Philly on Philly
An extract from a letter written to one of Philly's friends shortly after her diagnosis. Philly was 17½. (Approximately March 2000)
I am sitting
in my bedroom with an open window and a thunderstorm raging outside.
The most gorgeous thing about living here in Scotland is how many different
colours a day brings and with the sun setting behind me, the sky is
all orange and brown, with the rain so heavy that the clouds are literally
falling out of the sky. It's getting darker and darker and we are experiencing
the joys of this ancient house with a power cut. No hot food. No heating.
No hot water. The stone has turned from grey to deep brown as it always
does in the rain and the mist obscures the mountains in the east, opposite
Support in coping with fear, uncertainty, lack of knowledge and the physical symptoms of both disease and treatment can greatly help a cancer sufferer, as we can testify, Philly's medical team and her Macmillan nurse gave just this and were towers of strngth. The new Maggie Centre offers, free of charge, an extension of this help providing companionship, information and practical assistence in a building whose design recalls a lighthouse, symbolic of strngth, safety and hope with an interior which is intimate and domestic.
Pauline, Robert, Rebecca and Matthew Gower
Philly was diagnosed with cancer in January 1999 when she was seventeen. She was in her final year at Glenalmond College, had won an organ scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, and was intending to read philosophy and theology. She had raised the money necessary to go on a World Challenge expedition to Kenya in the summer holiday, which involved helping to build an orphanage, followed by travel in East Africa. She had an exciting gap year planned, working initially at a prep school in Suffolk, followed by two terms at an American school as a pupil on an English Speaking Union scholarship.
Philly's illness changed all her plans, and altered her future irrevocably. After recovering from her first major operation her treatment began and continued with only brief pauses for the next two and a half years. She underwent radiotherapy, several courses of chemotherapy, another major operation, and several more minor but disfiguring procedures. Although Philly was never able to leave home for the wider world, these treatments enabled her to continue with her life, work for the College, be organist of St. Ninian's Cathedral in Perth for ten months, start a children's choir, learn to drive, and maintain the hope of starting at Oxford, finally, this autumn.
It is possible to live with cancer, but the treatments and the nature of the illness take a heavy toll, physically and mentally. Philly frequently felt sick and nauseous. She was always tired. One course of chemotherapy caused her to lose her hair, and another course cost her much of the hearing in one ear.
She became depressed and suffered panic attacks. It is easy to imagine how frightening Philly's situation was, to understand how her confidence and self esteem could ebb away, and to realise what an enormous effort it was for her to try and continue as normal. This was also true to a lesser extent for us, as her immediate family living from her from day to day.
Support in coping with fear, uncertainty, lack of knowledge and the physical symptoms of both disease and treatment can greatly help a cancer sufferer, as we can testify. Philly's medical team and her Macmillan nurse gave just this and were towers of strength. The new Maggie Centre offers free of charge an extension of this help, providing companionship, information and practical assistance in a building whose design recalls a lighthouse, symbolic of strength, safety and hope, with an interior which is intimate and domestic.
Robert and Pauline, Rebecca and Matthew Gower
Rebecca on Philly
When Philly was first diagnosed with cancer, I made the same assumption as most other people: that she would fall apart. She had always been a strong, vibrant character, but I was sure that even she wouldn't be able to cope with the strain of having such a serious illness in her final year at school. I also expected it all to be terribly melodramatic. In the event, it was nothing of the sort. Philly came out of hospital and didn't talk about it. She got on with her music and her A levels and her drama, and instead of the tearful histrionics that I had anticipated, a bizarre sense of normality descended, which endured for a long time. It was all because, despite the constant physical pain and the endless trips to the hospital and her ever worsening condition, Philly never behaved like I thought a cancer patient should behave. With the steely determination that she applied to every area of her life, Philly kept enjoying herself as best she could. I have a particularly vivid memory of her getting ready for a night out with her friends: she was wandering around, wearing a miniskirt, and there wasn't a single hair on her head.
Plaque at St. Ninian's
In March 2003 a plaque was unveiled on the organ console of St Ninian's Cathedral, Perth. It reads:
Affectionately remembered, Philippa Gower aged 20 years, choir trainer and organist 2001-2002.
The plaque was dedicated at the morning service on March 2nd, with special music sung by the Choir, including some of the children from St. Ninian's Episcopal Primary School, who were recruited and initially trained by Philly.
ORIEL COLLEGE OXFORD
In addition to the money raised for the Maggie Centre in Dundee, £8,100 has been donated to Oriel College, Oxford, where Philly was to be Organ Scholar. This money has enabled the College to set up two Choral Scholarships and also to establish a creative arts fund which will allow for the commissioning of new work, art, music, poetry or prose, from time to time.
A photo of Philly, taken at the console of the organ of Carlisle Cathedral, hangs in the ante-Chapel at Oriel.
Philly - a teacher's view
For two vibrant years Philly was, at least partly, my responsibility. For two pulsating years, I was her academic tutor. And I like to think that I taught her quite a lot: but she taught me quite a lot as well. Our relationship was not entirely smooth, for academically the still small voice of calm was rarely heard at Philly's address. With the brash confidence of youth she would spark with some gross generalisation, and it might take some time to get her to admit, for example, that a harsh character - let's say Milton or Swift - could yet write stunning poetry. Yes - we had arguments - over English Literature, Renaissance theology, the existence of God, the beauty (or not) of Oxford, out-of-town shopping centres: the list was endless. Philly's fellow tutees watched in wonder as we went at it hammer and tongs (how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?) and then made up over coffee and Garibaldi biscuits afterwards. And actually, it was fun and before long the whole group was arguing like troopers - Philly's influence had a habit of spreading.
Dr John Byrom
Page dated October 5, 2015
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