It’s hard to believe, with all the advances in healthcare, science and technology, that cancer still exists today. Sure, we have made great strides in treating it and finding out more about it, which has helped to save and extend many lives, and for which we must be extremely grateful. But there are still far too many fatalities – just one is too many – and there is still so much more work to be done.
Of course, there is no single magic bullet that will cure it, especially as there are many different types of cancer that have to be treated in different ways. But the more research we can do, the more effective weapons we can develop and have in our arsenal to keep it at bay. No matter how stubborn and resilient it tries to be, we can tame it and beat it, and ultimately we will. It may take a great deal of time, money and effort, but it’s well worth it, because it will save and improve millions of lives.
Cancer has an impact on pretty much everybody at some point in their lives – even if you never get it yourself, chances are you’ll know someone who does. I’ve lost a good friend to the condition, and that’s what I want to tell you about here.
I made a post and a video about this a couple of years ago, for Stand Up To Cancer. But now I’ve improved as a blogger and Youtuber somewhat, I’ve decided to scrap those and extensively re-edit the text for a blog post that I can share in support of any cancer campaign, not just one specific one. And I’ve chosen today to do it, having become aware that the 4th of February is World Cancer Day. So I hope you find the post interesting. I know it’s not a nice or comfortable or entertaining subject to read about, but it is a very important one.
A good friend of mine passed away from cancer back in 2012. And it’s amazing to think that’s so long ago now. We got on really well, and I still miss him very much even after all this time.
He didn’t deserve to have his life cut short like that – nobody does. But he made the most of the time he had, that’s for sure. Tae Kwon Do was his biggest passion, but he also enjoyed many other things as well. We had similar tastes in music and TV shows, and similar senses of humour too. The last time I visited him, we did a swap of some of our music collections using a USB stick – so I ended up with his Michael Jackson albums in particular – along with our photo collections too. So I have hundreds of photos of him now, which I still have a look at now and again.
My friend had developed a tumour in his sinuses, affecting his nose in particular. Even though I know cancer can strike anywhere, I’d still never imagined anyone having cancer there somehow. It seemed surprising at the time.
But the doctors were able to get rid of it – twice. Even though it returned, the fact that it was banished on two occasions was wonderful, and it felt like he had a positive future. But the cancer was undeterred by this, and on its third attempt managed to spread to other parts of his body, especially the lungs. And there was so only so much anyone could do at that point, much as we all wished we could.
We never dwelt on the disease too much when we chatted though. Neither of us felt particularly comfortable talking about it, especially in the latter stages. And he especially just wanted to do the normal things that friends do, and talk about the normal things that friends talk about, in order to take his mind off it and enjoy the time he had. He didn’t want to be treated any differently, he just wanted to live his life as long as he could.
Because we had met in our boarding school as children, and had since gone back to our own homes after leaving, it meant we didn’t get to meet up very often, as it was a long way to travel. But we made the most of it when we did meet.
He even came to Spain with myself and a couple of other friends, which we all enjoyed. He really liked being able to meet up, as it helped him to get back to his old self again. I still have the email he sent me afterwards, where he thanked me for helping him get away from it all. I still have a lot of the emails we exchanged.
Even in the final weeks of his life, we did what we could to take his mind off it, and the last things we ever shared were jokes. Not about cancer, just about anything. We would regularly send each other jokes that we’d found online, or that others had emailed to us, or that we’d heard elsewhere.
So I take some comfort that the last thing I did was to make him smile and laugh. I felt so helpless when it came to the cancer itself, because that was what really needed sorting out. Chatting and laughing with him wasn’t going to cure him and change the outcome, so it was pointless in that respect. But, nevertheless, it did ease the stress and the sadness of it for him, even if was only for a short while at a time. It was better than nothing, and it definitely helped to keep his spirits up, knowing he still had friends he could talk to and exchange messages with.
You hear about people distancing themselves from friends when they find out they have cancer, because they’re unsure how to deal with it, what to say, etc. After all, you know there’s nothing you can do to cure it, so anything else you do seems secondary and pointless. But actually, having friends around you makes a significant difference. They want to be distracted from what’s going on, by chatting and hanging out with your mates just like normal, as far as is possible. So you’re not as useless as you think – just being there for them has a hugely positive impact to their wellbeing. It may not change the final outcome, if such an outcome has been diagnosed, but it significantly eases the journey your friend will make getting there.
So that was the case with my friend. Carrying on as normal was the best thing, because it was what he wanted. He just wanted to be treated in the same way he’d always been, living as normal a life as at all possible. And there was no reason why not. He was still capable of having fun and a good laugh just like he always was – it was only at the very end that it became impossible for him. And he was among the friends who supported me when my father died – so although he had enough on his mind with his cancer treatments at the time, he still thought of me and was still there for me. He never changed. He was always the same guy I’d always known, which was good and a relief.
There was never a formal goodbye. Nobody knew exactly when the worst would happen, and it would have been too awkward for both of us anyway. We were terrible for having drawn out phone conversations as it was, running out of things to talk about yet still hanging on the line for a while, until something else came to mind. So I dread to think how long a final farewell would have taken. If I’d known that I would be saying goodbye for the last time, I wouldn’t have wanted to say it. It would have been too difficult for both of us. So we were both glad we never knew when his last conversation would be.
