Training hard for her bike ride to Laos, Dumbuck House Hotel owner Petra McMillan pictured in the hills above Overtoun House. Petra takes part in all sorts of events to raise funds for Marie Curie Nurses, including abseiling off extremely high buildings as she is doing here. Petra with her bag packed for the fund-raising trip to Laos pictured at Edinburgh Airport. And top – holding a rugby ball decorated with the familiar yellow daffodils of the Marie Curie charity are left to right: Tom McNally, Deacon Convener Trades House of Glasgow; Peter Wright, Scottish rugby internationalist; Petra McMillan of Marie Curie Nurses; rugby star Colin Gregor and Ian Dickson, Lord Dean of Guild Merchants House of Glasgow.
By Bill Heaney
Peripatetic Petra McMillan, owner of Dumbuck House Hotel in Dumbarton, is back on her bike …
After a freak fall while taking her terrier, Maggie, for a walk along a riverbank, she is miraculously back to top money-raising form.
In typical Petra fashion, she is off to somewhere exotic – and, dare I say, dangerous – to Laos, a relatively unknown neighbour of Thailand and Cambodia.
That takes some courage since she was badly injured when she fell down a flight of steps last year.
Petra hurt her shoulder so badly that she had to have and operation to have steel pins inserted in it.
And it has taken a long period of rest, recuperation and rehab in the gym to get her back to full fitness.
She was super fit before the accident and had done all sorts of stunts to raise awareness and funds for Marie Curie Nurses in memory of her mum, Renate.
These include climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and taking a marathon bike ride across Nicaragua in Central America.
And there has been the relatively simple matter of searching out extra-high buildings to abseil off.
She is now at the start of her journey across South Asia – and it certainly looks daunting.
However, Petra is unfazed by it all and has taken to the road through the spectacular but tough terrain that is the Laos countryside.
Petra has to stay super fit and treats and indulgences have had to be sacrificed as she took to some serious training in the Long Crags above Dumbarton.
She said: “The shoulder has cured magically thanks to the consultant and his ever- caring staff in the hospital where I was treated.
“It’s just my jelly legs that I am concerned about now. I haven’t been able to get on my bike as much as I did previously. Or as much as I would have liked.
“But I am up for it. I am absolutely determined to complete this challenge, which could be my last time doing anything as energy sapping as this.”
All that training did not stop Petra attending the Glasgow Development Board’s annual rugby lunch in the Western Club to support the Marie Curie Hospice in Glasgow.
The chairman Bill Scott said: “Over the last five years, the Glasgow Development Board has raised funds for services and capital projects in Glasgow and the surrounding area.
“These include – The Fast Track Discharge Service – Replacement Beds Programme – Revitalised Gardens – Additional Marie Curie Nurses – Days at the Hospice. Our recent Brain Game raised £160,000 for the cause.
“We have achieved all of this with the help of individuals, charitable trusts and companies.
“Marie Curie does fantastic work helping and supporting patients and families in Scotland and the UK following a terminal diagnosis – that means any terminal diagnosis, not only of cancer.
“The charity believes that their services should be available to everyone who needs it when they need it.
“Demand for our services increases each year. We can’t stand still. We need to continue raising money to help more patients and families at the most desperate time of their lives.”
He said Petra McMillan had done “tremendous work” for the charity and had raised £400,000 from her remarkable fund-raising exploits.
And in a short speech, she told the members how she had first come to be involved with Marie Curie.
She said: “Before Mum’s terminal diagnosis, I knew Marie Curie had something to do with dying, but I had no cause to dig deeper.
“I was 36, with two children and a busy career – death happened to other people, not us.
“The brain tumour was aggressive and my Mum was given three months to live. My dad died when I was 11 and Mum devoted her life to me, my brother and three sisters, and her 11 grandchildren, while also working as a carer for the elderly for 35 years.
“It took Mum until 60 to buy her first home and we knew she’d want to be there at the end. We devised a 24-hour care rota and all did our best, but it wasn’t enough.
“And just when we thought we might crumble, our district nurse suggested Marie Curie.”
Petra added: “This allowed us to ensure absolutely that my mother’s last days were bathed in love.
“When Marie Curie Nurses were with Mum, we knew she was safe and comfortable and we could go home, rest and help our own children. It was a revelation.
“The nurses were all kind, competent and caring. Thanks to them, we held it together. Complications meant that Mum needed hospice care at the end.
“But at the end, she had all of us at her side.
“In the fog of grief, it was my daughter who reminded me that we should say thank you. Of course, she was right.
“We started small – baking cakes, doing fun runs – but a passion took hold. As a journalist, I started to write about activities to raise funds for Marie Curie.
“I organised events, got others involved and, nine years later, I’m proud to say we’re making a difference in our communities.
“Since then we have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds, set up two fund-raising groups and encouraged more than 400 people from all over the UK to take part in challenges at home and abroad.
“We’ve generated a wealth of stories and photographs and broadcast minutes promoting the work of Marie Curie.
“In areas with no hospice or charity shop and only our nurses slipping in and out of homes, usually in the dead of night, this publicity has been pivotal to our local success.
“In 2011, I was made a patron for Marie Curie – a voluntary ambassador.
“I’ve always tried to inspire donors by taking on challenges, such as a marathon, cycling Vietnam to Cambodia, and climbing Ben Nevis.
“But it’s getting tougher to find the superlatives, which is why I’ll be trekked Kilimanjaro in September 2016 and am planning to tackle Everest next spring.”
How does all this activity assist Marie Curie to care for terminally ill patients?
Petra said: “I see parallels between climbing a mountain or taking part in a cycling marathon and caring for a loved one at the end of life.
“When Mum was sick, I felt woefully ill-prepared for the journey ahead. I was scared and doubted I had the strength to go on.
“Overcoming my fears and making it to the end with her was a profound experience.”
But the Long Crags, Dumbuie, Dumbuck Hill or even Ben Lomond itself bear no comparison to Kilimanjaro so far height or distance is concerned.
These hills are not half as tough as Kilimanjaro or the mountainy slopes of Laos, but in the recent brilliant autumn sunshine, they have been every bit as beautiful with their breath-taking views of Dumbarton Rock, the Clyde estuary and Loch Lomond.
From half way up the Long Crags towards the Giant Steps there are views of all of Dumbarton and north as far as Ben Lomond and the Perthshire Hills.
Petra said: “It really is lovely here overlooking Dumbarton. I love it when I am at home I am out on my bike with my husband Tommy or doing sessions in the gym. Every penny of the charity target will be used to ‘buy’ free professional nursing care at home, in the last weeks of life for individuals with a range of terminal conditions, including cancer.
“This is a major part of what we do as a family.”
Petra has raised more than £6,000 in sponsorship for this fund-raiser and has paid all her own expenses.