|Sue (left) and me (right), |
Christmas Day 2011
A little woman with a massive heart...
One Sunday back in March 2010 as Ben was busy falling off a cliff into the worst of his anorexia and I was crying out for help and support, I went along to the local baptist church for the first time. I was desperate for support, any support, anything really...
I spent the next 5 or 10 minutes sitting on the back row amongst people I didn't know. Some people vaguely acknowledged me in a polite kind of way but, really, I was just left alone. 'Fight or flight set in' and I was just about to flee from the church when a tiny little woman, no more than 5 ft tall, with short spiky blonde hair made a beeline for me across the aisle, face beaming with a massive welcoming smile and insisted I came and sat with her.
After the service when the congregation had coffee, we talked and talked. It was as if we had known each other all our lives. Instantly she sensed that all was not right and got to the heart of the matter. Right from the start I felt that I could talk to her about Ben's anorexia and she would understand.
Over the next two years we met up regularly, usually round at her house for a coffee. As Ben got worse and I got more desperate she'd sit there listening. Whatever I needed to say, I could say it in front of her. Out of all the people I have known on this journey, she is probably the only one who completely understood what was happening to us and who cared, the only one outside the world of anorexia at any rate.
This little woman was the most genuine, caring, loving and selfless person I have ever known. Nothing was too much trouble, and she always had time for me - plus a box of tissues for me to cry my eyes out into when things got too much.
Whenever I tried to turn the conversation round to her problems - the fact that she was suffering from secondary breast cancer, had had a double mastectomy and was beginning to find life a little more difficult than she used to - she had a knack of turning the focus back to me.
The result is that I'd always leave her beautiful and immaculate house feeling as if I'd been to some kind of amazing soul spa. Then I'd immediately feel guilty for allowing her to focus too much on me instead of her, and I'd tell her off.
But that's the kind of person she was.
I say 'was', because my dear, wonderful sweet friend passed away this morning. The last course of chemo had been too much for her. Already stick-thin, she was finding it impossible to eat. She'd had a persistent cough for some time, was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe and her energy had completely gone; towards the end she could scarcely climb the stairs. And of course she'd lost her beautiful blonde hair to the chemo months ago...
Yet - annoyingly - she still insisted on turning the focus round to me rather than talking about her own problems; problems that were a zillion times worse than mine.
Right up until our last goodbye (which I never, ever dreamed would be the final time I would see her), we were giggling about things. "I'm a rebel", she'd say, with a 'naughty' grin on her tiny thin face. "If I want to wear a bright red wig, then I will."
She went upstairs (in the days when she still could), came back down and stood outside the living room door. "Are you ready for this?" she announced, coming into the room. "Ta dar!!" Good God, five minutes ago she'd been blond; now she was a feisty red-head!
Ever an expert at super high calorie foods, I made her a tray of high calorie flap jack and some Chelsea buns in a bid to get her to eat and put on weight. Naively I thought it would make her feel better. Irritatingly, she felt she had to buy me some expensive body lotion as a 'thank you'. I told her off. But, again, that was what she was like. So incredibly selfless and always thinking of others.
Like the months she'd spent lobbying for better cancer treatment for other patients and addressing medical conferences across the UK and in Europe when she herself was sick. It was always a massive regret to her when ill health forced her to give that up.
But no matter what happened she was steadfast in her Christian faith - initially trusting that God would heal her and, later, trusting that there was a purpose in whatever His plans were...
Naively I thought it was this latest dose of chemo that was making her feel more rotten than usual. She kept telling me it was just the side-effects. Although tests were showing that the cancer wasn't receding, I thought that maybe she simply needed to switch to another chemo; that they'd chosen one she was 'allergic to' - or something like that.
You see, my friend couldn't die. She was too much of a fighter. She'd already defied the odds time and time again, forging on ahead and staying alive, despite the fact that the cancer had spread to her lungs, liver and spine.
Crazily I thought that one day she'd find a chemo that would cure her - if they could find a vein to stick the needle into. Like a drug addict, most of her veins were completely knackered and the last lot of chemo was in tablet form: the kind of tablets where the medical teams have to put on special gloves to handle them. That's how very, very toxic they are.
The email from her husband didn't come as a surprise this afternoon. I was almost expecting it, yet hoping it would never, ever come. Ever since the email he sent round late Saturday night I sensed that something was very, very wrong.
It's hard to believe that that feisty little woman with the 'naughty' grin and heart of gold is gone.
Goodness only knows what I would have done if I hadn't ventured into that church all those months ago and that tiny woman hadn't taken me under her wing and given me the most amazing, awesome support during the worst period of my life.
She always said: "Never forget, if ever you need me - you know where I am."
I wonder where she is now...
Here's a post I wrote remembering something Sue wrote to me when Ben was going through a particularly bad patch.
And another post about why, with Sue, you could bypass the small talk and get straight to the heart of the matter.
Plus, finally, here is the post I wrote after saying farewell to my dear friend at her funeral (at which I was invited to do a talk about her, standing next to her coffin).
Here is Sue looking fabulous, modelling in a fashion show for the charity Breast Cancer Care in 2007, before I knew her. (See Yorkshire Post article about Sue.)