Graeme was born on 29th July 1978.
He was diagnosed with a brain tumour in January 2005.
He died peacefully at home on 27th October 2006.
Remembered by everyone who met him
Loved by all who knew him.
If you’re reading this, you will probably be aware that Graeme Turner, the inspiration and glue for the motley crew we call "Team Graeme", died of a brain tumour and that we’re raising money in memory of the guy I’ll always be proud to call my brother. It’s difficult to sum up the life and times of a 28 year old, but I want Graeme to be remembered for who he was and not just who the cancer made him.
Graeme was the first of two near-perfect (!) children of Anne and Keith. He arrived in the world a couple of weeks late (you could never rush him into anything) on July 29, 1978. Showing an early zest for travelling, Graeme was just a few months old when he took his first long-haul trip, when he and Mam accompanied Dad on a business trip to Florida and New Orleans.
As our maternal grandmother sadly died less than 18 months after Graeme was born, Graeme was the grateful recipient of the devoted attention of my grieving Grandad Jim, and the two shared a bond that lasted throughout the rest of my Grandad’s life. I joined Team Turner just before Graeme’s 3rd birthday and I am told that Graeme adored me and was protective of me from the get-go as the following photo, taken shortly after I was born, clearly demonstrates.
My earliest memories are of following Graeme around, being dressed up by him as Robin to his Batman and playing football with Grandad Jim. (Incidentally, Graeme certainly learnt how to tackle (read ‘foul’) from Grandad and followed his motto "Thou shalt not pass").
Our parents (aka "The Rents") instilled in us a love for one another and the idea that no matter how many friends come and go, we’d always have to stick together and protect one another. We were incredibly close for as long as I can remember. We had fights but not many. I confess that Graeme would tell you around about now that I nearly killed him once when I winded him, but that would not only be an exaggeration but an exception to the rule! We were never made to feel jealous or competitive with one another and I credit the Rents for that. We both knew we were loved about as unconditionally as you can get. We both had summer birthdays so had some great birthday parties outside and genuinely had a happy childhood. I am told by reliable sources that Graeme loved horses and star bars when he was young. I remember him developing a strange affection for armadillos when he was about 7, when we spent 6 weeks in Texas visiting my Dad who was working out there for 9 months (imaginatively calling a toy armadillo "army"!) I’m going to say a lot of nice things about the guy so I think I can get away with telling you that when he was little he once ate so much beetroot he had pink pee!
Graeme was intelligent but, although I have no evidence of it in earlier life, I can tell you that he had, shall we say, a "relaxed" attitude to work. He did as little work as possible for GCSE’s and A Levels. At university Graeme officially studied geography with economics at Newcastle University, but this was really just an excuse to keep his season ticket at Newcastle United. Our wandering zebras, by the way, never won a major trophy throughout Graeme’s lifetime.
It seems the motivation Graeme lacked for schoolwork was channelled into sport, which was a major part of his life. By his own admission Graeme was never the quickest, most skilful or agile at any sport. Graeme’s enthusiasm and work ethic made up for that, though, and he entered any events at school to win points for his house team. As well as enduring the trials and tribulations of being a member of the Toon Army, Graeme played football at junior and secondary schools and later at university. Whilst at sixth form college, Graeme went back to our junior school to coach the football team, showing an early enthusiasm for fostering young talent. When Graeme returned to Stockton-on-Tees after finishing university, he started a 5-a-side football team with friends. They wore bright orange shirts (the genesis for our Team Graeme colours). I believe the team never won a game in that first season but no one would deny that Graeme worked his socks off in every game (his bright red cheeks after every game were evidence of that).
Graeme also loved hockey, quite possibly because the ‘tackling’ (again, read ‘fouls’) were more satisfying to him when he could use a stick! When Graeme was 16, he famously got sent off within 30 seconds of one match, caused in part no doubt by a raging hangover. Graeme was a member of Stockton Hockey Club for a number of years and had been captain of the 4th team for a season just before he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. As captain, he encouraged the club to pick younger players and the kids seemed to love him for it. In 2007 the hockey club introduced a new annual award to be presented in Graeme's memory. The award was donated by the family and is given to the person who has shown enthusiasm for the game and especially for the younger players. The award is shown in the photo below.
As well as enjoying playing them Graeme had an amazing memory for detailed facts and figures about a lot of sports and was an essential member of Stockton’s most successful quiz team (self-appointed title). This somewhat anal-retentive grasp of information about sport also extended to movies, tv shows and, well, pretty much anything that wasn’t school or university work! Some of us can bear witness to Graeme’s love of trivia when he was responsible for writing some of the questions for a quiz as part of our New Year’s Eve celebrations in 2005. Graeme’s almost impossible questions included 2 pages of questions on The Simpsons that even the most die-hard fans struggled with!
