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      Cover of The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover   Cover of Solitude   Simon Parke with his latest book, The Indecent Death of a Madam

Towards the end

We support the same football team so we’re discussing forthcoming fixtures and our chances of success. Our perspectives differ though. For him, this season’s results are particularly important; because while I may live to see next season, he won’t. September is stretching it. My friend has cancer of the lungs and it’s about months not years.

He starts radio therapy soon which will help with the pain, this is what they say; and perhaps give him an extra month or two but no more. His children and grand-children were over the day I was there, playing, fighting, talking, laughing, getting on with life but getting on with it with him. There’s some discussion late-afternoon about going out for some chicken nuggets instead of the sausages planned. But my friend will stay with liquids, the only thing he can keep down. He’s presently on morphine but his wife isn’t and it’s still a bit of a shock for her. They’ve just moved into a big new home, only been there a year, so that’s a bit strange. She knows he’s dying but probably won’t believe it until he’s gone because we’re like that, we believe slowly, believe as we are able.

And thankfully, no one talks of a ‘battle’. Every week another celebrity is reported in the media as having ‘lost his/her battle with cancer’ but we’ll not go down that path. I remember the poet Anthony Wilson’s frustration at people calling his own experience of cancer as ‘a fight’. ‘This is based on the unthinking assumption that having cancer is a battle,’ he wrote. ‘This is deeply unhelpful, because it makes a link between the character of the person who is ill and their chances of surviving the disease.’

And the way Wilko Johnson speaks, it isn’t a battle at all. In fact, the former Dr Feelgood guitarist said the news he was suffering from terminal cancer of the pancreas made him feel ‘vividly alive’. The 65-year old spoke on the BBC’s Front Row: ‘I noticed the symptoms a few months ago, there was this lump in my stomach. I treated it by ignoring it and hoping it would go away. When I went in for the diagnosis and the doctor told me ‘You’ve got cancer’ it was quite plain it was an inoperable thing.

We walked out of there and I felt an elation of spirit. You’re walking along and suddenly you’re vividly alive. You’re looking at the trees and the sky and everything and it’s just ‘whoah!’ I am actually a miserable person. I’ve spent most of my life moping in depressions and things but this has all lifted.’

This is not everyone’s story but reminds me of Anthony de Mello describing the enlightened as those who know they may not live to see tomorrow. Doesn’t everyone know this? comes the reply. They do, he says, but not everyone feels it. Wilko Johnson feels it.



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