A group of women have created their own version of Calendar Girls in a fundraising effort for the Stroke Association.
The Craigavon-based Young Women’s Stroke Support Group - the UK’s only such under-55 female organisation - have bravely posed for a fundraising Strip For Stroke calendar.
The calendar was the brainchild of Moira woman Valerie Dale, who was only eight years old when her late mum Sally suffered her first stroke - aged just 29.
Sally had a second stroke as a teenager, which left her paralysed and speechless.
Valerie said: “I was only 8-years- old, my brothers 12 and 4 and my sister 11 when my mummy Sally aged 29 suffered her first stroke.
“It was six days before Christmas. It was devastating. We spent that Christmas watching my mummy cling to life. My life and childhood as I knew it was never the same again.
“I grew up instantly that day and never recall playing with toys or childhood games again. My mummy made a reasonable recovery. She was so determined to get better and even learned to drive aged 35.
“Then in April 1990 my mummy suffered her second stroke. This stroke was much worse. She awoke from a coma with no power in her right side and no intelligable speech, this was called aphasia.
“I never heard my mummy talk fluently again. She remained in hospital for six months but she remained paralysed down her right side. She worked hard to try and say our names but the aphasia was cruel and frustrating.
“She knew what she wanted to say but the words would not come out. Aphasia and stroke is cruel. It robbed me of my mummys last words.
“At the age of only 47 my mummy was dying from Heart Failure in Intensive Care in September 2000. She was trying to tell me something but due to the aphasia caused by her stroke I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. This still affects me 15 years later wondering what is was ‘was she afraid?’ ‘Did she know how much we loved her?’.
“My mummy is the reason I decided nine years ago to work with stroke survivors. She is also my inspiration for setting up The Young Women after Stroke Group. These amazing brave women all remind me of my beautiful mummy with their grit and determination to conquer stroke.”
Obviously the Strip For Stroke calendar was was inspired by the story behind the 2003 movie Calendar Girls.
Valerie is a nurse with The Stroke Association, the only charity in Northern Ireland solely for stroke.
She said: “We offer extensive services throughout Northern Ireland for stroke survivors but we lacked a specific support group for young women. Three times more women will have a stroke than breast cancer.
“In February 2015 I set up a support group for young women some of them young mummys all aged between 16 and 60 who have all suffered a devastating stroke. This group is the first if its kind in the UK and Ireland and meets in the Craigavon Area every two weeks.
“The group works on providing peer support, building self esteem and confidence. Since the group was set up some of the women have done abseils and we held a very successful fashion show Strut for Stroke in Lurgan in September. We have also been up at Stormont raising awareness amongst our MLAs.
“In order to further increase confidence we decided to do a fund raising calender as some of the ladies still have issues with their appearance. The funds raised are to make a short film to be shown in schools and colleges to raise awareness of stroke in young people.
“The amazing local photographer Kirsty Lynn Murphy from Portadown shot the calender and designed it all free of charge. She was amazing with the women and was so supportive and empathetic.
“She also kindly arranged the services of local businesses Carla Bailey Make-up Artist, Barry Porter Videographer and Silk Hairdressing.”
The calenders are on sale for £5 and can be purchased by contacting Valerie Dale on 07947 273 013 or via our Facebook Page Young Women after Stroke.
Valerie said they had been inundated so far with requests for the calendar.
She went on: “The girls all thought I was crazy when I announced the idea and I had to coax some of them to strip off, but it was all about making them feel feminine again and it gave them such a boost.”
“The ladies from our Young Women’s Stroke Support Group have not been as badly affected as my mother but stroke still leaves its calling card, physically and psychologically,” she said. “I am so proud of them for all the great strides they’ve made this year. They got up on the catwalk for our fantastic fashion show in Lurgan Town Hall in the summer and then stripped off for our calendar. They are all great examples of the fact that there is life after stroke.”
The names of all who took part are: Cheryl Corbett; Michele McGarry; Kerry Edgar; Gillian McKnight; Bernie Fox; Stacey Baird; Lynda Johnston Wright; Anna McCracken; Kate Gorman; Sharone Young.