How losing both my parents inspired me to launch a new career

Mum-of-three Claire Dale tells us how the death of her parents galvanised her to make her life matter, and as a result launched a new career working for a cancer charity.

When Claire Dale became a mum she gave up her job in recruitment to become a stay-at-home mum and support her husband in his career. At first she missed the buzz of work, but soon surrounded herself with like-minded friends and life continued comfortably. Then, sadly, in 2012 her dad died, and just six weeks later her mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

She tells how the death of her parents led her to re-assess her life, and inspired a new career as a campaign manager for the charity Melanoma UK.

I missed the buzz of my work

I graduated in English literature in 1998 and worked for Hobbs as a retail manager in Cambridge and London. In 2000 I started work for a recruitment agency and specialised in support staff for law firms. I worked in London until 2003, and after a year of travelling I settled down with my husband in Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

I worked in recruitment in Manchester until my son was born in 2006. I went back to work for a short time when he was one, but when my daughter came along in 2008 I became a full time stay-at-home mum. We lived in Madrid for a year in 2010 and I have supported my husband fully with his career in finance for Accenture.

There have been times when I missed my job and the buzz of closing a deal etc, but I have mostly been lucky to have found like-minded interesting women to spend my time with while the children have been little, and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to be with my children, and to spend precious time with my parents and grandparents who all lived near.

In 2012 my life was turned upside down

In 2012 my life turned upside down. I was pregnant again after much soul-searching on whether to ‘go for a third’. We were so excited and happy to be doing it all again. When I was eight weeks pregnant my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. It was a total shock. The, just six weeks after that, my mum was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma with a very bleak prognosis of only six months.

I became an overnight expert on all things melanoma as my mum and family needed positive stories, hope and courage. We were lucky as she went straight onto a fantastic clinical trial. She looked to me for total confidence – if she sensed I did not feel confident in the future she would be upset and frightened. I had to maintain my positivity around her at all times despite knowing all the possible outcomes of this dreadful disease.

I joined an online support group Melanoma Mates, where I first encountered Gill from Melanoma UK, and started to trawl the internet for any glimpses of hope for people in my mum’s situation. It took over my life.

My second daughter was born in May 2013 and has been the most wonderful source of joy, laughs and fun during this awful time.

The loss of my mum was indescribable

After an impossibly hard six months in 2014, when melanoma spread to mum’s brain, she died with her family by her side on New Years Eve. The loss of such a mum is indescribable. We shared everything.

I still can’t believe how I juggled the children, school, my grandmother (who I care for after losing my dad), an hour’s drive to the hospital, and later the hospice and then Christmas! I even cooked a full Christmas dinner to keep everything going for the children. The support from my husband, friends and in-laws was extraordinary. Because of them I was able to be there for my mum every day.

I decided very soon after we lost Mum to show my children how to cope with such a trauma. We walked, talked, cried, had family get-togethers, had fun times, holidays and have continued to do all the things that we loved doing with her.

It is very healing and the children are doing really well. They talk about their Nanny often and we can laugh about the good and funny memories they have.

I have learnt so much about grief and what is good for our family. My mum was an identical twin and I am wonderfully close to my aunt and to my stepfather. I also have a brother and sister-in-law who I would not be able to cope without. Despite it all I feel lucky to have such support around me.

The idea for working for Melanoma UK was born when I was at the gym. I had had a massage and was thinking about Mum and her lifelong love of health, beauty and fitness.

I launched a campaign in my mum’s name

It occurred to me that in all the time she used health and beauty professionals, nobody ever spotted the mole she had on her waist even when it grew larger and darker. If only someone had had training in melanoma and could have alerted her to the importance of getting her moles checked. She would perhaps still be alive. Early detection is so vital in melanoma.

I contacted Gill Nuttall, the founder of Melanoma UK, with my idea to raise awareness in the beauty, health and fitness industry, and could not have had a warmer, more compassionate and enthusiastic response. We met and talked and decided to launch the Irene Parker Skin Safe Message. It all happened so fast!

I am volunteering as a campaign manager and am organising a launch party for the campaign. Day-to-day I am contacting health and beauty professionals and getting them on board with our ‘skin safe’ message.

Once the campaign is launched I will be visiting as many beauty and health businesses as possible to train and encourage skin awareness, and how best to encourage their clients to be skin aware. I hope that the skills I am gaining and reawakening after so long not working will help me build my future for when my youngest starts school.

Losing my parents galvanised me

Losing both my fantastic parents has galvanised me to really make my life matter and to show the children what I am capable of. I feel like there is no time to waste.

If I could pass on any advice, it would be to advise everyone to get a skin check at least once a year, and I would strongly encourage monthly mole checks. So many of us now check our breasts regularly due to powerful breast cancer campaigns. We need to be checking our skin in the same way.

If you notice any changes on your skin, get them checked by your GP. Take photos of moles you have a concern about and compare them each month for changes and be vigilant. NEVER use sunbeds or burn in the sun. Wear a hat, sunglasses and a minimum of Factor 30 with a five star UVA rating.

This is a cancer that affects people of all ages. It affects fit, healthy, young people as well as older people, and early detection could save your life.

You can learn more about Melanoma UK on their website