Published: 00:01, 31 October 2017
When former Archbishop's School pupil Caroline Jones was told she had just six months to live, never did she expect it to be the most exhilarating time of her life.
Instead of signalling a descent into darkness, the devastating diagnosis sparked an inspiring campaign by her old Canterbury school friends to help her continue smiling until the end.
The group, the class of ‘81 at the St Stephen’s Hill school, set up a Facebook page which grew quickly to about 40 members, with many travelling from across the country and from abroad back to Kent for events especially put on for Caroline.
Core members also started a bucket list for her, including a helicopter ride and fast car experience for the 52-year-old, who had cancer in her soft tissue and bones.
Caroline’s mother Pamela Slade, of Gordon Road in Canterbury, says her daughter grew as a person in her final months.
“She had a few friends from the past but it wasn’t until she became ill that they all got together again,” she said.
“One of her friends put something on Facebook and they all responded.
“Everyone remembered her and had lovely memories. She was such a kind person, they just loved her.
“She didn’t realise she was so valued and so well thought of until then. It was wonderful for her and she grew.
“It’s as though she woke up having been asleep for 50 years.”
Ms Slade says Caroline, who worked for the Department of Health and Social Security, insisted she wouldn’t let her diagnosis ruin what she had left.
“Her old school friends held reunions for her, took her shopping, took her to friends’ houses and arranged for a helicopter ride,” she said.
“It was too late to help her but they could make her final months special. I want to thank them for that, for being there for her and for me.”
Caroline died in July, aged 52, a week after posing in a hospice bed with two bikers at her bedside.
“She was a fighter; she would laugh and smile through awful amounts of pain,” said Ms Slade.
“But in the end, she couldn’t ignore it. It was everywhere.”
One of the Archbishop’s group, Sarah Gillanders, who now lives in Windsor, says Caroline’s diagnosis was a big shock and everyone wanted to help.
“The main thing was the reunions so everyone could get together," she said.
“Hilary Pryer was instrumental in organising these.
“People flew over from Dubai, Tenerife, others from across the country. People made an effort as Caroline was such a lovely person.
“Facebook got us back in touch but it was actually the reality of what was happening to her which kept us together.
“Our beautiful, caring Caro, the class of ‘81 thank you from the bottom of our hearts for bringing us all back together again.”
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