The story so far in the West Wing of the Churchill Hospital…last July I was diagnosed with leukaemia and told that I had 12-18 months to live.

It’s been a full year since I’ve been living with the sword of Damocles hanging over my life.

During that time I’ve noticed people don’t mention the “D” word – death. I went to the funeral of a good friend recently and his widow quietly told my partner, Jane, she thought I was ‘very brave’ to attend. Nonsense! There’s nothing ‘brave’ about paying your respects to the dead.

There are two 'D' words, and the other is ‘delight’. I didn’t expect to be here this week, so I’m celebrating, even though or perhaps especially because I know from first-hand experience there is a thin, precarious line between delight and death, and I’m walking on the right side of it... at the moment.

The question is why, after one year, am I still hanging around? So I decided to get the opinions of two family doctors: one is retired and the other is currently at my GP practice.

The retired GP was forthright: “Most medical professionals are guessing, especially about length of life prognosis. They wrap their answers up in statistics, but don’t let them fool you. The truth is they don’t know.”

I asked the current GP if he thought medicine was more of an art than a science and he was cautious in his reply: “Every patient is unique and so is each form of cancer and each treatment, so we simply do not know how patients will respond. Yes, there is a lot of trial and error and a lot of guesswork, but that’s where we are at the moment.”

He asked me how I was getting on with the cancer treatment. I replied that I thought medical people tended to talk in terms of jargon and labels; and the current label they’ve given me is 'stable'.

He perked up at this news and explained that people in the 'stable' category are often the source of those anecdotal stories about patients given six months to live but still alive and well six years later.

I’m not sure I know how to deal with that kind of information or even if I welcome it. But I am happy to be here this week so I can celebrate the anniversary of putting a 25ft fiberglass Shark in the roof of my house in Headington 32 years ago yesterday on August 9, 1986.

The Shark is being repainted right now by the artist who created it, John Buckley. But when the scaffolding is taken away and the Shark emerges resplendent in a new coat of many colours, maybe there will be an opportunity to celebrate the Shark’s life and mine and the determination, the will to beat the odds, that could be the secret of the Shark’s 32 years and my one year with cancer.

If that’s the case then the Banbury woman I met this week in the Cancer Day Treatment Unit getting her last chemotherapy injection could well be around to celebrate her 90th birthday next month.

She had a sparkle in her eyes and a delight in life that was easy to catch.

As she left she gave me a copy of her latest poem that summed up the reasons why she will probably be walking on the right side of that thin, precarious line between delight and death for some time to come:


I’m such a lucky woman

I’ve had a lucky life;

Twenty years a daughter,

Sixty years a wife.

Now I start a new life,

Not quite on my own,

Over the years my family has grown.

Children and babies surround me with care

Old friends and new friends also are there.

I feel very lucky to have so much fun

Now the last chapter of life has begun.