Pupils lead ‘Santa Dash’ in memory of courageous teacher

Hana Szczepkowski
Hana Szczepkowski

The heartbroken mother of a young Mexborough teacher who died within 12 weeks of a second cancer diagnosis has paid tribute to her daughter’s courage, and the charity that stepped in to help her.

Former Mexborough Academy pupil and PE teacher Hana Szczepkowski died last week at the age of 31. Hana had breast cancer two years ago, but was diagnosed recently with cancer of the brain that spread to her spine.

Hana’s mother Jean, said: “We had tremendous help from the Team Verrico charity. When we wanted a second opinion and didn’t know where to turn Paul Verrico lifted this huge weight from us by taking Hana to Harley Street to see Professor Stebbins. It made all the difference.”

She added: “Hana never gave up. She had an infectious personality. We have had hundreds of cards and messages. The students at school adored Hana...she will be so missed.”

Mexborough Academy has a community Santa Dash on Saturday at 11.15am on school fields, for Team Verrico funds.

The funeral is on Friday, when Hana will be taken to Mexborough Academy, for pupils to stage a guard of honour as she passes. A service at Rose Hill Crematorium, Doncaster, is at 11am, with donations to Doncaster Hospice, Balby, where Hana spent her final days. She leaves parents Steve and Jean Szczepkowski, and brother Alex and family.

Tributes to the popular sportswoman who represented England at rounders as a youngster, and was latterly a ski coach, poured in following the sad news.

Fellow teacher at Mexborough, Claire Rowan, said: “My friend Hana was an inspiring and amazing person who brought energy to any situation.

“She loved working with students and did lots of extra curricular activities such as the ROCK CHALLENGE and worked hard to pass her basic expedition leaders course so she could supervise Duke of Edinborough students and increase their potential and skills.”

She continued: “Hana had a very close family unit and thought the world of her niece and nephew.

She loved to cook, ski, party and be with her family.

“As a friend she was caring and loving and instigated lots of belly laughs and craziness. My own children will miss her dearly.”

Another close friend, Lucy Stanton, said: “Hana was a dear friend to me and also many others,she was so popular for her hilarious personality,and also her kind and thoughtful heart.

“Hana was a very positive person and this didn’t change with the cancer diagnosis. Her laugh was contagious and ‘team Hana’ will miss her forever.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Jean, Steve and Alex at this very sad time.”

Team Verrico Chair, Paul Verrico, said: “I don’t normally get involved with patients – but Hana was different. She wanted to talk to me personally to explore her options; she was friendly, funny and grateful for what Team Verrico was able to offer by way of second opinion, even though we made contact very late in her illness.

“She challenged me to know ‘what the catch was’ and when I reassured her as to the charity’s story, she seemed genuinely puzzled that a volunteer group would take an interest in her. An unassuming, decent human being.

“When I later found out that Hana’s family and friends were raising funds to ‘pay it forward’ I was blown away. Cancer is a remorseless bogeyman that is relentless and attacks indiscriminately but for someone who is very poorly to want to fight back with the support of her network is remarkable.

“It is a matter of great sadness to Team V that we were unable to do much to help extend Hana’s life, although I am glad that we brought some light into her final weeks. Everything I have since read about Hana tells me that she was one of the good people of the world – I really hope that there is a fantastic turnout on Saturday as people pay their respects to this wonderful woman and help others in the future who may be in similar sore straits.”

Sponsor forms for the open Santa Run are available from school reception, or donations can be made via justgiving page Hana’s Hope. Donations are also welcome on the day. There will be a Christmas fayre after the Santa Run, in school.