Tribute

Written and read by Tracey Sugden

Ours was not instant friendship; our first conversation was actually quite antagonistic. I was an uptight new teacher accusing her form - who had their registration in my room - of spitting on the tables. Kathryn found the "spit" was actually just water squirted from a joke-shop flower-ring, which she kept as she found it so amusing. I didnít speak to her for months.

I didnít know then that Kathryn would become my closest friend. It felt that Kathryn picked me out and wanted me for her friend. From the first day of our friendship, it felt like a light had been switched on in my brain and in my heart.

At an accidental meeting one Friday after school at the swimming pool, I told her I was sorry to hear about her dad and she told me how horrible and unsupportive some members of her department had been towards her. When she found out I was going horse-riding on Saturday, she was keen to come too, and so our friendship began.

Kathryn became my climbing partner at the Mile End Climbing Wall; she taught me sun-salutation yoga as a warm up and I would try to coax her into climbing higher than a metre from the ground. We always found it hilarious that despite our crap efforts, guys would always come up to us and praise our amazing climbing moves. We would of course always go shopping afterwards.

Back at school, I had someone to eat lunch with and to sit next to on the bus for school trips, in our embarrassingly colour-coordinated shocking pink outfits! It was always more fun with Kathryn on school trips, especially at the Cotswolds wild life park where she threatened two particularly naughty boys by promising to hold their hands the whole way around the park. The boys of course were delighted and took her up on the offer.

Kathryn was inspirational to me in so many ways: she had to deal with sexism in the workplace as a design technology teacher. She would stay late at school to help kids with their often hilarious projects that were so important to them. Kathryn would be building bookshelves, rabbit hutches and plumbing bathrooms. She loved Xena, Pikachu and Buffy, yet at the same time read ancient Japanese literature and wrote to politicians.

We met at such great times in both our lives, Kathryn was in love with Sumit and I shared the excitement of all their wedding plans. I was lucky to meet all of you at Bolsover Castle and to be with Kathryn when she met Sumitís lovely family at their moving wedding ceremony in Calcutta.

Kathryn advised me in my early dates with my future husband and she agreed that it was lucky I didnít always follow her advice! Together we walked miles around London shopping for each others wedding and bridesmaid dresses. We all learned to ski on our holidays together and even all got along sharing one room for a whole week in France. We infuriated our husbands by always talking for hours on the phone. We shared our dreams about one day moving out of London and living in idyllic places like her childhood home with the apple tree where sheíd played "Lobster" with Marion. We often talked about bringing up our children together.

Kathryn and Sumit were delighted by the prospect of being parents; their love for each other, their fierce intelligence and commitment to living a peaceful, ethical way of life meant they would have been brilliant parents too. Having that chance snatched away from them was a tragedy that I feel Iím only now beginning to comprehend as an expectant mother myself. It is important that today we take time to mourn their dreams and the life that they should have been able to live together. I want to say sorry to you both; I didnít have any of the right words to comfort you. You took solace in each other and had to carry on.

Unfortunately they were given little respite or time to grieve, as Kathryn had to face an operation only to be confronted with the news she had cancer a month later. Kathryn and Sumit realised very early on in her treatment that they would have to become experts themselves, reading every document available. It was important for Kathryn to be involved in all the decisions made about her and to feel she had control of her treatment; she unflinchingly demanded to receive whatever treatment was necessary to enable her to live. She constantly told me: "Iím not ready to die yet. Iím thirty-five. This shouldnít be happening to me."

I believed her, as the strongest person I have ever known. I thought her, and wanted her to be, invincible.

Kathryn remained brave and strong; through the physical suffering of her next operation, the day-long chemo treatments and its even longer after-effects, the painful positioning required for the radiotherapy - all the needles, drips and horrible poking about required. She was right: this wasnít fair.

Kathrynís physical endurance astounded me but even more so her capacity to rise above her mental suffering; knowing she would no longer be able to have children and not knowing what the future held and whether any of her treatments would work. Kathryn fought to retain her dignity and sense of self, emerging from the loss of her amazing long red hair, hair that made strangers stare and occasionally drop doors on me, with a style, grace and beauty so distinctive.

Kathryn didnít want others to suffer what she was going through and agreed to being interviewed for an article for the Evening Standard newspaper to raise awareness about ovarian cancer. This took a lot of courage as her energy levels and confidence about her appearance were really challenged by the effects of her chemotherapy treatment.

Despite everything she was going through Kathryn was always concerned with my problems, stresses and health. She really listened to me, was always there to talk to when I needed her and never let me down. She baked chocolate cake and sweets for the doctors and nurses caring for her and continued to make a huge impression on everyone until her very last breath.

It helps me to know she was never suffering alone; since her illness was first diagnosed, Sumit has supported Kathryn with boundless patience, understanding, respect and most importantly love. I know the happiness they shared was Kathrynís source of inner strength.

There are no words to tell of what we lost when Kathryn died: she was a cherished relative, favourite teacher, friend, daughter, sister, and wife. No words can comfort us or ever appease the anger we feel because her life has been taken away. All I know is that my life was better for her being a part of it and that the love that I have for her will never die.


Thank you for being here today. Guestbook
If you would like to further honour Kathryn's memory, please donate to the Eve Appeal.
www.kathrynoates.org