Fundraising in memory of a loved one is no easy feat. In this instalment, Brigit Grant meets meets Daniel Blake, husband to Nicki, a cancer sufferer who passed away in 2010. He opens up about life after Nicki how he is keeping her spirit alive through the charity Nicki’s Smile, in partnership with Pancreatic Cancer UK.
In under three years, the achievements are astonishing, but no more so than those of another charity, Nicki’s Smile, when you consider the person this charity honours was not a global celebrity, yet in the same time frame has raised £400,000.
But tragedy is indiscriminate and when Daniel Blake lost his wife Nicki in 2010 to pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer at the age of 33, his heartbreak was no less significant and the need to make her life count was as acute.
Still living in the Bushey home they shared, my meeting with Daniel was on Father’s Day, which was particularly poignant as there was no Mummy to organise gifts for seven-year-old Joshua to give him.
Bright-eyed and dressed in his Spurs kit, Joshua is the image of his late mother, who smiles out from photos in every room.
In the kitchen, which was once Nicki’s domain, Daniel talks about their world together being ripped apart by her death but, once again, being responsible for a charity has given him a purpose.
“Every second of the day I wish we had our normal family life back,” says Daniel, twisting the wedding ring he will never take off. But I take more than a crumb of comfort from the fact that we are raising money to fund research into the very rare type of cancer she had and particularly early diagnosis which could have saved her.”
The couple never spoke about setting up a charity as Nicki didn’t want to talk about the future. “I respected her right not to want to ask the consultants too much and feel defeated by acceptance,” says Daniel bleakly.
“But we had no idea when she was admitted to hospital the last time, that she would be dead within a matter of weeks.
“She had even written on Facebook: ‘Hope to be out in a couple of days.’”
Those words must have echoed around the house recently when Daniel, a former investment manager, was busy juggling childcare with law exams ahead of his new career as a solicitor.
As for running the charity, Daniel wisely decided Nicki’s Smile should be a fund hosted by Pancreatic Cancer UK to avoid the admin headaches or using donations to pay for staff.
“I didn’t want to set up something that would be in competition with another charity and felt a partnership with direct links to researchers would be best,” he adds, before touching on the event planning he does with the committee and a mention of their forthcoming Monopoly Race on 20 July.
“When I do feel resentful about our situation and Nicki’s premature passing, I think about how the charity has been able to select labs and clinicians to pioneer funding in an area where it was non-existent.
“And when I speak at charity events, I know that this has all been done in her memory and realise she touched so many people’s lives, as their generosity and support tells us she was a special person.”
When he talks about his selfless, altruistic school teacher wife, Daniel’s pain is tangible in much the same way as it was when Karen Senitt reflects on the warmth and kindness of her late son, Alan, who had been destined for bigger things but was brutally murdered in Washington in 2006.
Time has not eased the anguish for her and his younger sister Emma and brother James have done their best to fill the void left by a sibling who lost his life protecting someone else.
- Information on Nicki’s Smile can be found on the website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org