THE power of words.
Something I know all too well as a journalist.
Something I know all too well from life.
One word in particular.
From the screaming death throes of the sister I adored, to the denial of adult loved ones.
The word scarcely murmured for fear of everything associated with it.
The word no-one ever wants to hear.
One word we all associate with a sentence. Of death.
Except, it isn’t always that way. But the word, the illness we dare not mention, impacts on life in so many ways.
Let me be clear, from bitter experience – people don’t fight or battle cancer. But they do bear it bravely. Often it is those of us on the outside that don’t.
I will never forget the courage of my late step-father, who talked of getting back to the golf course, of the life ahead he would never get to see. Always with a smile, no matter how poorly he was.
Seeing him that last time in hospital, he conned me into believing all was fine. And not just me. So when I got the call that he had died, it hit me to the core. Regrets I hadn’t been able to visit more often. That things were left unsaid. About his daughter, my sister, who died from cancer aged three on her daddy’s birthday.
I was 11. And I’m still suffering.
Being kept in the dark and not knowing why she lost her gorgeous dark hair. Visits to to see her in Birmingham Children’s Hospital where she had operation after operation. The sound of her screaming as she hugged me in a darkened room as she lost her sight. Me being ushered away with not a word of explanation.
Being told two mornings later that she was dead.
Then being sent to school as if nothing had changed.
The years of silence. The regret of not talking about it with Martin when the opportunity was there. When we worked together at the Coventry Evening Telegraph, or when I would put some work his way after his redundancy, when we met for coffee or beer. The regret he never opened up about it either.
Regret. Another word with so much power.
Of visiting a great friend in hospital and not recognising him. I tried to pass the error off as a joke. For a bloke who doesn’t often look people in the eye, I made the extra effort on this occasion. But I saw in his eyes that he knew.
Days later he was gone.
Richard Jones was a brilliant guy who deserved better. A Warwickshire Police officer, firearms trained, with a great wit, zest for life and such decency that is indecent. One of the best.
We’d gone for a beer to celebrate his wife’s remission from cancer. He was so happy after years of staring down the barrel at a life without her, just him and his two boys.
Then some scroats decided they would hold up the little post office where she worked part-time. At gunpoint. Dick was going to collect her when he confronted the robbers, when the gun was pointed into his face.
The stress saw the cancer return and claim his wife, but what none of us knew was that Dick was riddled with it himself. He’d got on with life, put his wife and boys first, ignoring the signs. The impact of the robbery and his wife’s loss added to the pile of crap he faced.
Regrets I wasn’t able to do more.
Because it’s something people don’t talk about.
Cancer has hit again recently. Two people I care about immensely.
With the one, it wasn’t mentioned much. She preferred it that way. Denial. Until the news that the tumour had been totally removed after two operations and she was officially in remission.
Then came the tears and the talk.
And since then the recognition that the tumour itself changed life. Of the body and mind still rebuilding. That remission doesn’t mean immediately fit and healthy.
With the other, a realisation that shock is very much the word of the moment. Of the fear the very word cancer conjures up, of the unknown. Of the months of being poorly and a health service slow to act. Of frustration and regret.
Of immense sadness that some of the best people face some of the worst circumstances.
But also a knowledge that some of us are survivors.