The Yorkshire doctor going the extra mile for Marie Curie

Dr Sarah Holmes has raised over £50,000 for Marie Curie – including a 1,256-mile run for her grandmother. Catherine Scott reports.

Dr Sarah Holmes who raised £50,000 by running and knitting for Marie Curie
Dr Sarah Holmes who raised £50,000 by running and knitting for Marie Curie

It was the death of her beloved grandmother that inspired Dr Sarah Holmes to embark on her latest fundraising effort for Marie Curie

Sarah ran 1,256 miles over 12 months – the total distance between the charity’s nine hospices. With her Flower Power Fund knitting project, she has raised more than £50,000 for Marie Curie.

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Sarah is medical director at Marie Curie’s Bradford hospice and has worked on the frontline throughout the pandemic.

Sarah ran the total miles between all nine Marie Curie hospices

Following the death of her grandmother Norah Jones in early 2020, and as the country was plunged into lockdown, she was inspired to set herself a new fundraising challenge and completed the Virtual Hospice Dash on December 28 last year, raising almost £9,000.

She ran 1,256 miles over 12 months – the total distance between all of Marie Curie’s nine hospices. Part of the funds raised went towards ‘paying for a day’ to run the Bradford Hospice on International Women’s Day.

As Marie Curie’s biggest annual fundraising campaign – the Great Daffodil Appeal – takes place during March and April, Sarah decided to share her story.

“My grandmother was 87 and lived in South Wales. She had suffered health problems for a number of years. She developed a chest infection over Christmas 2019 and although she recovered a little, she started to deteriorate and it became clear that she was sadly dying.

Sarah who is medical director of Marie CUrie, likes to challenge herself

“Following her death, I wanted to do something positive to celebrate her life and make a difference which is why I decided to do a run. She died on January 6 last year, and I initially planned to run 1,000 miles to raise £1,000, which would have paid for care from Marie Curie in her own home for the time she needed it.” During the first lockdown, Sarah noticed she wasn’t getting as much running done.

“I like a challenge so I thought the best way of making sure I reached my target was to make it a bit harder. I worked out the distance between all nine of our hospices and decided that would be a better distance to run – 1,256 miles in total.

“I achieved this mainly by running outside in my local area, although some of the miles were completed in my garden during the first lockdown, and some on a treadmill in the last lockdown.

“The last leg of the run was the only bit I could actually do in person – so I ran across the moors in the snow to get to the Bradford Hospice for the finish.”

Three years ago Sarah started an initiative called the Flower Power Fund. “I love knitting, and wanted to utilise my passion to raise money for Marie Curie. I collaborated with yarn dyers and other craftspeople from across Yorkshire, who designed special yarns and products in aid of Marie Curie. It raised £22,629 in total in 2018.

“Last year the Flower Power Fund and Virtual Hospice Dash combined raised £25,964. My whole family also joined in with the 2.6 challenge in April 2020 running a marathon between us round our own back garden, raising £2,079.”

But her running hasn’t stopped yet. She has entered her name into the ballot for the London Marathon this year and the family are looking at other fundraising challenges.

On her career with Marie Curie, Sarah said: “I originally trained as a GP but in August 2001 I spotted an advert for a six-month role at the Marie Curie Hospice, in Edinburgh. I thought spending some time working in the hospice would be good experience for my GP work.

“I had always had an interest in palliative care but when I started at the hospice I realised how much I loved it. I used to run late with all my appointments when I was a GP because I liked talking to people.

“Working at the hospice allowed me the luxury of time to spend with patients and their families, and to get to know them properly, and make a real difference and I just loved it. 

“The consultant I was working for persuaded me I should retrain to work in palliative care – it was one of the best decisions I ever made and I am so grateful to him for encouraging me. I took up my permanent post at the hospice in Bradford in 2007, and have been a consultant here ever since.”

Sarah is one of a team of doctors in the hospice, working with nurses, physiotherapists and lots of other staff to look after patients and their families. “I mainly work with patients who come to the hospice for an appointment to see me, perhaps to help with pain or another symptom, or I go out and see them at home. As medical director of the hospice I am responsible for overseeing the care of all the patients, whether outpatient or day therapy unit, or in the ward.

“During the pandemic, we’ve all had to work longer hours, ensuring we have everything in place in the hospice to care for patients and keep them safe – largely because of shortages due to staff having to isolate, look after family or with illness themselves.

“Part of my role has shifted towards virtual working, seeing patients by video instead of face-to-face appointments. Wearing PPE means that all our consultations take longer because of the time it takes to put on and take off.

“Communication has become more of a challenge as it’s difficult to have conversations in PPE while maintaining social distancing. Striking a balance around visiting and keeping everyone safe continues to be an issue and we remain steadfast in supporting both our patients and their families.”

Marie Curie’s Great Daffodil Appeal – which ends this month - means even more tin 2021 than previous years.

There are countless ways you can support the appeal – from taking on your own fundraising challenge or setting up your own virtual collection, to donating or proudly displaying the charity’s daffodil in your window – every action helps and makes a difference. 

However you choose to support the appeal this year it will make a huge difference to Marie Curie and the people they care for.

Get in touch by emailing [email protected] or see to find out more.

Pears Foundation, one of Marie Curie’s long-standing partners, has pledged a £500,000 donation to support the running costs of their nine hospices across the UK, including Bradford.

Pears Foundation, established by Sir Trevor Pears, a renowned UK philanthropist, alongside his brothers Mark and David, spearheaded the establishment of Pay for a Day in Marie Curie hospices.

The foundation has agreed to match fund all new Pay for a Day donations until November 30 2021. Pay for a Day covers a 24-hour period. A gift of £6,144 will Pay for a Day at the Marie Curie Hospice Bradford.