It was on my mother’s birthday of all days when I woke up to a text from his father, asking me to ring him. I knew what that meant, and our conversation was an extremely short one. Nobody mentioned the words ‘death’ or ‘cancer’, because we didn’t need to. It was just a confirmation, with my condolences and support expressed in return. Nothing more needed to be said or could be said, and the family had enough to be getting on with.
His passing wasn’t a surprise, and by then it was a relief for his sake, knowing how much of a burden it had become to him. But I still felt extremely sad of course, and I still feel sad about it all these years later, because it just seems so unfair. There is no justification whatsoever for cancer taking anybody, so you can’t help but feel angry and upset about it. You wish you could do whatever you could to bring the person back.
An episode of Doctor Who – Father’s Day – sticks in my mind for that reason, where Rose stops her father from being killed in the past in a hit and run accident. Granted, it’s not about cancer, but it rings so true regardless. Because we all know that if time travel were really possible, and we could save somebody we loved by doing it, that we would be sorely tempted to do so, even if it changed history completely.
It was such an obvious topic to deal with on the show, and they handled it so well. Rose’s goodbye to her father when he sacrifices his life to restore normality is so heart-wrenching. It’s really sad, yet mixed with a strange feeling of happiness for Rose that she was at least able to say a proper goodbye to her father, which she’d never been able to do. It echoes the goodbye we all wish we could have made to people we’ve loved and lost, despite knowing it would be the hardest thing ever.
Cancer isn’t the only condition that’s evil and takes people from us unnecessarily. There are so many others, of course, and they all need to be stopped in their tracks. But cancer is still one of the most pervasive and common causes of death or long-term illness, and it shouldn’t be, it needn’t be. In this age of modern technology and greater scientific understanding, it seems all the more unfair and inexplicable that it still exists.
So, while things are undoubtedly improving, there is still a lot of work to be done. And the more funding we can put into research and treatments, the quicker that progress can be made. The longer we allow this to go on, the more people it will affect – not just the cancer patients at the centre of it all, but everybody that cares about them, including parents, relatives, friends, colleagues, etc. Stopping cancer will save and improve the lives of millions, even billions. All of us would gain by exterminating this monster.
One of the most under-funded types of cancer, for instance, is brain cancer. And this has been highlighted by the creation of the charity Charlotte’s BAG, set up by the family of Youtube vlogger Charlotte Eades soon after her death. Charlotte was an amazing and beautiful young woman who bravely shared her journey with cancer in her Youtube videos, building up a strong community and raising a huge amount of awareness in the process. She ended up being featured across the media, in various publications and on TV, and became very well known.
Her family could have left her channel as it was after her death, and everybody would have completely understood. But, wonderfully and with such admirable strength, they’ve continued posting videos to raise further awareness, and created their charity to help raise the much needed funds for research into the type of cancer she had (glioblastoma). Charlotte’s Mum, Alex, got the Inspirational Woman Of The Year award on ITV’s Lorraine show last year for her work, and with good reason. What they’re going through is unimaginable, so to achieve so much is to be applauded.
So please do check out the charity’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages to find out more, and donate if you can. As a fellow Youtuber myself, and a friend of Charlotte’s best friend Emily (who has videos about Charlotte here, here and here that are well worth watching), I’m only too happy to give the charity a shoutout.
As for my friend, I’m still in touch with his mum and dad today. They were rocks of support to their son throughout, and they have coped well since, as much as you can in the circumstances anyway. We’ve been keeping in touch by text and email, and they always let me know how the mark the anniversary of his passing every year. I set up a memorial page for him on Facebook shortly after he died, so I could share details of the funeral service with all of his friends that his parents had sent to me (I didn’t go to the funeral myself, as it just a small, private family affair). And I still update it occasionally if his parents tell me something significant that I can pass on.
And then during last year I met up with his parents for lunch during the summer, the first time we’d got together in person since his death in fact, which was really lovely. I didn’t blog about it here because it was a personal meeting, but we had a great time. And it was the day before I first met Emily as well, so it was a significant weekend in many ways. So I’m planning to go and see his parents again this year hopefully, especially now I know it’s easy to get the train to where they live. And I’ll always treasure the emails, photos and video clips that I have to remind me of my friend as well.
So that’s been my experience. If you have cancer yourself, then my very best wishes for your treatment and recovery, I sincerely hope everything works out well for you. And if you know someone who has cancer, be there for them as much as you can. I know there’s nothing you can do to stop the effects of the disease, and I know how hard it is because of that. But just being there to talk to them, to exchange messages with them, to have a laugh with them, to take them out somewhere, and so on, whatever it is they need, all makes a huge difference and they’ll be very grateful. So be there in whatever way you can for them, and I hope that their treatment and recovery progresses well.
I know a post like this isn’t an easy or exciting thing to read, because cancer’s not an easy subject for anyone to talk about. But we can shy away from it either. Cancer needs to be beaten, and it will be, especially if we all chip in to help fund the vital research that’s needed. Every little bit makes a real difference, and will make a real contribution to saving and extending people’s lives. So please do consider donating to a cancer charity, whether it be Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Care, Stand Up To Cancer, Charlotte’s BAG, etc. If everyone chips in just a few quid, it’ll change a huge number of lives for the better – easy to say, but it really is true. So if you are able to donate, thank you so very much.
Thank you for reading. I’ll leave you with a poem that was read at my friend’s funeral, which I rather like. It was written by Mary Elizabeth Frye back in 1932:
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.