A combination of sport, friends and an absence of applied work for school belies an impressive work ethic that began aged 16 when Graeme got his first job at Wickes as a shop assistant. He worked for Wickes both in Stockton and Sunderland throughout 6th Form and university and returned post-university, eventually becoming Merchandise Supervisor before he joined the civil service in 2003. After a short stint in Billingham Job Centre, Graeme gained a promotion and moved to Hartlepool Action Team (HAT) where he worked as an advisor helping the long term unemployed, a job he loved and appeared to revel in.
Graeme made great friends at HAT, as he did everywhere. He was never the person who had more friends than anyone else at school, but he didn’t suffer fools and was loyal to those he cared about. There were probably about 10 people who felt they’d lost their best friend when he died because he never made new friends at the expense of others. He was naturally gregarious and had a great sense of humour and he had different interests that he enjoyed with different people.
I realise I’ve missed a chunk of Graeme’s life: travelling. Apart from some fabulous family holidays and a couple of Magaluf-type drinkfests with friends, Graeme’s first major travelling came in 2001, when he set off quite literally to the middle of nowhere: a place called Inuvik in the Canadian Arctic Circle. Graeme worked as a classroom assistant at a primary school on a project for the Frontiers Foundation. He immersed himself in the community, making good friends and coaching the girls under 18 soccer team to victory in the regional championships (and getting his photo in the local paper; The Inuvik Drum as a reward!) In short, he loved it. He would have stayed on longer but he came back because of his girlfriend back in Stockton (who sadly dumped him within a week of his return).
As an aside, Graeme’s trip to Inuvik includes one of my all-time favourite stories about Graeme. A woman who had cooked for him every week for a while expressed her sadness when Graeme announced he was coming home. She told Graeme she thought they had something special and Graeme said, in a great display of sensitivity, "What do you mean? I only came round to watch The Simpsons"!!
Graeme’s next major trip was to Mount Kilimanjaro in June 2004, which turned out to be the last major experience of his life and which in some ways has defined him. The "Kili" photo on various pages of this site has come to represent the very best of Graeme: his zest for life, his thirst for adventure, his crazy dress-sense and, (well, I’m allowed to say as his sis) his good looks. Although the photo was taken in 2004 we didn’t see it until a few weeks before he died. Sue O’Brien, who took the photo, sent it to us after my Dad got in touch with people to update them on Graeme’s deterioration, by which time Graeme had gone through major physical changes culminating in blindness and paralysis. I loved Graeme no matter how he looked, but the Kili photo sums him up. When Sue sent it to us it was (and still is) a reminder of the guy himself and not the person the cancer made him.
Graeme didn’t make it to the top of Kili but he tried his best until altitude sickness forced him to stop. We didn’t know it at the time but this trip was around the time the doctors think the brain tumour started to grow. Despite his personal disappointment at failing to reach the summit, Graeme was, I understand, a great support to others around him on the mountain. Graeme came back from Kili determined to climb more mountains. He booked a trip to trek to Mount Everest base camp (which he later had to cancel due to his illness. Not much of an excuse if you ask me …).
I’ve written quite a lot and I’ve not told you how funny, kind, strong and caring Graeme was. I can tell you these things and of course I’m biased. As I mentioned, I don’t want Graeme to be defined only as someone who died of cancer but the way Graeme handled his illness tells you a lot about the person he was.
Graeme was genuinely positive from the day he was diagnosed with a tumour right until that tumour had infected his brain so much he could no longer speak. He refused to be defeated in any way. He pushed his battered body to the very limits to enjoy what he could of life. He returned to work less than a year after his diagnosis (unheard of for someone with such an aggressive illness) and continued to work for about seven months even whilst he was undergoing many cycles of chemotherapy. I must add that he should have lived on average less than a year after diagnosis. He actually lived 21 months.
He remained one of the funniest guys I know in desperate circumstances (about a month before he died when he was bedridden my Mam and I were in the middle of changing his sheets due to diarrhoea for the 3rd time within a few hours. My Dad returned home and Graeme said "Welcome to the Shit Pit!". He named the tumour Marla (watch Fight Club to understand why) and he asked me to buy him the Monty Python t-shirt saying "My brain hurts". (I have a black sense of humour but I could never bring myself to buy it for him).
He remained a truly amazing brother throughout - he told my Mam he was glad the cancer was happening to him and not me, the thought of which still leaves me speechless. Six weeks before he died Graeme spent a few days in a hospice and the nurses told me they heard I had just qualified as a solicitor and Graeme was very proud of me (particularly moving given that at times Graeme didn’t know where he was or what was going on as the cancer was affecting his memory).
