There was a beautiful view from the roof on the last morning of August in London. A clear blue sky stretched on endlessly above me, and there was a hint of warmth in the chilly air. I was careful not to look down at the ground as I mounted the scaffold, turned around, and tiptoed back towards the edge. My trainers scuffed against the wooden boards, and my heart pounded a little harder against my chest. But I had come this far, and I wasn’t backing down now. Tilting my head up to that brilliant sky, I leaned back, gritted my teeth, and stepped out into the abyss.
On 31st August 2013, I abseiled off Battersea Power Station. It was an amazing moment, and one that came about as a means to raise money for Cancer Research UK. I saw the opportunity online and jumped at the chance to do something so unique and exciting, which was also for such a good cause. I was joined by my parents, aunt and sister that day, who cheered for me below and took pictures as I made my nervous descent. I hadn’t abseiled for about ten years, and never from this high up. My legs could have been made from jelly, and it was a scary few metres getting off the edge and finding my footing against the sheer brick wall. But I soon got the hang of it again, and with the wonderful view and the crystal clear sky I was soon loving every second. I laughed to myself like a maniac as I shot down the wall, nearly colliding with one of the other abseilers near the bottom. It was an incredible experience, and thanks to the generosity of my friends and family I raised a staggering £575. Only one thing could have made it better. As I’m sure everyone else in my group thought that day, I wished Jason could have been with us.
Jason was my brother-in-law. He and my sister met in the pub many years ago, became friends, and from there it was only a matter of time until the inevitable happened and they became a couple. They were perfect together, and it was a joy to be around the two of them. I was overjoyed when they announced their engagement in 2007. However, there was a bitter irony and a sadness underneath this happy news: they told us on the day that my much-loved and admired martial arts instructor lost her battle with cancer, aged 40.
Jason and my sister Gill married on 26th October 2009 at Windsor Guildhall. It was a lovely day, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of them so happy. But their happiness was cut brutally short. On 24th May 2011, I received a phone call from my dad. Jason had been going for some tests at the hospital, and the results had come through.
“How bad is it?” I asked.
“It’s as bad as it could be, I’m afraid,” my dad replied. He then went on to tell me that Jason had terminal lung cancer. He had been given a diagnosis of two years to live. He was 40 years old.
For my family, the whole world shifted on its axis that day. A countdown clock had loomed into view on the horizon, the numbers glowing in the distance as we all wished desperately for time to slow down, maybe even stop altogether. How can you plan anything past the next day, the next week? All the plans you make for the future, everything you had idly sketched out for yourself, it all comes crashing to a halt. Life itself just stops and takes on completely new meaning. Every second, every moment, is suddenly precious. You have to preserve every happy memory, every sight, sound, smell, taste.
All that Jason could do was embark on a treatment of horrific chemotherapy, which drained him of energy and wrecked his immune system, but which brought him some precious time. The doctors said that without it, he wouldn’t have survived past Christmas. All that we could do, as his family, was stand by and watch. To offer our support and love, although of course this never seemed enough.
My sister and Jason were incredibly strong for those two years. They took everything that cancer threw at them and kept fighting. They were a team, an unbreakable unit. Even when Jason lost the use of his legs and was forced to use a wheelchair and hoist to get around on a day to day basis, they continued with a grim determination and courage that I’m not sure I could have summoned in their position.
On 1st July 2013, Jason lost his fight with lung cancer. He died early in the morning, and my Dad called me to break the news. My sister, his mother and sister had been there with him at the end, and my sister had been there with him throughout the night. At last, after all that time, his suffering was over and he was at peace. But that meant that we no longer had him in our lives. Jason was a wonderful man with a brilliant sense of humour, and I am proud to have been able to call him my brother-in-law. His memory will help to keep him alive, but that is poor consolation to those he leaves behind.
Jason was only 43 when he died, with so much of life still to enjoy. I have seen first-hand the devastating effect this horrific disease can have on its victims. Cancer strips away your dignity, your strength, your health. It feels like the ultimate betrayal of your body against you. Cancer doesn’t care who it targets; young, old, male, female, rich, poor. It’s a many-headed Hydra which rears its ugly head again and again at anyone it can find. None of us are safe from its deadly touch.
But with the sterling effort made by charities such as Cancer Research UK, our chances of finding a cure can only improve. Already, cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years, and breakthroughs continue to be made all the time. The more money we can raise, the greater the chance we have of stamping out cancer once and for all.
More than 1 in 3 people in the UK will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime. I know that within the next 50 years or so I have left on this earth, there’s a very strong chance I could be that 1 in 3. And that terrifies me. So throwing myself off a building 100ft above the ground on the end of a rope, all in the name of charity, seemed like a fairly small price to pay to help find a cure! And donating as little as £5 can make all the difference. It could be the £5 that leads to someone getting an extra week, month, year with their loved ones.
As I type this, I am watching Stand Up To Cancer on Channel 4. Hosted by a cast of Channel 4’s finest, boasting an epic selection of shows (hello, Celebrity Gogglebox!), this behemoth among fundraisers is catapulting the topic of cancer into the forefront of our minds. I have been especially touched by various celebrities sharing their own personal experiences of cancer. Davina McCall lost her half-sister, Adam Hills lost his father, Ronan Keating lost his mother. Everyone has been touched by cancer, and it levels society like nothing else on this earth. No one can escape, and no one is immune from its clutches.
I am there encouraging, no, urging, you to donate whatever you can to Stand Up To Cancer/Cancer Research UK. It is imperative that we all do our part to raise as much money as possible, to fund the groundbreaking research that will, one day, lead to that Eureka moment we are all praying for.
I want to live in a world where my future children won’t have a one in three chance of getting cancer. But I’d also quite like to be able to get to the age where I can have those children. I may only be twenty four, but we all know that cancer will take anyone, at any age. I am terrified of getting that diagnosis. It scares me more than most things in this world combined. And I’m sure there are thousands of others who feel the same way. Maybe even you, reading this now.
When Davina et al last checked, the total raised so far by Stand Up To Cancer was £1, 554, 713. Let’s double, triple, quadruple that. Let’s times that by ten. And ten again. And then let’s keep going until we reach that monumental day.
Together, we will beat cancer.
Dedicated to the memory of Jason Douglas Beattie, and the thousands of others like him who lost their battle with cancer. You will live on forever in our hearts.