Father and daughter's sea swim challenge in memory of wife and mum

Throughout 2021, James Horley, 48, from Worthing, and his ten-year-old daughter, Martha, took a monthly dip in the sea to raise money for St Barnabas House, the hospice who cared for beloved wife and mum, Sarah, when she died at 48 years old.

The father-daughter duo have raised an incredible £4,000 for the hospice.

The idea came Martha, who inherited her love for swimming from her Mum. “I have so many memories of Sarah and Martha enjoying the beach, swimming in the sea or playing in swimming pools together,” said James. “They both shared a love for water and being at the beach, which is why this challenge was so personal to us.

“In the Summer of 2020, Martha said ‘wouldn’t it be great if we swam in the sea every month for a whole year?’ I didn’t think much of it, then 31 January 2021 came, and Martha said, ‘if we are going to swim once a month for the whole year, we need to do it today!’ Trust her to remember! So, we headed out in the wind and rain, and I went for the first swim of the year. The weather was too wild for Martha – I was pulled over and have a nasty scar on my ankle – so she stayed on shore, but she’s joined me for every swim since.”

Throughout last year, the father and daughter braved all seasons and went for a swim in the sea every month. “Whenever the weather was rubbish and Martha wasn’t sure if she wanted to go in the sea, we would have a chat about St Barnabas and what they had done for Sarah at our most difficult time, and it would always inspire her to do the swim.”

Sarah’s story

In January 2014, Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Sarah had chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a double mastectomy to remove the cancer when Martha was just a toddler, and it was successful. She was given the all clear and we continued making amazing memories and enjoying family life,” said James.

In 2019, the family were enjoying a sunny holiday in Corfu. “One of my favourite memories of that holiday was when Sarah kept falling off an inflatable and the roar of laughter from Martha was something I will never forget. We spent the whole holiday playing in the pool and splashing around in the sea,” said James. “Looking back, I am so grateful that we had that holiday, because if it was even a month later, I don’t think we would have made it.

“Sarah wasn’t feeling like herself at times that holiday, she was generally feeling a little bit under the weather and fatigued. We didn’t think much of it at the time and blamed the abundance of rich holiday food that we all ate! But when we landed back home, she made an appointment with her GP just to get checked out.”

After thorough investigations, the family received the devastating news that Sarah’s cancer had returned, and she had tumours on her spine and liver – Sarah was told she only had a few more years to live but she was determined to beat the prognosis she was given.

“Martha was only eight years old at the time,” says James. “We were always honest with her. We told her that Mummy was very poorly, and her cancer couldn’t be cured, but with the help of the doctors, we could manage it with medication.”

It was at this point that Sarah was referred to St Barnabas House. The family had plans to start receiving community care from the hospice nurses in their own home, as well as getting support from social workers to help explain to Martha what was going on. But in December 2019, Sarah’s health started to rapidly deteriorate, and her active treatment having to stop in January 2020. In February, Sarah’s health declined further, and the tough decision was made for Sarah to leave home and be admitted to the hospice’s In-Patient Unit.

“Soon after Sarah was admitted to St Barnabas House, we all met Maria, a Social Worker at the hospice. We had a chat, and the next day Martha felt comfortable to meet Maria on her own. They went through some books together and Martha had a bit more of an understanding of what was going on,” said James.

“Martha asked me questions all the time, like, ‘is mummy coming home?’ and of course, I was always honest with her, but it was so helpful for her to have someone else to talk to.”

On 15 February 2020, Sarah died at St Barnabas House at the age of 48.

“When the time came, Martha wasn’t scared, she knew what was happening and felt comfort that her Mummy was going to be safe and comfortable. Now, two years on, we know that St Barnabas House are still there for Martha to help her navigate her grief and growing up without her Mum.”

Speaking about their fundraising challenge, James said: “Sarah was able to spend her last few weeks in comfort because of St Barnabas House and we wanted to raise money so that when anybody else needs to go through that devastating experience, St Barnabas House will be there for them too.”

James and Martha have raised an incredible £4,000 for St Barnabas House from their monthly sea swims. To sponsor them, please visit www.justgiving.com/jamesandmarthaswimchallenge

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