Brenda Cupitt’s ‘final’ thoughts were with her charity of choice – but against the odds she fought back to health. Now she and assistance dog Nelson have been awarded ‘Client Partnership of the Year’ by Support Dogs in tribute to her dedication.

When Brenda Cupitt was given just hours to live her only thought was making sure that her final cheque was delivered to her beloved charity Support Dogs.

Brenda, from Sheffield, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and when she developed a chest infection as a result of chemotherapy she became so ill she was not expected to survive. Doctors gave her just three hours to live.

But from her bed in intensive care, Brenda was desperate to make sure that her annual cheque to the charity she has supported for the past 15 years was handed over – even worrying that it was £50 short.

Happily, 79-year-old Brenda is no longer on her death bed, but has made what her doctors describe as a ‘miraculous’ recovery. The stalwart supporter of the Sheffield-based assistance dog charity, who has helped to raised £27,000 in just six years, is now home – and has been reunited with her much-loved support dog, Nelson.

Instructor with Support Dogs, Tracey Moore, who trained Nelson and has known Brenda for many years, says the incident was typical of Brenda’s determination and single-minded drive to keep on fundraising for her charity of choice for as long as she had breath left in her body.

Says Tracey: “Brenda is an amazing lady, well-known for her fundraising efforts and complete dedication to Support Dogs, but we can’t quite believe she’s made such a remarkable recovery; she stopped breathing three times and was literally on her death bed.”

Brenda had struggled with severe osteoarthritis in most of her joints but particularly in her spine, which limited her mobility, when she got her first support dog, a crossbreed called Millie.

Millie was trained by Support Dogs as Brenda’s assistance dog until retiring at the age of ten. The charity then sourced her second dog, black Labrador Nelson, and the pair were inseparable until Brenda’s recent hospital stay.

“I was given a choice of six dogs, but Nelson ambled in, lay down on my feet and looked at me with those eyes, and that was it,” recalls Brenda. Like all support dogs, Nelson is trained to be Brenda’s personal carer and to keep her safe, as well as performing vital everyday tasks such as fetching post, picking up dropped items, loading and unloading the washing machine – and even helping Brenda to strip the bed and take off her socks.

“Millie, and now Nelson, changed my life - before I had them I hardly dared to go out, I was always dropping things that I couldn’t pick up, or reach for items on the bottom shelf of the supermarket, but the dogs do all that for me now – Nelson even finds my purse and helps me pay at the checkout,” she says.

In fact when Brenda gives talks to local groups she takes along photos of Nelson in action, as her audiences could not believe just how much Nelson was able to do for her.

 As a way of giving back to the charity that provided her with a lifeline, Brenda held her first coffee morning, which raised £250, and over the years the now annual event brings in considerably more. Then she, her daughter Jane and and a group of friends formed a team, using their skills in sewing, needlework and knitting and painting to produce saleable goods from bags to Easter chickens and Christmas stockings, which have proved very popular.

And even during her enforced hospital stay, she didn’t let a little matter like cancer get in the way of her knitting…

Says Brenda: “Support Dogs have done so much for me I wanted to put something back, and to help someone else to have another dog. It costs £20,000 to train a dog, and there are so many people waiting for one.”

Brenda’s brush with death followed a fall in her bathroom last summer, when subsequent hospital tests revealed a rare but aggressive form of bone cancer. Despite her age, doctors decided her only hope was a 12-week course of bruising chemotherapy, which she tolerated well until the resulting and nearly fatal chest infection in February. However, a recent scan has revealed that she is now clear of cancer, and needs no further treatment.

She celebrated her 79th birthday in hospital with a party organised by her daughter and friends, with Nelson as guest of honour.

Support Dogs’ chief executive Rita Howson paid tribute to Brenda’s battling spirit.

“Brenda is a real star, and we’re so pleased that she’s well on the way to recovery,” she says. “We rely completely on the efforts of people like Brenda to keep on doing what we do, and she’s one of the absolute best.”