Danielle Leslie raised £800,000 for charity and created treasure boxes for her sons, Ben, 23, and Joe, 20, and daughter Amy, 17. She filled them with cards and letters written for special life occasions
When Danielle Leslie died of breast cancer aged 40, she left a poignant legacy of love and inspiration for her three children.
While fighting to stay alive, she not only raised £800,000 for charity, but she also created treasure boxes for her sons, Ben, 23, and Joe, 20, and daughter Amy, 17.
She filled them with cards and letters written for the special occasions she would never share.
Her gifts to Amy included a tiara for her wedding day, a baby bracelet for when she becomes a mum, and even learner plates in preparation for her driving test.
The A-level student says: “The thought and love in these boxes of cards, all handwritten and personal to me and my brothers while going through gruelling treatment and facing the end – it says everything you need to know about mum.”
The treasures inspired Amy, her brothers and their dad Spencer to finish what Danielle had started with her charity Future Dreams – to open a support hub for breast cancer sufferers.
Almost £8million has now been raised – £3m of which has been pumped into cancer research – and in October, it accomplished Danielle’s mission, opening Future Dreams House in Kings Cross, Central London.
Dance studio manager Danielle and Amy’s gran Sylvie Henry started the charity in 2008 with £100. Sylvie was told she had incurable lung cancer in 2005, and Danielle was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. They staged two West End events, supported by stars including Cat Deeley, Patrick Kielty, Denise Van Outen and Tamzin Outhwaite.
Amy says: “When mum and mamma, my gran, both died within a year of each other in 2009, it ripped a huge hole in our lives, but they left their charity for us to carry on. They wanted no woman to go through cancer alone. It’s been a complete privilege to carry on that campaign.”
Amy was just six when her mum died and remembers home was no longer the fun place it had been. She says of her mum: “As I pieced together the amazing woman she was, the sadder I became that she’d been taken away from us.
“The cards and letters, the little reminders of her, it was so terribly sad, but also so beautiful to run my fingers over her writing, feeling where she’d been. Dad never gave up, he always did his best to put us and the charity before himself.”
Amy started helping Future Dreams when she was about 13 and says: “That was when I really connected with Mum, I think.”
The Future Dreams hub is billed as the only specialised breast cancer support centre with virtual and in-person support in the UK. It offers life coaching, financial advice, tips on exercise and healthy eating, acupuncture, yoga, a post-surgery bra-fitting service, to name just a few.
At the start of the pandemic, it launched a nationwide campaign to support patients, sending out more than 6,000 care packages, donating more than 1,000 post-surgery bras, posting out free headscarves and providing hundreds of meals for NHS staff.
It also runs awareness campaigns encouraging all women to regularly check their breasts.
In addition, it has body-confidence courses, and has produced a podcast – And Then Came Breast Cancer – with BBC journalist Victoria Derbyshire, who had a mastectomy and eight months of chemo and radiotherapy following her 2015 breast cancer diagnosis.
Amy says: “Mum and mamma had so many things they wanted to happen – if they could see what the charity has become, she would be so proud. Not in a million years did we ever think we’d get this far.”
In 2018, on the charity’s 10th anniversary, Amy made a speech to an audience of more than 2,000 at the London Palladium.
She says: “Of course, I was nervous, but wearing mum’s favourite pink shoes, I’ve never had any doubt on talking about the charity.”
Amy’s dad, property developer Spencer, 55, of Mill Hill, North London, says: “We have a vision to keep growing so every single family in the UK hit by breast cancer gets support.
“Like so many charities, the NHS is really feeling the strain financially since the start of the pandemic, and we can save them money, as well as provide a completely holistic range of services and treatments.”
Spencer credits the support of Liz Hurley, who cut the ribbon on the centre’s opening, and Estée Lauder, which gave £500,000 to the project.
He says: “The new centre simply wouldn’t have happened without them. He adds: “Liz Hurley isn’t just Estée Lauder’s ambassador – she’s been there by our sides from day one.”
It is hoped Future Dreams House will support up to 10,000 women a year and their families.
Helen Morgan, 43, a breast cancer survivor and Future Dreams ambassador, says: “When having treatment there isn’t anybody to show you how to wash hair and when going through chemo, how to stop the skin shedding from the ends of your fingertips, how you still eat when your mouth is full of ulcers and you can barely speak. Going through treatment, I found it really hard and I felt really lonely.”
Explaining the charity’s name, Amy says: “It’s from the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, ‘The future belongs to those in the beauty of their dreams’.
“And that’s exactly what we’re doing, turning mum’s dream into a beautiful reality.”
To donate, visit futuredreams.org.uk
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.