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Personal Story

I was with my son Edward and his wife Jonelle in 2012 when they were told at their local hospital that he had non small cell lung cancer.

Our reaction was total disbelief. We had not the slightest hint that he was seriously ill. He was 40 years old and had never smoked. He had been in for an examination after complaining of pain in his left calf. A chest X Ray carried out as a matter of routine disclosed something unexpected – a 7 cm lesion on his right lung. We did not even know what a lesion was. Some days later he was told of the cancer and that he could not expect more than eighteen months to two years of life.

As his father I was dumbfounded. Edward was an immensely strong and fit young man. He had rowed for his university and had spent a lot of time in the gym as a fitness instructor. He enjoyed scuba diving. He and I had sailed in both local and Mediterranean waters. He was one of the fittest men I knew and very conscious of what he ate and drank.

"The discovery that Edward had lung cancer sent shock waves through us all."

He had worked for many years in the oil and gas industry in Trinidad and latterly in Aberdeen and Sunbury. He was about to work abroad on a major project. He was married to Jonelle, a Trinidadian, with senior expertise in the same industry and they had two wonderful children. For all intents and purposes life could not be better for him and his family.

Fortunately we were able to transfer his care to Sanjay Popat at the Royal Marsden as a result of this change spirits revived and we felt hope. Edward became a regular outpatient at the hospital for many more years than our local hospital had predicted. There came a time when he was not able to work and he was retired on ill health grounds. But the quality of his life was pretty good despite relentless treatment involving surgical and other procedures.

Being a parent and a grandparent in this situation is not easy. I was the only grandparent around

Edward asked me to move closer after I retired so that I could support the family. In 2015 I moved close by so that I could help out whenever needed. For many years the family worked on the basis that Edward was strong enough to beat the disease and Sanjay skilled enough to procure the medication he needed as soon as it emerged from the research laboratories and BUPA supportive enough to fund all the appropriate medication, treatments and procedures. In short the family thought that Edward was ahead of the game and that, with God at his side, he would recover. Sadly that was not the case and perhaps never really was. Edward and Jonelle had decided not to tell the children that the illness was terminal. I understood their reasons and considered that it was important that I respect that decision whatever my personal views might have been.

I watched the family coping with the illness with their strong sense that recovery was assured. My relationship with and love of my grandchildren became even more firmly established. It was clear to me that, if Edward did not survive, they might need me as an additional guide and mentor. Each of them had their own room in my house for the occasions when they stayed with me. It worked very well and they seemed to enjoy the slightly more relaxed atmosphere while not in any sense preferring my rudimentary cooking and basic laundry service. Jonelle kept friends and family up to date with a regular and brilliantly well crafted bulletins during the seven years he survived the illness.

In the end Edward was unable to resist the spread of the cancer and in his final hours in the hospital I was reminded of his premature birth and incubation 47 years previously as we faced his premature death following septicemia.

My involvement with my grandchildren has increased since Edward’s death. While in no way seeking to replace him as a father figure, I have an enhanced role and spend much more time with them as they grow through their teenage years. Not that I fully understand their lives and preoccupations but I can try to imagine what Edward would have wanted for them and have focused their thoughts on him and the aspirations that I believe Edward would have expected of them.

For me they are the living soul of Edward. I feel honoured that they are here to live out his memory. Sometimes I cannot distinguish between my son and grandson and on many occasions I collected my grandson from school telling the teaching staff that I had come to pick up Edward. They looked suitably confused and perhaps a little shocked that I should be trusted to do anything let alone look after a child.

Edward did leave a lot behind as a talented artist and illustrator

His children’s books are an indication of a career that he might have chosen as a retired environmental scientist. One was a story written by my grandson. Before he died they did a joint book signing in Waterstones.

My grandson carries on a tradition of rugby without his Dad on the touchline. My granddaughter sings her own songs to the guitar – many of them reflecting upon the sadness of life. My late father would regularly and sometimes rather boringly remind me that there was nothing fair in life – and he was right.

There are no good sides to the situation but I have gained from being so close to my grandchildren and may be they have done likewise. They have the love and protection they need, a safe place to rest their heads and the freedom to grow into well adjusted and well mannered adults who are able to lead good lives always remembering, but not burdened by, the moment when their Dad died.

Family Support Service

If you or a family in your community are facing grief, and are looking for pre-bereavement support, we are here to help. You can find out more about our pre-bereavment support, helpful resources and how to get in touch through the link below.

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Raising awareness of non-smoking lung cancers. You can find out more about our research and articles for non-smoking lung cancer through the link below.