By the way, you live


Dear Anthony

I’m writing to let you know what you already know in your bones, as you put it much later, that you are seriously ill. The other day you visited your GP. As he shuffled some papers and searched in a drawer for an envelope, that was when you knew, right then. In the pursing of his lips and the tensing of his eyes, which commendably kept an effort to look at you.

Until then ‘lymphoma’ was a word you had heard only via soap opera plot-lines, or media shorthand for one in the final stages of something much graver. The biology of it, as now, passed you by.

Like the first line of a poem unalterable once laid down, the eight years since that week have done little to change your recollection of it. The phone calls from friends protesting that it is ‘probably nothing’. The silence and the sadness in the voices of your parents. The questions of your children.

You may not be surprised to know how easily you are going to leave behind the world of work. Colleagues will call round with cakes and gossip. For a while this will keep you buoyant, a feeling of staying in touch. Believe it: you are going to laugh a lot together, more than you imagine.

Even this will pass, like the crumbs you  dutifully wipe away after they have gone.

The hair loss and the nausea you already know about. I will spare you the rest of the details. Imagine the worst, then triple it. Then again.

A word of advice: no one really wants to know about this, even if they say they do. Another word of advice: get used to the hair loss jokes. You, a bald man, going balder! How hilarious.

The plus sides? You are going to reconnect, by letter, with some very old friends. Plus, they show reruns of Frasier in the daytime. There will be a lot of cards. And brownies left on the doorstep in a tin. You won’t forget these in a hurry.

You are going to meet some amazing professionals: doctors, nurses, and, later, counsellors. You won’t forget a single one of them. It’s like going back to see your family, you are going to hear yourself say.

You see, you will go back.

You will be able to look back at this. Write about it, even.

One final thing. Things like the sound of your children singing, the smell of your wife’s perfume, these are going to become so important you won’t know what to do with them. One evening in June you are going to sit perfectly still at the kitchen table with your wife as she marks some books, a Joni Mitchell song on the CD player. For a moment it will be as though lymphoma never happened, as though you never had to explain to your children the meaning of the word cancer. You will be happy, a secret you dare not speak of lest it change the outcome of the story whose implications (forever?) you are now starting to live through.

By the way, you live.


photo credit: Merenna Wilson


  1. Always remember their are individuals who do not know you accept by your web poetry, who think about you and wish a positive outcome for you, This is a healing force which is mighty.


  2. There is so much love and loneliness and honesty and pain and hope woven together in this letter that gives them all space to be. Thanks for sharing a beautiful letter.


  3. “The hair loss and the nausea you already know about. I will spare you the rest of the details. Imagine the worst, then triple it. Then again.
    A word of advice: no one really wants to know about this, even if they say they do.”
    How very true! I reviewed ‘Love for now’ for Macmillan, an excellent book that I found very therapeutic in coming to terms with my own experience.

    Thank you, from an HL survivor.


    1. Dear Julie
      Thank you for your kind comment and ditto for your thoughts on Love for Now. It means a great deal to me to hear from one who has been through it. I’m so pleased it helped you.
      As ever with best wishes


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