Nine years have passed since my Dad died and I still can't really put into words what my step mother did for him at this time and how much this means to me. I know how much he loved her and their life together in Japan, doing the things they both loved. It meant the world to him to share life with her and I'm sad that I wasn't there for more of it.
I guess at the time the distance from England and my young age meant that this was difficult but I do cherish the time that we did have together. Much of that was whilst we faced difficult times, sterile hospital visits and the sound of her caring for him during his uncomfortable breathless and sleepless nights - I would stay in my little Japanese bedroom because even after traveling across the world to 'be there' I was too scared to face it head on. They aren't even that nice but I treasure those memories and keep them in a very special place. They are pretty much all I have left of him, apart from his inherited ability to bang on about something for far too long.
Time has brought strength and the ability to reflect on how much my step mum really inspired me with her love and commitment to trying to save his life, but most significantly her efforts to improve his quality of life along the way. I often feel so grateful that he faced those final years, months and days in with her in Japan (rather than here in England) it's such a spiritual country that offered him all of the grace, opportunity and hope that he deserved.
Through my work I understand more now than I did then about the disparity of experiences that cancer patients face on their journey, yet when you are dying of cancer that's the only bit that matters. It's a lesson to all of us, you are only who you are in any given moment, not who you were yesterday or who you go on to be tomorrow. It's sad but it's true, so having someone to protect who you are, in that moment, is so important. We are all going to die one day so no matter when the ending is, the well-being and quality of life of anyone facing cancer is the most precious and important thing. It has the power to protect the integrity of who that person is forever, even when they are gone.
My stepmother searched for solutions, fought for his quality of life and gave my dad hope until the very end.
It was nine years ago today that I said goodbye to him for that last time, after making a difficult decision to get on my scheduled flight from Osaka back to Manchester. I did that knowing that I would never see him again. The knowledge of how lucky he was to have her and her care for him is my comfort. And that's all I need.
It's the reason that I can accept that this happened to my family, and it's the reason that I want to share this with others today.
In my career I work hard as part of a team of people to change the fate of these precious months and days for thousands of men facing cancer. It's big picture stuff and it's not easy to drive change, both culturally and within healthcare but I know that one day, maybe even today it will make a huge difference to someone else's dad. We've got a long way to go to give cancer patients the care and hope that they deserve and not everyone has a stepmother like I do. What she did will be with me, and my dad, forever.
Do something for men's health this Movember and show your support here.