To all who knew him, it was a tragedy,one year ago, to lose the life-force that was Jörn Cann. I knew him as my ward doctor overseeing day case patients in the Haematology unit where I was treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2006.

As I have said before, he was foul-mouthed and objectionable, caring and compassionate. An avid rock-collector and Arsenal fan, he was a self-confessed geek who loved what he saw around him and seemed to want to pass that love on to anyone who would listen, preferably using as many F-words as possible to convey his message. You nearly always heard him before you saw him.

Everyone adored him.

Jörn was also one of those rare people whose story precedes them. After I had met with my consultant to hear the formal diagnosis of my cancer, she whispered to me that Jörn had himself been treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and so would ‘know what you’re about to go through’. This had the most startling effect on proceedings. He shook our hands, beamed us his mile-wide smile, and told us ‘not to expect politeness around here’. Detecting what must have passed across our faces as an invisible look of horror, he then put his arm around me as though we were old friends taking leave of  an especially good night in our favourite pub. I think I fell in love with him.

As I have been correcting the final proofs of Love for Now, my journal of diagnosis and treatment, I have been reminded again of what a rare person he was. One episode in particular stands out. Half way through my treatment my scan results were misinterpreted, briefly and officially taking me into the realm of relapse, even though my tumour was later found to be shrinking. It was Jörn who sat on the edge of the bed with us, stroking our hands and answering our questions with unwavering eye contact. I remember him saying, with both a frown and a smile: ‘Anthony, sometimes we are just given a shit pack of cards to play with.’ This was not meant to be reassuring, but somehow it was. In any case he was off, looking around him and castigating the decorators who had given the counselling room we were sitting in such a vile colour scheme.

As I say in the acknowledgements of Love for Now, the heroes of the book are the people who were there: my children and my wife, Tatty Wilson. It is dedicated both to her and to the memory of Jörn. Yet even as I type this I can feel him admonishing me on some level, with a glance or a single word, as he did once the morning after a galling reverse for his beloved Arsenal: ‘Don’t!’

Love for Now is available for pre-ordering here.

It’s Changed

on the ward where they filled me
with life-saving chemicals
which made my hair fall out.

Denise is wearing make-up.
There is brown toast in the café.

We discuss the important things,
like the weather,
but never what happens here,
the binging of the drips.

Jörn would have hated it.
He’d say it was too fucking quiet
and why weren’t we dead yet,
didn’t we have homes to go to?

The doctors seem younger.
One of them leans on a wall
reading someone’s chart
in what looks like a nightie.

from Riddance

You can read In Memory of Jörn Cann here