On Friday, 2nd March I crossed two UK borders to attend the Tenovus St David’s Day Dinner. Tenovus are a wonderful organisation that work to provide essential care and support for cancer patients and their families, where and when they are most needed. Before I continue with my own mini story of Scots/Welsh relations, I’d like you to press a subtly placed hinty-link: DONATE.
I first began speaking to Hywel on Twitter over a year ago, when I came across this rock star profile photo, complete with The Big O’s trademark sunglasses and thought “Wow, it’s Howard Jones. I’d like to get to know him well!” At least, that’s my story when he asks me and I’m sticking to it.
Closer inspection of his profile revealed a truly different story to that of an ageing 80’s pop icon (although he’ll tell you he’s one of those too) and after exchanging tweets, private messages and emails with Hywel over time, I began to realise I had never really understood the term ‘survivor’ before.
We get on like a house on fire, because we share a gallows humour that is rare enough in everyday situations but for someone battling terminal illness, it is even more remarkable to witness. Yet, throughout the hell of his personal struggles, hospitalisation, several operations and what I can only imagine are the most horrific and painful exploratory procedures, our conversations have remained, for the most part, upbeat, positive and at times, just downright silly! As long as we don’t discuss his beloved Cardiff City FC – which we don’t – I’m sure this will remain true.
To the average person, our Twitter exchanges might seem incredulous. Conversations like:
Hywel: “My cancer is terminal.”
Me: “This is terrible news! You mean I’m going to lose a follower?”
He laughed – or LOL’d as people tend to do online. Terminal or not (and everyday I wish it was not), Hywel’s fight, charisma, and constant, bordering-on-insanity humour has touched me in so many ways I am so proud to call this incredible man my friend. Nobody tell him though, his head is big enough 🙂
And I can’t fail to be inspired by Hywel’s devoted wife Cathy, a staggeringly courageous and beautiful person who remains a constant paper around Hywel’s rock.
Through the powerful medium of Twitter, Hywel and I have enjoyed a friendship that has allowed us to watch Eurovision together, with tweets of :
“Oh Moldova, you wonderful, crazy, pointy clowns we love you!”
We’ve shouted “Come on Andy Murray!” at the tennis. Well, I have. Hywel sloped off to Rory Bremner’s show thinking he’d got away with it, until Rory interrupted his act to read a tweet from me on stage reminding him of his lack of commitment to Scotland’s sporting cause.
When Cathy and Hywel went to the Scottish Highlands on holiday with son Elliott who, coincidentally is my own son’s twin brother, I was there with them from the comfort of my own living room, telling them what to visit and telling Hywel not to forget to stick his head out of the window during their journey on the Jacobite steam train for the best experience. He didn’t know (until now) that I was also chuckling to myself at the sooty face he would have, perhaps without realising it if I was really clever, by the time the train got to the end of the line.
I’ve taken Hywel on my own travels, sending him pictures from Scotland’s roof as I climbed hills and munros, tweeting about the stunning views and lack of female toilet facilities.
He sent me a pants wedding present – quite literally, as it was a large pair of white Y-Fronts with “my arse” written on them in bold, black lettering. An unusual wedding greeting you might agree, but signed by Ricky Tomlinson in good humour. I was almost too embarrassed to wear them under my dress as my ‘something blue.’ Almost.. And I can only hope they weren’t actually my something borrowed.
I’ve even tortured Hywel with 9am wake up tweets like:
“I’m guessing @hywelijones has Twitter text alerts on, so MORNING!”
By the growling tone in his reply (yes, he has one for Twitter), I was rewarded with the knowledge that my alarm call was successful. But don’t feel too bad for him; he’s done them to me too! Plus, he refuses to change his ringtone for my tweets to “Hot Legs.” I don’t know why?
I’ve been on nights out with him, in hospital, on nights in listening to Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic‘, which he claimed was vastly inferior to his own Michael McDonald copy. An assertion I was prepared to overlook as my single glass of brandy that evening was no match for his double morphine.
Together, we have built a friendship in a series of 140 character exchanges that far exceeds some I have in my everyday life. And all of this having never actually met him. Until last Friday. And after feeling sure he would be far too ill to make the evening, I was once again staggered as well as moved by this remarkable man and his family when he did indeed make the show. Even though, sadly, he couldn’t partake of the five course meal.
The Tenovus Ball was a fantastic evening of entertainment, where I was reduced to tears by the awesome Sing For Life choir – a group of cancer survivors and their family members belting out a cheery and poignant version of “Lean On Me.” Again, I had a cry when Hywel himself stood up to make a speech even though complications from recent chemotherapy sessions have stolen the volume from his voicebox, and had a few tears of laughter watching Rob Brydon perform his set. But, by far my favourite exchange of the evening was simply a conversation between myself and Hywel’s lovely daughter Carly, when I was telling her what a wonderful man he was and how proud she should be of him. Something Carly didn’t need me to tell her. It was this part:
Me: “It’s so weird. I feel like…”
Carly: “I know. You feel like you’ve known him all your life.”
I’d like to add a little after thought to this post, which is that you can be forgiven for thinking whilst reading this that cancer is no laughing matter. It isn’t. But using humour as a complimentary coping mechanism is something I think, if you asked him, Hywel would heartily recommend.
He once tweeted: “Follow you till the end.”
So I guess we’re going to carry on laughing together for a while longer.
2012 UPDATE: SADLY my dear friend Hywel passed away on 4th July 2012. Independence Day – A day to celebrate freedom. For Hywel, it was freedom from pain. Despite his own struggles and living in constant pain, he always took time to encourage and inspire me. It was Hywel that inspired me to write ‘The New Mrs D.’ He made me believe that I could succeed. I will always love you, my dear friend XXX
Before he died, Hywel was the subject of an ITV Wales documentary, produced by Greg Lewis, called DO NOT GO GENTLE. He also wrote a beautiful song for his wife Cathy, which he even managed to get produced by Trevor Horn and performed by Donna Lewis – a single you can buy on iTunes : Always It’s You – it’s also just 89 PENCE on Amazon & all proceeds go to Tenovus. Please just take a moment to buy a copy. Hywel taught me you can do anything if you have the determination and the will!
Read Hywel & Cathy’s blog about their daily battle with terminal cancer HERE
You can give to Tenovus NOW by texting WISH43 and the amount you want to give to 70070
“Sing For Your Life”. Cardiff based Cancer Charity @tenovuscancer will feature on Channel 4, 8.00pm on Monday 15th October 2012! Don’t miss it!