Sunday, 12 July 2015

Dear Jane: A note to say thank you

Dear Jane,

I cannot express how it felt when I saw that you were among the list of staff that said their final goodbye’s to Leighton Park last week. Having spent five years within it’s wonderful walls, you are a big and very fond part of my memories there. The idea that others, whether already at LP or about to start, will not have the immense pleasure of knowing you for the wonderfully big-hearted presence that you were at school, is very sad. I only hope that you return frequently and never lose your connection with a place that has, or has had, such an impact on so many people.

I have so many things to thank you for and I have no idea where to start but I can still remember the first day I met you, so perhaps that is where I should begin. Summoned to the ILC alongside the other new faces at the start of their LP adventures, a smiling face rushed up to me, asked my name and declared ‘ ah yes! Your mother is a wonderful woman’ (don’t quote me directly on that). Over the next five years I was to learn that this excitement and positive feeling, about even those you had only perhaps met once, briefly, or a hundred meetings later, was a big part of you. You had nothing bad to say about anyone, the adjectives were only ever positive and said with nothing else but a smile. This interest and care for the people you came across brought people together. I can’t count the number of pupils, older or younger, some even past their time at the school, that you introduced me to. My confidence grew as soon as I entered that room with the list of people I no longer felt shy to smile at, or say hi to, expanding with each visit I made. The difference between the girl I was when I first met you, and the girl I was when I left and have been on all my return visits since then, is huge. Many things contributed to this change but you were most certainly one of the big ones.

I can only apologise then for the number of polo mints and biscuits you lost to me during my many lessons with you. The number of cups of tea that were made as I cried to you over some homework or another, an essay, an upcoming exam. The number of tissues spent on me could probably win a world record and the number of desperate emails I sent to you in a panic could fill a computer. It was with you that I repeatedly expressed how much I couldn’t cope with school and just wanted to stop and with you that I repeatedly talked about how I would fail every paper I ever took; and to you I went as soon as the paper was over and I just wanted to tell somebody how not-so-bad it had actually gone. You were also the first person I heard from after my GCSE results day, to congratulate me and not to commiserate with me. After my A-levels you were the one I emailed to express my excitement at not only getting through the stress of it all, but also getting into my first choice university. You may have not been around for my final year but the help you gave me in the years before helped me deal with my stress a hell of a lot better. That and your wonderful replacement, Ian, of course.

With you, I developed my revision card making ability until I genuinely (and don’t laugh) looked forward to making them just so I could bring out the coloured pens and make up different ways of trying to memorise more information that I otherwise struggled greatly to understand. It was those coloured bits of paper and the hours you spent with me condensing my geography text books into comprehensible questions and answers, chunks of knowledge on a rectangle the size of my hand, that pushed me through all of the exams that I least wanted to do. I don’t know if you know this but apparently there is now a Leighton Park revision strategy named after me. Ian’s work, not mine. Safe to say it involves a lot of colour, pens, bullet points and cards, annotations in my text books and a range of highlighters. I’m pretty sure you triggered my addiction to stationary. You should be receiving a thank you from Paperchase and WHSmith  any day now. My walls turned into a post-it note heaven and the evenings of my last summer at school were spent pacing my room memorising the case studies scattered across and around the furniture. If it had not been for you pushing me through my first year of 6th form, I don’t think I would have been anywhere near the level of (relative) sanity and calm that I ended up being by the time my final school exams came around.

Last weekend I attended the wedding of an old pupil from school and your leaving came up in conversation. Being a group of ex-students ranging from me at age 19 to some who left up to four years ago, every one of us had fond memories of you that we could talk about. If you read this and become curious, one memory referred to the saying ‘when pigs fly’ and a certain item you had hanging over your desk… That particular pupil spoke very gratefully of the help he received from you. You kept people on the straight and narrow. You listened to everyone’s problems, whether related to school, family or relationships and tissues were never far from hand. You became my go-to person when I just wanted to talk about things going on in my life and that didn’t stop once I’d left. After my car accident with mum in October, you were one of the people I really wanted to talk to. And I did. Back to the days before when I’d sat at your desk and told you the latest news from my little Ellie-bubble.

I only hope that now that you’re no longer going to be sat at that desk in that room I grew to know so well, that we won’t lose touch. I have a feeling that the day I get my final result from three years of a new life in London, I’ll want very much to tell you how it’s all gone. So I hope I can and that I will.

For now, however, I just want to say thank you. For all the help you gave me and all the ways in which you are helping me still.

Best wishes,

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Dear big C

Dear big C,

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but you are highly unpopular and I do not mean in the same way as, say, brussel sprouts are. I mean, seriously unpopular. Unpopular enough that, every day, people all over the world are spending hour after hour, week in, week out, trying to find your ultimate opponent. The one enemy of yours that will be able to stand before you and tear you to shreds. While you keep standing there, fighting off our weapons and allowing our side to falter and fall, we’re still here. You may defeat some but with every minute that you expend your energy taking those you can, our side is getting stronger and, one day, you will be the one to falter and fall. One day, you will turn your back for just one moment too long and we will take you. It may take years, lifetimes, more lives than should ever be lost, but one day we will win. One day, we will beat you.

Too many people have been lost to your painful attacks. Too many families made to suffer just so that you can claim what? Another victory? Tell me, is it really a fight when it’s you versus a toddler diagnosed with some rare form of your weaponry? Is it a fair fight when you take a fit and healthy adult and tear them apart? When a young man, at the doorway to an amazing world before him, is weakened before he can place a foot over that threshold? You use weapons that so far we haven’t managed to meet as an equal, but it will happen. You will lose this fight. Everything and everyone has their weaknesses, a part of them that can be used to wear them down until they are nothing. Until they can do nothing. This is what we will find in you. A weakness. A crack in your oh so strong defences that we can prise apart with our science, our research, our ever-growing understanding and knowledge. Because you see, those are our weapons. Our real fighting tools. And with every day they grow stronger and stronger. The moment those are strong enough, you too will be worn down until you can do nothing. Until you can no longer cause pain, no longer move people out of their happy lives into a world of hospital visits, complicated vocabulary and an unknown future. With every person who survives your attacks, we are prodding you closer and closer to the edge of a dangerous cliff and one day that cliff will fall away beneath your feet. Bye-Bye Cancer and good riddance!

I scroll through Facebook and see too many people saying goodbye to those they love. People my age talking about the loss of someone they shouldn’t be losing. Preferably not ever, but certainly not now. But while those people are hurting more than anyone else can imagine, they are also adding to our side of the fight. They are showing support for the research going towards your destruction. They’re climbing mountains, donating money, running races, wearing pink. All these people may be smiling in the pictures, but on the inside we’re mad! Angry that you’re continuing to take what’s not yours. So we fight you with everything we’ve got whether that be a pair of trainers or a pink bra. No matter their age, young or old, five or 95, we are out there to get you. You can run, but you can’t hide.

Ready or not Cancer, here we come.