She had a twinkle in her eye that belied her cosmopolitan casing. Underneath that studied exterior, fashioned from a decade of big city living, was a woman that loved to crack open the fizz and dance away the small hours. The youngest of three, her childhood was as happily uneventful as any other upwardly-mobile working-class family in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Holidays at the seaside, Sunday drives with the family, teenage discos and first kisses behind the bike sheds. A car accident led her to the local Accident and Emergency unit, after which she announced that she was going to become a nurse. Ten years later, she was a Charge nurse, heading up the casualty ward in a busy central London hospital.
She may have been ‘five foot nothing’ (around 1.5m in EU talk) and hailing from an unremarkable small town in Scotland, but she had none of the impostor syndrome that afflicts many of her compatriots. She spent a third of her life studying and knew more about medicine than many junior doctors. Her grit, self-confidence, quick-wittedness and sense of humour earned respect from colleagues and she was happy to call several consultants her friends.
She could be stroppy at times and was a particularly sore loser. Finding herself on the losing side of a game of Charades was a sight to behold and I still shudder at the sheer number of expletives she could hurl at anyone daring to talk during a movie. She was married by Elvis in Vegas, took up acting classes just for the hell of performing slightly disturbing monologues in front of us all. She talked about starting a family and even got some eggs frozen, just in case. Then, one day she felt a lump in her breast… Three years later, battling all the way - henna tattoos proudly proclaiming her baldness - she passed away, 19 years ago this month, just one day shy of her 30th birthday. That was Nicola, my marvellous sister-in-law. As we head into the European Week Against Cancer, I’ll be toasting her with a glass of fizz.