I’m lucky to come from a family where longevity is the norm but every so often, once in a generation in fact, something happens to shock us out of our complacency. In 1941, great uncle Jim was killed, probably executed, in the Siege of Crete at the tender age of 23. Just over 40 years later, my dad’s brother Brian succumbed to liver cancer at the age of 39, dying just six weeks after he was diagnosed. Fast-forward to this year and my apparently healthy mum was struck down by a massive brain haemorrhage just one month short of her 70th birthday.
Although Mum obviously lived longer than my uncles, we still felt that she died too soon – we were robbed of her 70s and 80s and she was robbed of precious time with her grandchildren. In the midst of our shock, however, we comforted ourselves with the knowledge that she didn’t suffer for long – 30 seconds at the most. And, although it is difficult to look at the positives in situations like these, we are truly grateful that she never had cancer.
The weekend before Mum died, I remarked to her and Dad that I was really lucky to have both parents – all but two of my close friends don’t. In the last ten years, the toll stands as follows:
- One mother lost to breast cancer
- One mother lost to a brain tumour
- A mother and a father lost to lung cancer
- Two mothers lost to ovarian cancer
- Three parents lost to other causes (stroke x 2 and Alzheimer’s)
- One friend about to lose her good friend to cancer – a young mother in her 30s
Against that grim backdrop:
- One friend is in remission from leukaemia
- One friend’s husband is free of kidney cancer after it was caught early.
- The sister-in-law of another friend has been clear of breast cancer for 5+ years
- My father-in-law is a survivor of bowel cancer (10+ years)
In 2009, we learned that the Queen Mother was successfully treated for bowel cancer in her 60s. She escaped a painful, lingering death to die peacefully in her sleep in her favourite armchair, at the age of 101. Who wouldn’t want that kind of exit for themselves or their loved ones?
Finding a cure for cancer isn’t about cheating death, it’s about seeing our children to adulthood, watching our grandchildren growing up and possibly even meeting our great grandchildren. It’s about dying peacefully, without pain and, we hope, without fear. There will always be people who leave us too young but by eliminating cancer we can slash the number of premature and painful deaths.
In July, I will be running the Race for Life to remember Uncle Brian and raise money for Cancer Research. If you would like to help me reach my target of £250, please take a look at my sponsorship page.