Graeme was never a victim and he never gave up. The cancer may have stolen his life but it could never steal his spirit. He went through untold pain and suffering but kept his dignity. The steroids he took for the 21 months of his illness caused him to put on a lot of weight. He lost his hair because of surgery, radiotherapy and then chemotherapy. He was restricted in movement and then essentially paralysed on the left side of his body but he kept smiling and joking until a few days before he died when after a week without eating he could no longer move or speak.
The facts of Graeme’s cancer are in some ways simple. He had the most malignant of brain tumours, a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) aka grade 4 astrocytoma. The tumour was discovered after intense headaches did not subside after a week or so. The first time he went to the doctors, he replied to my text asking how he was by saying "Thanks little dude. Just been to doctors, he said I am weak, and should be shot at dawn like a dog!" The headaches he was suffering clearly caused Graeme a lot of pain and his left arm and leg were slightly paralysed but Graeme decided after a few days off that he felt better and decided to go to work. You have to give the guy credit for determination! He drove about (15) miles to work in Hartlepool, lost his balance when he got out of the car and fell into some bushes. He was picked up and driven home by work colleagues. Anyway, this incident meant Graeme was referred to hospital for tests.
He had surgery in Jan 2005 less than a week after being admitted to hospital, which removed about 85% of the tumour. He then undertook a 6-week course of radiotherapy. Prior to Graeme starting radiotherapy, the notion of ‘Team Graeme’ kicked in and we made wristbands to show solidarity as he undertook treatment (TG founders were actually a slightly(!) drunk Ms Knox and Mrs Stout for whose inspiration we’re grateful). We celebrated the end of his radiotherapy with a party where Graeme gave a speech that gives great examples of his humour. We have located a copy of the speech and it can be read by clicking here Speech.
A couple of months after he finished radiotherapy (and a couple of days before his 27th birthday) Graeme was told the radiotherapy had failed to stop the tumour growing. A 3-month course of temozolomide chemotherapy brought marked improvement in his health, confirmed by a scan in October 26, 2005 showing that approximately 30% of the remaining tumour had been killed. A further 3-month cycle of temozolomide was initially thought in February 2006 to be a success as the doctors thought it had stopped the tumour growing but soon after we all realised that Graeme’s movement was becoming more restricted and headaches were returning (always a tangible sign the tumour was growing). Graeme was therefore put on PCV chemotherapy for three cycles. The three cycles of PCV did not appear to halt the decline in Graeme’s health and he was given a walking stick to aid his movement.
On June 28, 2006 we were told by the doctors that the PCV had not stopped the tumour growing and there was nothing more they could do other than make Graeme as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. We all expected it but it didn’t prevent the news devastating us. That day was one of the few times Graeme cried throughout his illness. My Dad told him we would never give up on him and from then on I think we all just tried to take things one day at a time, although it was of course incredibly difficult at times to prevent thoughts and fears of what was coming running through one’s mind.
Graeme was, at this point, still working, although soon after he had to give up as he could no longer walk even with the walking stick.Within a month of this devastating news, Graeme celebrated his 28th birthday. I organised an extravagant cowboys and Indians party. Around 90 friends and family made the day a source of fun and not just sadness at knowing it would be his last birthday. Without any treatment even to slow it down, the tumour ran riot in Graeme’s brain and his health steadily declined. Graeme spent just over a week in a hospice in September but we were able to care for him at home thanks to the support of the district nurses and Marie Curie nurses. He died at home at 7.45am on Friday October 27, 2006, as the Rents and I held him and spoke to him telling him we loved him. We watched helplessly as Graeme’s life slipped away, wishing more than anything that we could hold on to him and make him better but also knowing that it was a relief for his suffering to end.
The blog I wrote chronicling the last 6 weeks of Graeme’s life can be read here Rachel's Blog . (It maybe doesn’t sound like fun reading but it’s got a few anecdotes and stories to liven things up). This website, and the SDBTT Graeme Turner Fund, is a footnote to Graeme and the blog. I don’t think anyone can watch a loved-one die of cancer (or indeed any other illness) and not strive to raise money in the hope that others won’t have to suffer in the same way. So that’s what the SDBTT Graeme Turner Fund is about. Our fundraising motto is taken from the T-shirt that Graeme wore when he was told he had cancer, and in which he was cremated:
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough"
The photos were taken on Christmas Day 2004, just weeks before Graeme's diagnosis.
July and August 2007
For more photos of Graeme please click here Photos