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In Our Hearts Stories

Less than 20% of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years

Pamela Rawnsley

Jeweller and silversmith Pamela Rawnsley was struck down with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumour and died at the age of 62, 99 days after diagnosis. Widely considered to be at the height of her creative powers with much more to give, Pamela’s work was inspired largely by a reaction to places and she loved the wildness of the landscape and the weather in the Brecon Beacons where she lived and worked.

“Brain tumours, it seems, are a unique enemy. They appear to be unprovoked. They can be dissembling, insidious, masters of disguise. Their forces come in a complex variety of forms. When attacked, they can retaliate at once with sometimes overwhelming power. They move fast, often unpredictably. They are equipped with impressive layers of armour. They pick out children. They have terrible weapons that we struggle to match. Their numbers are growing. Doesn’t it shame us that we fail to meet this unique enemy on equal terms?” 

Pamela’s husband Matthew tells her story …

My wife Pamela Rawnsley was killed by a grade four glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) brain tumour in May 2014. She was a jeweller and silversmith - well known and highly thought of within her field, with work in important national collections and with an international reputation. She’s remembered as an inspiring teacher, a passionate advocate of making in all its forms, and a warm, funny and supportive friend.

Both metalworkers, we enjoyed a continuing creative partnership working separately but in harmony. Pamela was the love of my life over 35 years. She died at the age of 62. When she was diagnosed she was strong, otherwise healthy, optimistic, joyful and at the height of her creative powers.

The story of Pamela’s last months is similar to the harrowing experiences of many who are affected by this appalling disease. With hindsight, it’s just about possible to identify personality changes as much as fifteen months before diagnosis; then, when she did go to see our GP, her symptoms were at first thought to be due to tiredness and stress; a very plausible explanation since she was in the middle of a major project funded by Arts Council Wales. As a Creative Wales Ambassador she was an artist in residence at JamFactory Contemporary Craft Centre in Adelaide, Australia, as part of an 18 month project carrying great responsibility. When she returned she was a little bit shorter with people than usual, more impatient - but it never occurred to us that an illness was the cause.

The disease stole up on her in just two or three months. Four weeks after the GP visit, scans revealed the horror. She lived another 99 days, most of it at home in the house she loved among the quiet hills of the Brecon Beacons that subtly inspired so much of her work.

The care Pamela received, from NHS Wales and from voluntary bodies, was amazing and we are very grateful to them all. We understood that, with treatment, there could be another two-and-a-half years, maybe more, maybe less. Immediately after diagnosis chemo and radio therapies began. Life immediately became grim, the fitting of a radiotherapy mask was unpleasant and the drugs made Pamela sick as hell. The treatment so weakened her – after only three doses she never stood again - that it had to stop as quickly as it had begun. There was nothing more that could be done and we knew then how quickly, and how badly, Pamela would die: such is the brutality of a tumour inside the brain.

Pamela lost the use of her eyes. The blinding of an artist is an image that will always bring me fury and tears. I am angrier than I can begin to describe.

Brain tumours, it seems, are a unique enemy. They appear to be unprovoked. They can be dissembling, insidious, masters of disguise. Their forces come in a complex variety of forms. When attacked, they can retaliate at once with sometimes overwhelming power. They move fast, often unpredictably. They are equipped with impressive layers of armour. They pick out children. They have terrible weapons that we struggle to match. Their numbers are growing.

But worst of all they differ from other cancers in attacking more than our bodies because, in attacking our brains, they so easily destroy our minds - the absolute core of our being, the seat of all our understandings, our senses, our loves, sorrows, creativities, plans … Doesn’t it shame us that we fail to meet this unique enemy on equal terms?

I have lost my great love and the world has lost a notable artist with a head full of wonderful ideas for work that we will never now see.

Matthew Tomalin
September 2015

Pamela is remembered on the Arts Council of Wales website

An obituary was published in Crafts November/December 2014 edition

Ruthin Craft Centre hosted a retrospective show of Pamela’s work in Spring 2015 and published an accompanying book.

Pamela Rawnsley In Our Hearts resized

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