Hopes were fading for Calum but he wouldn’t let me give up on my degree

New graduate says the teenage brother she lost will be her lifelong inspiration 

Date posted

28 October 2021

14:19

A student who lost her younger brother to cancer today vowed to use his zest for life as a neverending source of inspiration as she graduated with honours.

Kate Turner’s final year at Edinburgh Napier was turned upside down after her only sibling Calum was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a fast growing cancer of the lymphatic system.Kate Turner outside Usher Hall

The brave 16-year-old urged his big sister not to give up on her studies and said he would be at her graduation whatever happened, but as the disease took its cruel toll he lost his fight for life in January.

Motivated by his words of encouragement, Kate pushed on with her course work, seeking only a deferral for her dissertation which she dedicated to “Calum, my inspiration in life and my best friend”. 

And as the 23-year-old reached the end of her academic journey today, walking across the Usher Hall stage to collect her BA (Hons) in Psychology with Sociology, she said Calum’s courage and love of life would continue to motivate her - starting with the ‘bucket list’ of activities he had asked his family to perform in his memory.

Kate, of Sauchie, Clackmannanshire, said: “Calum was so true to himself and unapologetic for it. His passion was music and art, and at 6ft 4ins he already stood out and with the tartan docs, bright coloured beanie hats and ever-changing hair colour, he always made a statement. He was quick-witted, loved a debate and had the ability to make us laugh for hours and hours. For one so young he did so much in life.”

Calum Turner, tall teenage boy, dressed in dark clothing in front of window in house

Calum, a volunteer worker with local charity Sauchie Community Group, was diagnosed with cancer two months before Kate began her final year. He had been losing weight fast and was unable to walk even a short distance without sitting down. He was admitted to Forth Valley Royal Hospital and then moved to the Beatson Centre in Glasgow where he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Burkitt lymphoma.

Over six gruelling roller-coaster months in hospital, including intensive chemotherapy, there were moments when his family were told to prepare for the worst but by October he had been given the all-clear.  However, the cancer returned and on December 23 last year medics told his loved ones there was no more they could do.

Kate said: “Calum insisted on coming home to spend Christmas with us, and we just spent the next two weeks as a family until he passed away on January 5.”

During his illness, Calum had encouraged Kate to keep going and get her degree. 

She said: “My graduation was something we had discussed a lot along with his prom in June this year – they were things we were both holding on to. When he was first admitted, he phoned me telling me he didn’t want to miss my graduation, and that he would be there no matter what. As things got worse, university didn’t seem a priority but Calum told me it was and I wasn’t allowed to quit. 

“When he passed away it was an immediate reaction to leave and not face going back to my studies, however his words kept going round in my mind and I knew I had to finish it for both of us.

“Edinburgh Napier teaching staff were incredibly sympathetic and supportive, and I was given a deferral for my dissertation which really saved me from not being able to continue. I made it over the line and I am now looking for a job in the third sector where I can use my experience working with the community and my knowledge from my degree for a good cause.”

In her University dissertation, Kate wrote the following in the Acknowledgements; “To my brother, Calum, thank you for teaching me that creativity can be expressed in a million different ways and for always reminding me that staying inside the box is boring.

“At 16 years young, you taught me life has no limits when you are fearless and brave and accept yourself for who you are. Thank you for being the motivation for absolutely everything I do and will continue to do in the future.

Kate, bespectacled and in dark dress, side by side with her taller brother Calum, also dressed in dark clothing

“This is the finish line you always encouraged me to reach, although it’s not together, this one’s for you Calum, my inspiration in life and my best friend.”

Kate said today that despite the age difference of five and a half years she and Calum had been best friends and his relentless enthusiasm and selfless attitude would continue to inspire her as she makes her way through life.

She added: “Calum gave us a bucket list of things to do in his memory like going to Japan to see the cherry blossoms. I plan to start working through that as soon as we can and celebrate his life while I do.”

Dr Elli Drake, Kate’s Personal Development Tutor at Edinburgh Napier, said: “Kate had already shown herself to be an exceptional student well before her brother's diagnosis.  As a student she brought her home community and the Napier community together.  Her family had long been involved in Sauchie Community Centre.  On the Volunteering and Employability module at Napier, she designed and conducted a consultation process for the centre which contributed to significant funding being awarded for the benefit of the people of Sauchie - an amazing achievement.

“The strength of character, determination to find the positives and community-spiritedness that Kate demonstrated during that project were brought home when she faced the illness and loss of her brother.  She continued to be an inspiration throughout that time, with a life-affirming spirit that lives on today in testament to Calum, herself, her family and the communities to which she continues to contribute.”