beresford wears a silver heart pendant engraved with the words ‘I am H.A.P.P.Y.’. It reminds her of the song her father used to sing while battling for two years with cancer.
On the other side is his thumb print.
She wears the necklace every day – it helps her to feel connected to her father and best friend, who tragically passed away in December aged just 45.
She is also helping to keep his memory alive in another way – by preparing to cycle across Malawi in October with her boyfriend, Adam Chart, to raise money for the hospice that cared for her father in his final weeks and of which she can’t speak highly enough.
Zoe’s father, Matthew, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, while she was in her final year at Southampton Solent University.
He had had an ache in his back for a while, but doctors had put that down to constipation and it was a cough that led to tests which revealed he had primary cancer of the kidney and secondary lung cancer.
Surgery removed a 10lb tumour which had engulfed one of his kidneys, as well as tumours in the artery leading to his heart and lungs.
“He seemed to be recovering,” says Zoe, 23, who lives in Southampton. “Then in January last year, he sent me a text to say he couldn’t feel one side of his body. He was very casual about it and I thought it was down to how he’d slept.”
But tests revealed that he had three brain tumours. He had surgery for these but went on to develop seizures and eventually a further tumour on his brain stem was discovered. It was in October that Matthew, Zoe and her younger brother and sister were delivered the devastating news that the cancer was terminal and he was moved to Myton Hospice in Warwick where he lived.
“It was heartbreaking,” says Zoe. “He was my best friend. When my parents separated I lived with him and we were very close. It is still very hard – I don’t think I’ve quite accepted it yet.
“It developed so quickly that we never really had a chance to absorb everything.”
Zoe says that her father coped very well with discovering he had cancer, remaining positive and fighting it with all his might.
“It was important that my dad was there for my brother’s 18th and my sister’s 21st birthdays last year,” she says.
“He was an amazing person.
He was always really cheerful and had a fantastic smile. He never stopped singing – he was always singing at the top of his voice.
“He would do anything for anyone. At his funeral it was so packed that some people had to stand outside the church.”
Now Zoe is doing her best to keep her father’s legacy alive through her fundraising efforts. As well as aiming to raise £10,000 in his memory for the hospice, she also values the fact that fundraising gives her a chance to talk about her dad and tell people what a special person he was.
“It’s really useful for me to have something to focus on and I’m dreading coming back,” she says.
She is planning to continue fundraising in her father’s name after the cycle ride, adding to the £1,500 she raised last year for Cancer Research.
“Doing this definitely makes me feel more connected to my dad and gives me the opportunity to talk about him,”
“He was taken too early. He had so much more to give and made everyone’s life more positive. Me and my brother and sister have said we’ll make sure his legacy lives on.”