Thursday, 21 June 2012

Tony Song

Tony Song. Tony Song.

Finally getting to meet
I loved the sound of that tuneful name.

It appeared everywhere on the Cancer Research cancerchat forum when I visited for the first time at the beginning of 2010.

I stumbled across the site whilst sitting at home with my baldy head, on the sick from work. At first, I didn't contribute at all. I just read a few of the posts, looked at a few of the replies and clicked through the various headings. 'Symptoms, Testing and Diagnosis...' 'Coping with Cancer....'

I never clicked on 'Dying with Cancer,' though.  I was too afraid to look in that room. The door stayed firmly shut.

It became clear to me very quickly that cancer chat was quite a remarkable place. It was an anonymous place where people would post questions, write about their worries and their fears. It was a place where people could discuss cancer issues without worrying their family, with friendly strangers who did have an idea how they were feeling - offering genuine words of comfort and plenty of decent advice.

Tony Song. Tony Song. There were plenty of other regulars, but he was everywhere. He seemed to be the 'meeter and greeter' of cancer chat.

His replies were warm, welcoming, sometimes humourous and always reassuring. He wrote beautifully and honestly - somehow turning his words into something very tangible and real. I imagined many of those he conversed with on cancer chat feeling like they'd received a much needed hug.

When I finally plucked up the courage to post on cancer chat, it didn't take long before the man himself said 'hi.' I think I'd mentioned somewhere how 'blogging' had helped me cope with my cancer journey. He posted enthusiastically claiming that he too had a blog. We swapped links...and that was it, we became blogging buddies.

Before long, we were joined by 3 other bloggers from the cancer chat site. Dizzie (Carole) , Harryeleri (Rose) and Cybershot (David). We all still contributed to the cancer chat forum (myself less so) but together, we formed a wonderful but sadly brief, collective friendship as the 'Blogger 5.'

Our blogs gave us the opportunity to offer each other a HUGE amount of support. And I like to think that for each of us, on our individual cancer journeys, this support meant the world. I know it did to me.

David, Rose, Carole and Tony. My cyber friends.

Over the coming months, cancer finally took these people away. First David, then Rose.

In January of this year, I travelled to London to visit Carole - meeting her for the 2nd time in 'real life.' This time, we were to be joined by Tony. Neither of us had met him in real life, but when he finally arrived after his epic car journey with a tray full of doughnuts, it was as if we'd known him forever.

Carole, Tony and me in Jan 2012
I will never forget that very special day. Chatting and laughing- like old friends.

But then cancer finally managed to take Carole in March....and now Tony this month.

The 'Dying with Cancer' door had to be opened by all 4 of my friends, and they all did this so bravely.
I am the only one remaining from our gang of 5. The Blogger 5.

I am healthy, I am fit and I am happy. I am also very grateful and thankful to be so.

I don't feel like I have 'lost' my friends. They are no longer here in person, but they are certainly with me in spirit, and I like to think of all 4 of them together somewhere, keeping an eye on me.

Tony Song. I still think of his name as this rather than his real name - Tony Songhurst. 'Don't forget to see if his name really is on the back of his head,' said my 8 year old before I set off for London that day to meet him for the first time.

Tony's profile pic on Facebook

I must admit, I did look. But it wasn't there, much to the 8 year old's disappointment.

Tony Song. Tony Song. His tuneful name may not really be shaved into the back of his head, but along with David's, Rose's and Carole's -  it is definitely etched into my heart, and will be forever.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Trench

A couple of months ago, the school asked the kids to write a poem for the Young Writers Travel Back in Rhyme competition. It had to be something to do with history.

This morning, the 11 year old got a letter through the post telling him that the poem that he had written had been selected for publication in the Tyne & Wear's 'Travel Back in Rhyme' poetry book! It is scheduled for publication on 30th June 2012. His school gets a free copy.

When I read his poem originally, I remember thinking, 'bloody hell, that's pretty good!' and it even brought a tear to my eye. I am just incredibly proud of my young writer!

Here's the poem -

The Trench

I am cold and exhausted,
I see a flood of tears trickling down courageous faces,
Blood pours out of freezing hands,
The command is given, and hell is released.
Cold-blooded bodies shiver as we charge forward towards our fate.
They yell instructions as we go forward step by step.
I can hear the rattling of guns

And the odd cry of an old friend falling to his death.
I fall and feel the squelchy, sticky mud
Squeezing through my fingertips.
I gaze down and see a pool of crimson,
The boom of the guns fades,
I close my eyes and see my mother,
I smile with relief as darkness, peace and sleep finally come.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Farewell dear friend

The warm sunshine filtered through the forest's trees, and when we looked up, the sky was a brilliant deep blue. We sat in the courtyard, warming our faces, enjoying the peace and listening to the birds. Only the occasional roar of an aeroplane overhead gave any clue that we were on the outskirts of London.

We had set off from Corbridge at 5.30am. It was still dark as my dad got himself comfortable in the back of my car. He'd wanted to come down with me to keep me company. :-) The weather forecast was great. Another beautiful day ahead.

We soon ate the miles up on the A1 - and stopped at Peterborough for a bacon sarnie, a coffee and a rest. Only one hour to Epping Forest - our destination for the day to say a final farewell to my dear friend Carole.

We arrived very early at the forest, but some others were there too - also enjoying the sunshine and the peaceful surroundings.

After some time, and with more friends gathered, the black car drove slowly into the courtyard followed by Carole's close family. We followed them in to the ceremonial hall - a beautiful, modern hexhagonal timber structure - filled with light and with a window to the sky at the peak. This was in no way a religious service, but sitting there in that lovely space, you couldn't help feel 'something.'

