Monday, 27 February 2012

Tom Chaplin, Writer in Residence, Sir Bobby Robson Foundation

As I sit in the warm and bright treatment area in the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital surrounded by patients waiting or being treated, I become aware of my own health.

I am, to all intents and purposes, healthy. My family are healthy. What’s more, mercifully, no one in my immediate family has had to tackle cancer. But the people here from all walks of life have, and do so with immense bravery and stoicism.

I see men and women, young and old, and it’s not that these people are happy – many of these people are facing the finality of cancer – but they are remarkably cheery. Breakfast and blood tests, crosswords and chatting – often with each other about their shared experience – everything is conducted with a lack of drama and a complete absence of self-pity.

The nurses do their work: monitoring patients, administering medicines and conducting tests with good grace and tender humility, offering patients the benefit of their expertise and putting them at ease whenever possible. They make sure that people are fed and watered, comfortable and settled, and there is a sense that their jobs hold no boundaries or limits.

Meanwhile, the massage lady quietly passes between the clusters of easy chairs offering a relaxing five minute back massage to anyone who fancies it. Her friendly nature and gentle smile seems to draw away what anxiety or tension her clients must be feeling.

The wig lady pushes her trolley through the room and eyes those who might want to discuss their options with her. “Embrace it”, she says kindly as a lady wonders how to deal with her hair loss. They peruse the boxes of hairpieces together like many of us would when buying shoes in a shoe shop.

Ted is in his late sixties. He tells me this is his third time battling cancer, though he knows it will almost certainly be his last. “Not as many as Bobby”, he says casually with a smile in that way that we all seem to talk about Sir Bobby Robson – as if we knew him personally. He touches my arm as he tells me his story and a tear wells unashamedly in my eye.

He lost his beloved wife to cancer on the eve of retirement – “just when it was going to our time” he says, but talks warmly of life with his family, especially his grandchildren who he will be sad to leave behind. “I’ve had a good life”, he says.

Ted’s story is typical of those offering themselves for trials here. He’s here to take part in a trial of a drug that could save his life, but he’s happy to accept that it may only be others who benefit.

And it’s now that the state of my own health hits me. Of course, I’m very grateful – more so for having spent a lovely twenty minutes or so in Ted’s company – for my good health. I feel guilty almost for my healthy cells and fully functioning organs, though somehow I know Ted wouldn’t wish me to. But something else strikes me.

If I was Ted, if I was in his position, I could think of nowhere else I’d rather be having my last throw of the dice than here. Taking an opportunity to help myself and others.

Please keep giving, and please keep fundraising. Thank you.

Tom Chaplin, Writer in Residence, Sir Bobby Robson Foundation