CANCER creates strange bedfellows, and throughout the last year of my treatment, I renewed an old friendship with the woman often sitting beside me also getting chemotherapy for leukaemia.

I had known Becky Hallsmith for years. Becky had bought the cinema I used to own, the former Penultimate Picture Palace, running it as the Ultimate Picture Palace since 2011.

Becky was one of those free spirits with a twinkle in her eyes who could come up with reasons and plans to be hopeful each week.

Her attitude was infectious. She was going to beat this disease.

Even though she was further along the treatment cycle than I was, she saw a way out. She went for the intense option of a cure.

Her chemo was designed to send the cancer into remission, although such a heavy dose meant she would lose her hair and be hospitalised for long periods.

When the chemo had reduced the cancer, she would receive a bone marrow transplant that would give her a new lease of life.

The plan was all very optimistic and she would be sprung free of the cancer trap in a matter of months.

That all depended on finding the right match for a bone marrow transplant. The closest match for months was a meagre 10 per cent match from a donor after a worldwide search.

Then recently the NHS found a German woman donor with a 100 per cent match. This is very rare and was incredibly good news. The end was in sight and appeared to be a very positive end.

I was delighted for her. It was a dream come true and only a matter of weeks or months before she would be ‘free’.

Of course I would miss her – the acerbic wit and the gossip livened up my less high-profile visits to the treatment centre at the Churchill Hospital.

But her ‘cure’ was the important thing, a hope I held on to almost as much as she did. If she could walk out of the cancer therapy a transformed person, that meant there was hope for other people. I invested a lot of energy in her future which was so positive.

Her immune system was almost destroyed by the intensive chemotherapy that compromised her ability to fight infection. Small things started to go wrong.

I didn’t see her for several weeks while I was fighting off my own unexpected illnesses. We were having parallel experiences and living parallel lives in the same hospital and we were both brought low by difficult-to-explain diseases or viruses.

I went to visit her this week and found a completely transformed woman… for the worse.

Her lungs were so ravaged she was on a constant oxygen feed. The twinkle in her eyes had been replaced by that slightly glazed look which comes from a constant dose of morphine. She had a fixed grin that I didn’t know how to interpret.

She said the doctors told her that despite a 100 per cent bone marrow match for a transplant, she was no longer eligible for that treatment and they had no further treatments to offer her. She looked me straight in the eye and said “I’m ready to go. I want to die.”

Most people probably don’t understand the effect those words have on family and friends.

Although it’s important to reach that state, it’s still a shock to those who are left.

I’ve often described cancer as living behind enemy lines without a road map, unpredictable and tricky.

The experience must be doubly difficult if you can see your way out and then find out it was all an illusion.

Becky Hallsmith died yesterday.

p Friends pay tribute: Page 5