The hall was full with Carole's friends and family, but gazing up at the 'window to the sky' I knew that there were also hundreds of others with us in that room from all over the world. People that Carole had never even met, but people who Carole had helped through her blog and her contact on the Cancer Research Forum. Everyone she'd touched was packed into that room.

The service was led by a lovely man - quietly spoken and gentle. He said some comforting words and we listened to music that Carole and her family had chosen.

And then, Carole's eldest son, James, came to the front. He spoke about his mum and shared some wonderful childhood memories that had the audience laughing one minute then reaching for hankies the next. It can be such a cliche sometimes to say 'Your mum would have been so proud of you,' but I can honestly say that had James been my son I would have completely burst with pride. What an amazing son you have Carole :-)

After the service, we followed the procession into the woodland. Our feet crucnched over last year's oak leaves and a carpet of pine cones. Djamel had chosen his mum's final resting place, and what a perfect spot! He explained to me afterwards why he had chosen that place above the others. A great deal of thought and consideration had clearly gone into his decision, and, once again, I know Carole would be beaming with pride for her youngest son.

We all walked back to the hall for tea and coffee afterwards. A chance to relax, dry our eyes and chat. I finally got to meet Rab...(though I felt I already knew him!) and some other members of Carole's family. I also met Louise - an old friend of Carole who often commented on the blog. It was so nice to meet her in 'real life.':-)

And so, it was soon time to leave. I hugged a few people, said goodbye, and strolled off back to the car with my dad.

Last time I came down to London to see Carole in January, I remember feeling fairly bewildered as I left. A feeling of 'how the hell did I get here?' I thought about the twists and turns in life that lead you into places that you would never imagine arriving in. Why was I there in Clapham that day? 'Because of cancer, that's why,' I concluded...

Carole - After I left Epping Forest, I didn't feel that bewilderment any more. I didn't ask myself why and how I was standing in a forest in London. I didn't have to. I was there not because of cancer. I was there because of our friendship. It felt like the most natural thing in the world to be standing there amongst all your lovely family and friends. Cancer put you and I in the same place at the same time...but our friendship grew far bigger than the cancer ever did or could.

Here's one of the poems read at Carole's farewell. Its perfect -

After Glow
I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an after glow
of smiles when life is done,
I’d like to leave an echo
whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing
times and bright and
summer days.
I’d like the tears of those who
grieve, to dry before the sun,
Of happy memories that I leave
When life is done.

~Helen Lowrie Marshall

Sleep well, dear friend :-)

Saturday, 17 March 2012

My friend Carole

'Friendship is the golden thread that ties the heart of all the world.' -- John Evelyn

Joining the Cancer Research Chat Forum wasn't something that I thought I would ever do in a million years.

But back in 2010, whilst sitting at home 'on the sick' with a baldy head, I read through some of the posts on there and I decided to register.

I observed at first. Sat on the sidelines and read about people's fears, anxieties, worries. There were sad stories but there were also some happy ones. I made sure I steered well clear of the topic 'dying with cancer,' as I didn't want to frighten myself too much back then.

What soon became clear after a few days of observing, was that a handful of people on the forum popped up all the time - answering questions, offering advice, sympathy, words of comfort to anyone who needed reassurance or just someone to talk to. They were ordinary people - not doctors, nurses or counsellors - just people who had been touched by cancer in some shape or form and wanted to help others. Most of these people were undergoing treatment for cancer themselves. The forum seemed to be a good place to go for help, and a good place to lend a hand or a listening ear.

I chipped in myself when I thought I might be able to help out, and I also threw in the odd question for debate - like 'Why are there so many bloody leaflets about cancer in cancer hospitals...'

Over the months, I became 'cyber friends' with a couple of people on there. We all had cyber names. Harryeleri (Rose), cybershot (David), Tonysong (Tony) and Dizzie (Carole)

We all had blogs, and we all supported each other by reading each others blog posts and leaving comments. We had never met in 'real life' but we learned so much about each other through the blogs, and we affectionately named ourselves the 'Blogger 5.'

I guess that the problem with meeting people on a cancer forum is.....well, cancer.

The 'Blogger 5' lost Rose and David to cancer last year.

As a result, Tony, Carole and I vowed to meet up in 'real life.' At this stage I had finished treatment and was back to work - meanwhile Carole and Tony were still struggling with their cancer treatment. Endless scans, waiting for results, treatment, worries...

In the summer hols last year, I finally got to meet Carole in London. We had the most wonderful day. And it felt like we had been friends forever. We shared stories and had lots of laughs. Our boys became friends, and I came away that day feeling so glad that I had met Carole, so glad to have her friendship, but also so bewildered with the twists and turns of life that lead to these moments in time...

In January this year, I met Carole again - this time with Tony for the first time. It was a magical day where we also got to meet some of Carole's family. We shared chicken and chips and sticky doughnuts. We chatted, laughed and hugged.

After that day in January, Carole soon became very poorly, had to go to hospital, and then finally the hospice - close to her home.

Last night, I heard from Carole's sister, Sarah that Carole had passed away. Peacefully, pain-free and surrounded by the love of her wonderful family. She fought her cancer so bravely and showed such strength and determination. She was a small lady, with the heart of a lion.

Carole helped hundreds of people around the world on the Cancer Research Forum and on her own blog 'What a Pain in the Bum,' which attracted followers from every corner of the globe.

I have lost a very special friend. Along with many others, I will miss her very, very much.