Tonia King is Area Manager at Big C Cancer Charity. Here, she shares the moving story of why she will be walking over hot coals for Big C in August
I’m Tonia, Area Manager at Big C Cancer Charity, where I’ve worked for the past decade. In August I will be celebrating this milestone by raising money for those affected by cancer in Norfolk and Suffolk, by taking on the not incidental challenge of a Firewalk! The event is being held in Castle Quarter gardens, with the majestic Norwich Castle as a backdrop. It should be memorable to say the very least!
Working for Big C is a privilege and a role I find incredibly rewarding, however my path to employment with the charity followed a devastating family tragedy.
In 2006, on my 30th birthday and nine weeks before I was due to get married, my Dad was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and died just six weeks later.
I am the eldest of six siblings, four of whom are from my Dad’s second marriage. They had already very sadly lost their mother, who also had skin cancer, eight years previously and felt extremely vulnerable. Overnight I became the ‘head’ of the family. My Dad’s life insurance unfortunately didn’t pay out and so I had the challenging task of finding somewhere for each of them to live. All were between 14 to 20 years old, I also needed to find college placements for the two youngest. The oldest two had worked for Dad’s building firm and consequently were now unemployed. Eventually and with the amazing support of my now husband, Jonathan, I became the legal guardian for my youngest half-sister in conjunction with a family friend.
We were all in real need of both emotional and financial support. I sought help locally, but there wasn’t anything available in the King’s Lynn area at the time, I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders with all my new responsibilities.
My first career was in catering and hospitality but following starting a family of my own and in light of the life-changing experiences following my Dad’s death, I felt the need for a change and had always wanted a role helping others. I trained as a volunteer to be Cancer Awareness Champion, which I loved, this involved raising awareness of cancer symptoms, something very close to my heart. I also worked as a community champion where I supported local charities and organisations with their fundraising events in the local area.
Then in 2012 I saw a job advertisement which I could not ignore. Big C were expanding into West Norfolk and opening a Big C Cancer Support Centre in King’s Lynn. I knew immediately the difference that this level of support would have meant to myself and my family. I applied for the role and in what felt like a turn of fate, got the job, and became the new Centre Manager.
That was 10 years ago and in the time that has passed, I am delighted to have seen and experience the charity blossom and expand. We have a truly amazing team. It can be an emotional job, but often has the greatest rewards and this is how we feel knowing we can make someone feel just that bit better. We build very close relationships with those we support and sometimes this can be over many years. We work with the whole family, not just the person with a cancer diagnosis. Supporting families during this vulnerable time is an honour.
If I’d been able to walk into a Big C Centre when my family and I needed help, I know the team would have ‘wrapped their arms’ around us, providing practical, emotional, bereavement support and helping to navigate the financial and welfare benefits we needed to re-house family members and fund college equipment. It would have made a huge difference then and I couldn’t be more proud and thankful that such first-class support is there now for those that need us. And so that is why on August 6, my heart will be racing and I will literally be walking over hot coals to raise funds for Big C!
Dr Melanie Pascale, Director of Charitable Operations at Big C, adds: ‘The impact Tonia has made at Big C over the past 10 years is immeasurable. Her passion for helping others and leading her team, along with her lovely bubbly personality make her a key member of the Big C family and the charity wouldn’t be the same without her! I am not surprised to hear she is taking on the Firewalk and I wish her the very best of luck! I’d like to take this opportunity to thank her for her kindness and dedication to improving the lives of many local families affected by cancer.’
Norwich based Yellow Brick Mortgages is sponsoring the event. Managing Director Greg Marcham says: ‘Here at Yellow Brick Mortgages we have enjoyed a great relationship supporting Big C over the years and look forward to doing so again. Unfortunately, cancer remains so prevalent in many of our lives, and we hope this event can help the cause accordingly.’
Castle Quarter is hosting the event for free. Marketing and administration manager, Gemma Hyde, who will also be taking part in the Firewalk, says: ‘Big C are a charity that have touched the lives of thousands of people in Norfolk, supporting families who have sadly been affected by cancer. It delivers incredible practical, emotional and specialist support, as well as funding research to help prevent, treat and beat cancer. When I heard Tonia’s story, I wanted to step up to the coals too and join her on the Firewalk in solidarity. It’s pretty daunting thinking about it, so if anyone would like to watch and cheer us on from the side-lines, please do, your support would mean a lot.’
If you would like to sponsor Tonia, visit Fundraiser by Tonia King : Tonia is Walking on Fire for Big C (gofundme.com). If you would like to take part, visit Big C Firewalk – Big C Fundraising (big-c.co.uk).
Featured image of Tonia King and infographics supplied by Big C