HUMBLED is how Portadown woman Maureen Clarke describes her feelings at having been awarded an MBE.
Maureen, who founded the charity Julie Clarke’s Angels of Hope after the death of her daughter Julie in 2002, received the award for services to people with ovarian cancer and their families.
She said, “I never in my life expected anything like this. This award is not for me but for the brave women I have met and lost, those who are still battling ovarian cancer and those who have beaten it. It’s also for their families, the volunteers who keep the charity going, and those who support us with donations.”
Julie passed away at the age of just 27, eight months after being diagnosed with the disease. She had been experiencing symptoms but put them down to irritable bowel syndrome.
Said Maureen, “It was Julies’s intention to make people more aware of the symptoms of the disease once she got better. When she was in the hospice she asked me to do it. I told her I couldn’t - I didn’t feel I was clever enough - but she told me I could.”
Since Maureen began her awareness campaign, she has opened a drop-in support office at Fitzwilliam Street in Belfast and given numerous talks to groups from women’s institutes to medical conferences. She has also set up an outreach programme whereby holistic therapists visit patients in their own homes, as well as a monthly luncheon club.
One of the things Maureen finds most significant is the emergence in the past two years of more people being diagnosed at an early stage in the disease. She said, “There are definitely more stage ones coming through which gives people a good chance of survival.
“I think there is more awareness of the disease now and people are pushing more for diagnosis, rather than just sitting back or ignoring the symptoms. We even ran a really successful TV ad campaign last year.”
The charity is funded entirely by donations, despite Maureen’s efforts to lobby for government aid.
She said, “I just couldn’t do it without the volunteers who help staff the office four days a week. The public, and all our supporters, have also been brilliant at continuing to fund us financially.”
Maureen plans to take her son Paul to Buckingham Palace where she will receive her award. She added, “Apparently, it’s a great occasion. I still can’t believe it. I have no idea who nominated me, even though I have been asking around. I am humbled by it. I know people who have been doing charity work for years and they have never received anything, so it really is an honour.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to Angels of Hope can do so online at www.angelsofhope.org.uk or by post to 17 Fitzwilliam Street, Belfast, BT9 6AW.