Stand Up To Cancer

I didn’t watch Stand Up To Cancer last night. There was no way I would have been able to, without shattering.

You don’t have to be diagnosed with cancer for it to ruin your life. You don’t have to contract a form of the disease yourself to suffer with it. Cancer will affect everyone, at some point in their life. Even just by knowing me, and understanding the influence that the loss of my Nan had on my life today, is one way of being affected.

In eight days time, a week tomorrow, it will have been a year since Bridge passed away. It’ll have been twelve months since I lost my best friend. Three hundred and sixty five days, 525,600 minutes since she gave up in her battle with cancers.

Yeah. Plural.

When Nan died, and when I stood up and spoke at her funeral a few days later, I promised myself that she’d never be forgotten – it’s easy to lose touch with someone who is very much alive, it is far more difficult to preserve the memory of somebody who has left. I shared a large part of my soul with people close to me – Katie Ford, Emily Tapp, and more recently, Sarah Sharp – but mostly, with Kimberley Aldridge.

Kimberley lost her niece, Myley, to retinoblastoma –  a rare form of eye cancer in children. I learned the story of what a beautiful child Myley was, and what a journey Kimberley and her family went upon in losing her. It was heartbreaking. Kimberley introduced me to CHECT – The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust – a charity that works to promote awareness of this particular form of cancer. After months of lengthy planning and preparation, I sat in an eighteenth-century Georgian ballroom in Leicester, surrounded by friends, colleagues and my beautiful girlfriend, and gave clearance to my Stage Manager and Master of Ceremonies to introduce the Chief Executive of CHECT, Joy Felgate, to speak at our Masquerade Ball.

Our Masquerade Ball was perfect. Kimberley and I shared our stories with 80 of our closest friends and family, and many more through outreach on the radio and in the local press. We held a brilliant night, well received by everyone, and it was an honour to Stand Up To Cancer by sharing our sad stories in a positive way.

I’ll always be fairly open about my Nan. There are few people I trust with the little memories, sure, but everything she was is for the world to see. She was loving, kind, friendly, caring. She had a wicked sense of humour, was always very honest and loyal. She made the best tea, and cooked the best food, and cakes – to die for! She has blessed me with so many qualities of myself today – not least my passions for music, literature, culture, Ireland, tea and soda bread – warm if you please.

Standing Up To Cancer isn’t about big TV shows. They might raise awareness for one night, or maybe a month, but there’s not a single day that has passed in the last 357 where I’ve not missed the best friend whom cancer took from us. I’m not ashamed to say there have been tears quite regularly – nearly one year on, I still don’t understand why she had to go. But in that year I have done incredible things, been blessed with incredible luck and became close to certain incredible people who will be with me for the rest of my life.

Standing Up To Cancer is about never forgetting. Never stopping the fight. Never giving up and accepting it as a thing that happens. We lost Bridget, and we lost Myley, and we lose millions of other beautiful people every year for whom we must always Stand Up. We must always fight. We must always support the work of the astounding scientist who are devoting their careers to finding new ways to treat this, so people younger like Myley and older like Nan don’t have to fly away to heaven, and don’t suffer in the terrible way that they did.

Cancer does not take one life – it changes many. We – the many – are the strength that can support the drive to treat it. It’s a strength I didn’t know I had, until I hurt me. I hope you never have to suffer in that, but if you do, or you have, you’ll understand.

Rest in Peace, Myley Star Aldridge.

Rest in Peace, Bridget Marie Yeomans.