In the 25th December, a former aide of Tony Blair, Kate Gross passed away from colon cancer. She was 36, my age, and left behind two five-year-old twin boys. She died at home at 6.29am on Christmas Day; just ten minutes before her children awoke to open their stockings.
I’ve been meaning to write this since the start of the year and as the January grind kicks in and the bonhomie of Christmas and New Year start to fade, it prompted me to get on and do it.
This is a reminder to start each day afresh. Life is too precious to take it for granted. Find your meaning, make your mark, do everything and anything you can to contribute to its rich tapestry. We all have stories that shape and mould us. This is one of mine.
It was October 9th, the day before my first wedding anniversary, three months before the birth of my first son and the day of my house move. The lump that had steadily grown at the back of my leg, was now the size of a tennis ball. Worst of all, it was a tumour. A cancerous one. All that planning ahead, and what we all assume will be a long life, suddenly came into stark focus.
At the time, I think I was probably slightly numb with fear of what was to come – we’ve all read about “battles with cancer” and it sounds like a fight, but what was actually ahead? First, you have the fear of the unknown. Has it spread? What’s the treatment? Will it hurt? Ultimately, will I live?
Secondly, the treatment. The operation was painful, the following infections just as much so. Then came the daily routine of shuffle to hospital, dose of radiotherapy and erosion of skin and muscle. I’m not what you’d call a big strapping lad, and the steady bombardment shrank me further. The doses of morphine started to become more regular and were a welcome respite from the constant pain.
My energy was shot to pieces and although I tried to carry on as normal, it obviously took its toll – physically, emotionally. It was so hard to concentrate through the physical pain, and there were times when it seemed hopeless. Funnily enough, being told I might never play tennis again was a particular low-point.
Fortunately, I can, albeit at a lower level. But I probably enjoy the game more now! My family, friends and colleagues were hugely supportive, and I will be forever grateful for them keeping me on the right track. Daily support to keep going, and plenty of stories of what was going on in their lives to add as a distraction and to prevent me becoming too self-obsessed. Life was going on for them too.
As a Christian, there were dark and light times of faith as well. Times when I felt it was all very unfair, and times when my sense of being part of a Bigger Story than “me” was a strong anchor. The operation and treatment was thankfully a success, and slowly and surely the light at the end of the tunnel got a little brighter with every day. I came through the other side, determined to make the most of my life, to cherish every moment and take any opportunity to enrich the lives of those who share my path.
I try, and I fail and then I hope to try again. Kate Gross wrote a book which was published: “Late Fragments: Everything I Want To Tell You (About This Magnificent Life).” I’ve not read it yet, but The Sunday Times said that “The book’s power lies in the unflinching way she shares her life’s lessons and how she rationalises what it’s really like to be told ‘you are going to die’… Hers is a voice that is clear and spirited from a woman who was funny, clever and wise”
In the season of “bonuses” for bankers and recruiters and much of The City, this hopefully lends a bit of perspective to all the chat about £££ hitting accounts. Let’s not get too caught up in it. There is one bonus that we are all truly blessed to receive. Life is a gift. Make the most of it.