Yesterday, a long-time family friend retired from his job. Today, he’s celebrating a milestone birthday that we thought he might never reach.
Steve was the best man at my parents’ wedding; he and his wife Deb have been like an extra aunt and uncle in my already extensive family; a constant presence felt in regular phone calls and emails, and acknowledged with cards and gifts every Christmas and birthday. In 2011, he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, and last summer he had a heart failure. Despite this, today he has reached his 60th birthday.
For various (long and banal) reasons, I’m not able to attend the celebration of his life this weekend. But in his invitation, he requested that instead of presents, people donate something to one of the charities which (alongside the NHS) have helped him through this: the British Heart Foundation, Myeloma UK, Macmillan Nurses, and Iain Rennie Hospice. I’ve just donated, and in case anyone reading this has some spare money and spare goodwill at the moment, it would absolutely make my day if other people donated too.
Steve has presented a brave and cheerful face throughout all of this: but that’s not why he’s still here. To suggest that some people are ‘survivors’ and some aren’t is not only wrong, it’s shockingly offensive to all those who fought and fought and fought – and still fell. People are saved not through divine providence or karmic justice or as some kind of reward for bravery, but through the ability to access appropriate medical care – which sometimes still isn’t enough. That’s why funding research and care is so important. (I’m aware there’s a wider discussion to be had about the role of charities and the role of the NHS, but that’s not one I want to have here and now.)
Happy birthday, Steve. May you have many more.