Chestnut Mum, Helen, Approaches Finale Of 40 Challenges To Mark 40th Birthday

Chestnut Mum, Helen, Approaches Finale Of 40 Challenges To Mark 40th Birthday

Turning 40 is a milestone in most people’s lives, but for Helen Cookson from Chichester, it presented a unique opportunity to raise funds and awareness for two charities close to her heart – Chestnut Tree House and The Sussex Snowdrop Trust. To mark her 40th year Helen wanted to do something special so her family, friends and work colleagues set her 40 challenges to do, including learning to swim, sitting in a bath of baked beans, singing in public and – her latest challenge – having a complete makeover in preparation for her speaking engagement at Chestnut Tree House’s Snowman Spectacular Fundraising Ball in Brighton on Saturday 5 December 2015..

Helen’s world was turned upside down in 2007 when both of her daughters, Rebecca and Rachel, were diagnosed with Late Infantile Batten’s disease, a degenerative neurological disorder that is, currently, always fatal. Over time, typically, affected children suffer mental impairment, worsening seizures, and progressive loss of sight and motor skills. Eventually, children with the disease become blind, bedridden and unable to communicate.

Helen described the care she received during her girls’ illnesses from both Chestnut Tree House and The Snowdrop Trust as invaluable. “During Rebecca’s illness we were introduced to Chestnut Tree House. Initially the community team visited us regularly to provide a few hours of respite care and, as Rebecca became more unwell, we started using the in-house services too. During this time our family received invaluable help from Chestnut Tree House, without which we couldn’t have coped. We all valued our time staying there; it was like living in a bubble where all the day to day reality evaporated”

Chestnut Tree House Hospice LogoSadly Rebecca, aged five and a half, passed away in December 2008. At this time Rachel had shown no signs of the disease.  However, not long after Rebecca died, Rachel started having seizures and her speech began to deteriorate.  She spent the last nine weeks of her life at Chestnut Tree House and in November 2012, aged just seven, Rachel also sadly died.

Helen said, “The staff were phenomenal and there was nothing that Rachel, my husband or I wanted that wasn’t doable.  They ensured that Rachel was virtually pain free and comfortable.  Their understanding of Rachel allowed her personality to shine through to the end.  They could not have done anything more for any of us.  They enabled Rachel to die in the way that she wanted.”

Helen felt strongly that she wanted to do something to raise funds and awareness for both Chestnut Tree House and The Sussex Snowdrop Trust and so embarked upon achieving her 40 challenges before her 40th birthday on Saturday 31 October.

Chestnut Tree House invited Helen to speak about Rachel and Rebecca and the care the family received from the hospice at their forthcoming Snowman Spectacular Ball.  Knowing that the makeover was one of her challenges, the charity arranged for Helen to go along to Walk in Wardrobe dress hire and boutique in Hove to choose a dress for the occasion and for Room 55 Hairdressing from Peacehaven to do her hair and make-up.

Helen, who rarely wears dresses and hates putting on make-up, said, “It’s the challenge I have been most petrified about, leaving it as late as I could.  As I leave for work at 6am, I don’t normally have time to dress up, plus I wouldn’t have a clue where to start.  Only half a dozen friends have ever seen me in make-up and a dress!”

Sussex Snowdrop Trust LogoHelping Helen choose her dress was Brighton broadcaster, Marcella Whittingdale, who will be the host at this year’s Snowman Spectacular Ball.  The two women spent a couple of hours in Walk in Wardrobe, getting to know each other and, with the help of Manager, Leah Barnett, picked out an elegant, dark blue draped dress for Helen and a vibrant teal one with sparkling silver sequins for Marcella. “It was brilliant fun,” said Marcella, “and the best bit was meeting Helen.  She is pretty phenomenal.  She has this huge list of challenges and has done so much – it’s so impressive.  But she has been through so much too.  It was wonderful to meet her.”

Once the dresses had been chosen, Chaland Baldey from Room 55 Hairdressing and make-up artist, Amber Verduyen, worked their magic, creating a classic hairstyle for Helen with lots of natural movement but keeping it soft around her face.  As Helen doesn’t normally wear make-up, Amber created a natural look for her with a soft foundation, neutral colours, a soft grey smokey eye and a touch of bronzer.

“It was lovely to meet Helen and hear about her little girls, they were very cute in the pictures she showed us,” said Amber, “It was nice to see her trying on all the dresses and having fun.” Helen was delighted with her makeover. “It was good fun and nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. When I first looked in the mirror, I thought, ‘that’s not me!’  I would never have thought of doing my hair like that and the dress is comfortable and a great colour and fit. I feel unexpectedly girlie!” Helen’s husband, John, came along to support her. “She looks beautiful.  I am so proud of her and Rachel and Rebecca would have been proud of her too.”

If you have been inspired by Helen’s 40 Challenges and would like to read more of her story and donate, please visit her JustGiving page

More information about the Snowman Spectacular Ball can be found at