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Hope Shines Through

AOS Alumna pens children's book to aid her recovery from illness

Former pupil Toria (nee Roberts) Pickering has recently published a book that aims to help families support children as they cope with a parental serious illness. Toria penned her first book, Butterfly Boy, after undergoing life-saving cancer treatment during the Covid lockdown. She hopes that it may prove a useful resource for anyone facing a situation similar to that which hit her family out of the blue. Butterfly Boy is available to purchase on Amazon and carries the following synopsis:

Oliver's mummy is unwell. He hopes that if he looks after her, she will get strong enough to fly him in the air again, just like she used to. When Oliver finds a tiny, weak caterpillar, he knows just what to do. As he looks after the caterpillar it begins to change and Oliver learns that it is going to turn into a beautiful butterfly. With a bit of time and love, maybe the two friends will both eventually fly. An uplifting story about coping with illness which shows that if you keep hope, sometimes there can be a happy ending.

March 2nd 2020 seems, in many respects, like a lifetime ago for all of us but for Toria (AOS 1993-05) it represents more than just life pre-Covid because it was on that day that her health investigations started. Toria’s twin sons, William and Tobias, had just turned four with all the happiness that encompassed, and her husband, Stu, was preparing to be in Japan in his professional capacity to support Team GB at the Olympics. Within weeks the country was in lockdown, Toria would be undergoing surgery followed by brutal chemotherapy and Stu would be at home caring for their children and his wife.

 

Toria explained how life unfolded. “Initially the tumour was thought to be benign meaning that my treatment would be delayed due to Covid.  The tumour grew rapidly to the point where emergency surgery was needed. Sadly shortly after returning to work as a Neonatal nurse at Worcestershire Royal Hospital, the tumour was discovered to be aggressively cancerous, requiring prompt and intense treatment. Covid restrictions meant that Stu was only able to accompany me to several key appointments and it was challenging being alone without support in hospital. The situation was exacerbated by the rarity of my cancer type, though it was fortuitous that the world-leading expert is based at Charing Cross Hospital, London.

Attending chemotherapy sessions in London by myself after the operation was very tough mentally on top of the physical trauma my body was enduring. I was sustained by the thought of coming through the treatment successfully in order to, once again, be mum and wife to my boys. This mindset along with the love and support of family and friends, as well as the skill of the medical team are why I am now just about recovered to precancer levels of strength and fitness. I am looking forward to the future, keen to help others where I can.

As the healing process began, I felt the need to write about my experience and penned a blog for my own benefit. To my great surprise, my sisters, Harriet (1993-05) and Natalie (1992-03), both gave me positive reviews which encouraged me to continue writing and to share it with others. This sowed the seed for a book.

 

I should explain that as much as I loved my time at the Alice Ottley I would never have described myself as an academic. I do have very fond memories of Springfield and then the senior school where I especially thrived on the sports pitches (Netball, Lacrosse, Tennis), found my creativity embraced in the Art department and discovered a fascination with Biology, taught by the fabulous Miss Briggs. I believe it was the interest in Biology, fostered by Miss Briggs, that helped shape my career path towards nursing. I did also explore teaching with young children and actually carried out work experience at RGS The Grange before settling on studying paediatric nursing at Oxford Brookes University.

I shared my book concept with Stu who encouraged me to pursue this opportunity. Our sons started school in September 2020 which gave me a bit of time and I found that researching and writing the book presented me with a clear purpose that really helped my recovery process. Exploring publishing options was eye-opening, while finding an illustrator who fitted the tone and style of my writing was equally fascinating and to demonstrate our global connectivity, I ended up working remotely with a lady who is based in France. In a sign of the times, I actually wrote the book on my phone!

I felt passionately that I needed to create something positive from what was a very negative situation and I wanted this legacy to be imbued with the values I wish to impart on my children. The book’s overarching message is one of HOPE. I appreciate that every family faces its share of difficult situations and that outcomes do not always go the way we would wish, but hope is what gives us all the strength to keep going and to pick ourselves up when knocked down.

The past year has been unforgettable but it has helped shape me for the rest of my life because I have a self-belief that is energised. I no longer take things for granted and I feel that my legacy to my children is more tangible. Becoming a published author whose work is referenced by national broadcasters was something I could never have envisaged on 2 March 2020 (nor would my old teachers!) and shows that opportunities do exist for us all, even in the darkest of situations. If my experience and the story told in the book helps others in any way then that is a wonderful outcome.”

Toria’s book is on Amazon priced £6.99. Click here

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