Inspirational Rhona loses cancer fight

RHONA Damant, mother-of-two, EADT columnist and tireless fundraiser, has died after a seven-year battle with cancer.She was last night remembered as an amazing woman whose great courage and strength was inspirational.

RHONA Damant, mother-of-two, EADT columnist and tireless fundraiser, has died after a seven-year battle with cancer.

She was last night remembered as an amazing woman whose great courage and strength was inspirational.

Rhona, who lived in Great Waldingfield, near Sudbury, lost her brave fight on Thursday night at the age of 45 - tragically the age her own mother died of the disease when she was just 13.

She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 and initially treatment seemed successful but in 2003 the disease had returned and this time it was terminal.


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It was then that she started to write a frank weekly column for the EADT, charting her hopes and fears, her heart-wrenching preparations for her teenage children's futures, the highs and lows of treatment and her fundraising efforts.

It was through this diary that many people first “met” Rhona and she touched countless lives with her sense of humour, her openness and her indefatigable energy.

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She started writing in a bid to give people “plain English answers”, beyond medical jargon, about the disease.

But it was far from depressing - for she coped with the prospect of death through her immense love of life.

Although many of her readers would remain strangers to her, a two-way relationship developed with members of the public being inspired to fundraise and help in any way they could and Rhona drawing strength from their thoughts and their concerns for her.

When she was too ill to write, and her friend Liani stepped in, the EADT was flooded with letters and calls from members of the public asking how she was.

The shockwaves of her death will be felt across the region, as well as the country, and tributes began pouring in last night.

Among them was Ronan Keating, the pop superstar who wrote a foreword to her book and met Rhona on a number of occasions.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, one of the charities she raised money for, said the whole organisation was “extremely saddened” by her death.

“Rhona was an amazing person who was a real inspiration to us all,” he said.

“She has done so much to raise awareness of breast cancer and continually showed courage and determination whilst living with this disease.

“She inspired the whole community to raise vital funds for our research and education work which will now benefit future generations of breast cancer patients, their family and friends. We will miss her dearly and our thoughts are with all those close to her at this sad time.”

Rhona, who was originally from Ireland, was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38.

At first her treatment seemed successful and the former flight attendant and florist had a mastectomy as well as lymph nodes removed.

She went into remission but, after having trouble breathing, she was diagnosed with secondary inoperable tumours.

She was all too aware of the devastating impact of cancer having lost both her mother and her grandmother to the disease.

In a bid to cushion the effect her death would have on her family - husband David and teenage children Francesca and Kristopher - she planned her own funeral and organised memory boxes for the coming-of age events in her children's lives that she would miss, their birthdays and weddings.

But it was her ability to cope with death by drawing on her enjoyment of life and by battling to keep “normal” that made her an inspiration.

She imagined her life after death as a fairy, which seemed incredibly fitting for such a bubbly person with an almost ethereal ability to draw on reserves of willpower.

At the end of her book, in a handwritten note, she said: “Of course life will continue for everyone when I have left to grow some fairy wings and fly off to be with my mum and dad, but please never forget me.”

Her hugely successful column evolved into a book, Sit Down and Stop Laughing, which collated her diary entries and was sold in aid of cancer charities.

It was launched on the same day as the EADT's Ray of Hope appeal, and inspired thousands of people to raise £100,000 for Breakthrough Breast Cancer in a year.

It propelled Rhona into the national spotlight, and she was interviewed on television's This Morning.

She also opened her life to the cameras over a two-year-period with the documentary Rhona - A Fairy Story aired on Anglia last year.

Poignantly, she said in the programme: “I have just got this feeling that I won't be here when I am 45. My mum died at 45 and in my mind I would always die at 45.”

In her last column for the EADT, on October 23, she talked of her struggle with her symptoms that had largely confined her to her bed and the “muddling” drugs she was on.

Although she expected the bad times to continue - “the horns will have turned me into a moose soon” - she still would not allow herself any self-pity.

She said: “The question I must never ask myself is - 'why me?'. In seven years I have kept that little gem away from all thoughts and any mind games that could at any time appear, so now all my strength is needed to oust it from my thoughts.”

This resolve and power of spirit saw her fight back from the brink many times, including in December 2004 when she had a date with the Queen at Buckingham Palace and in July this year when she hosted her Forget-Me-Not Ball.

The huge ball, in aid of Breast Cancer UK, was one of two she arranged to raise money for cancer charities and awareness.

She approached the fundraising with the same determination that she showed in her fight against cancer, whether it was charity greeting cards or running 5km, thanking people in her column or going to countless local events.

In May 2005, she said: “The money will not make any difference to me or anyone else in this situation but hopefully it will help people in the future.”

n Rhona's family have asked that people respect their privacy and do not disturb them over the weekend.

n How did Rhona touch your life? You can leave a personal tribute by visiting www.eadt.co.uk/rhona.

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