RIP Steve Hewlett
Steve Hewlett was a good man. Possibly 'a little bit Capital' for some Radio 4's audiences, but someone who deeply affected me in the last few months. A little unexpectedly I cried on Monday when the news icon flashed on my screen telling me he had died. Over the last few months his simple reporting of cancer experiences brought what for me is a very familiar world to a wider audience. He demystified the tests, the trials, the waiting rooms, the operations and the not knowing that quickly become normal for a person living with cancer.
I’m writing this on the train home from a check up at the Marsden where Steve died.
Those of us living with cancer must talk more about what we are experiencing. As our numbers grow, it also becomes incumbent on our cancer free friends, colleagues and families to respond naturally in those conversations. It’s OK to talk about it, in fact ‘it’s good to talk!’. Steve has facilitated this and we owe it to him to carry on his good work.
I immediately felt bad about my tears. I knew that they weren’t really tears for Steve. They were tears for me, for my plight. When I last heard him talking just a matter of weeks ago, he sounded strong and vibrant; he was excited to have got on a trial (as I was seven years ago). And now he was dead. Was his apparent bravery a cruel delusion? Are we all deluding ourselves? Once you’re touched by the cancer brush, however brave you sound, is there an inexorable progress towards death?
All of those thoughts flowed very quickly around my brain. Because it was a time of day when I often feel low, because Steve was someone I’d connected with. Because cancer is redoubtable adversary that preys on your moments of mental weakness. My positive self knows that life (not just life with cancer) is an inexorable progress towards death, that I am in a hugely privileged position however you measure it; because I don’t live in Aleppo or because, objectively speaking Steve’s highly developed oesophageal, aggressive and hard to treat would always trump my HPV related squaemous cell carcinomas.
It’s interesting that I’ve just compared cancers. At the beginning I resolved that doing that was unhelpful, that all of us are on our own path. I have never scoured the internet or considered percentages. Danny Baker and Kylie had their cancers, I had mine, the bloke in the next bed in Brighton’s cancer ward had his. And we were all just getting on with it. Just as Steve did. I want to say that in paying tribute to Steve’s positivity and to the way he faced and talked about his challenges, I must pay tribute to the other 2,499,998 people that Macmillan estimate are living with cancer in the UK today.
My message to all of you is a simple one today. Be kinder to yourself! There isn’t a competition. Notice and enjoy the little things that today offers and smile at a stranger. The people who are living through your cancer with you will feel your kindness. Everyone will benefit.
There’s only one thing that matters – the love we give and receive.