Cancer In Young Adults ... Through Parents’ Eyes

Narratives & Stories

J's story

J. was an undergraduate student at Sheffield University when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The charity “Get a Life”, that J. set up the night before he died, has raised thousands of pounds for facilities for young adult cancer patients.

He took his big candle
And went into another room
I cannot find
But I know he was here
Because of all the happiness
He left behind.

Japanese Haiku

This, I feel, is where we are now, thanks to the inspiration from Jeremy. Throughout his illness, J looked after everyone else around him and least of all himself.

He showed us how he wanted folk to be – and with the enormous support of wonderful friends, I hope we achieved what he wanted – no gloomy faces and certainly no fussing around him.

J’s friends were brilliant and three very special ones in particular were alongside him every step of the way. We know he shared all his thoughts and fears with them, always trying to protect us. He also had superb care from the nursing staff at Woodlands Hospital, Birmingham. The sister on his ward was exceptional and on more than one occasion, would stay on duty long after she should have gone home, just talking with Jeremy. At the end of the first course of treatment and surgery, we held a party at home as J wanted to say thank you to everyone who had helped him through. It was a glorious sunny day and a very happy occasion. The three wonderful nurses from Woodlands came all the way up to Leeds with armfuls of gifts!

We received great support form our close friends and family, very specially from the staff at Martin House Children’s Hospice where I work as a volunteer. When they heard of the “Get a Life Fund” which J set up, a coffee morning was organised and raised £700 in 2 hours. J’s fund was to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Ward at St James’s Hospital in Leeds and also towards bone cancer research at Woodlands Orthopaedic Hospital, Birmingham.

We are fortunate to have a very special friend who is a nun. Her prayerful support, together with that of our parish church, was just wonderful. It is difficult to express in words what this meant to us.

Peter and I shared the care. At one particularly difficult time, Peter allowed me go go off for a week’s holiday while he coped at home. J’s elder brother Paul was away from home during J’s illness, working in Manchester. Paul had a wonderful girlfriend who supported him superbly through that period, and also taking care of us. Her love, care and understanding were quite remarkable.

Jeremy was, himself, an unusual young man, being quite a hippy and influenced by the New Age philosophy. We, as his parents, and also his elder brother, Paul, were relatively conservative by comparison. With all this came a travelling van parked in the drive, cannabis being puffed and, sometimes, veggy burgers cooking in the kitchen at 3 am! We are so pleased that we were able to accept all those way-out habits (as they were to us at the time) with no objections whatever. I can remember J showing me a photograph of a girl’s mastectomy scar covered by a tattoo. He explained that like his ear-rings etc. it was their own doing. They were both having appalling things done to their bodies, over which they had no control. The tattoos and rings were embellishments of their own choosing.

The night before a particularly unpleasant chest operation which J was dreading, a brilliant nurse at the Northern General Hospital put a note on his bedside locker, saying, “Jeremy, remember this – There is no victory without a battle” These words went everywhere with him on the cover of his address book, which was his lifeline.

At J’s Thanksgiving Service, this quotation was used as the theme for the service, used by the priest and printed on the service sheets.

J’s enjoyment of life was infectious. “He made life sparkly for all of us” was a quote from one of his dearest friends. His spirit of joy is still with us and we shall never lose sight of J’s tremendous inspiration, but we shall carry with us all the happiness which he left behind.

The Story of the Get a Life Fund

This story is about Jeremy Spratt, a pretty special person who is no longer with us. He died on June 1994, aged 22, from cancer.

It was one of those utter tragedies that could make many people just give up trying to understand the things life tries to teach us. J, however, was one of life’s magical exceptions. During his life and very much during his illness, he made many people appreciate what it was like to really live. Of course, in many ways it was a pretty awful time for him – anyone who has lived with cancer, either in yourself or in someone you love, will know about the pain involved. The various treatments may fight the disease but often strip away a person’s energy and dignity. At these times it’s crucial to have the best kind of support from both family and friends and also from a hospital.

As the cancer began to spread, J became more determined to make sure other young people in his position were understood and supported in a way that gave them the best chance of fighting the disease. The night before he died, J set up a charity to raise money, partly for research at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham and partly for the Teenage Cancer Trust. The Trust helps to provide special wards and care for young people with cancer because their needs are different. J called the charity “Get a Life”.

What J believed in went beyond simply wanting to treat the physical illness. It was about learning to live life to the full – to grasp opportunities and look to the day! For people who knew him, it was amazing that someone, in the face of a terminal illness, had so much to offer about what it meant to be alive. Sadly J died sooner than anyone expected, but peacefully, on a glorious summer day in June 1994. The morning of the day he died, J wrote the words which are displayed alongside, as to what “Get a Life” meant to him.

Thanks for reading this.

“Get a Life

Transforming mortality
accepting death
a true way to becoming alive
Many sufferers of potentially terminal disease
speak of an unshackling from those aspects of
their life which had in the past tied them down
into a lifestyle which was not truly theirs, or
making them truly happy. Their confrontation with
death was the key to new beginnings and possibilities.
Often this realisation, and acting on the realisation was enough to allow the patient to live, and live…
Surely these are lessons for us all, are you truly alive?
Don’t wait until you’re dead, get a life…

June 1994