On this day 10 years ago I was sat in the pub I called home, The Leazes Inn, finishing my MSc dissertation.
Now, I know that sounds like an entirely inappropriate way to complete a Masters degree but it’s not quite as it sounds. The flat I lived in was University owned and wasn’t available on a 12 month lease which didn’t quite work in parallel with my 12 month Masters course so when I needed to find somewhere to live while I finished my Masters my friends and employers Paul & Jackie Watson extended their friendship and offered me space in their home, my workplace and my local – The Leazes Inn. The pub was more than just a drinking hole for me. I drank in there across all 4 of my years at Newcastle University, friends worked there, I became a member of staff in my fourth year and my colleagues and the locals became my surrogate family (and if any of them happen to read this: I’m sorry that I’ve fallen out of touch; I had a very special time in The Leazes).
It was a quiet day as most students had not yet returned for the new term so I was beavering away in the Function Room, my impromptu office, finalising the printing of my dissertation that needed to be handed in to the Computer Science department. All I remember was Paul coming in to tell me I needed to get into the main bar to see Sky News: a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers.
I watched on in stunned silence as the story unfolded before our eyes.
At that time, for me, New York City was just another destination that I hoped I might get a chance to see at some point but the enormity of what was happening was still shocking. I had no idea that 10 years on the beautiful NYC would mean so much to me.
The City That Never Sleeps has become like a second home to myself and The Wife. The Wife and I saved enough money to visit The Big Apple for the first time for Thanksgiving 2007. Just as I’d hoped, the city was awe-inspiring and justified itself to be the place where I would propose to my girlfriend. The moment that The Wife, or The Girlfriend as she was then, said “yes” inextricably linked the city to us forever. As we only scraped the surface of what NYC had to offer we promised ourselves that we would return.
We returned to Blighty to spread not only our rave reviews of NYC but our own news and it wasn’t long before we started planning our wedding – a wedding that, we know now, wouldn’t take place.
In the closing stages of the planning for our June 2009 wedding we were hit by some news that turned our entire world upside-down.
The Wife, through thorough and regular checking, had found a lump in her breast. The GP was cautious not to jump to conclusions as the lump didn’t exhibit any traditional signs of being cancerous but after a second appointment he decided it prudent for The Wife to go the hospital to get it checked out further.
I hadn’t expected to hear the C word at that appointment – the two outcomes I had anticipated were “it’s fine, go home” or “we’d like to do further tests” – but I was invited in to join The Wife so the consultant could say it to both of us at the same time.
Still I cannot find the words to adequately describe that moment. Or the moment as we got back to the car and it began to sink in. Or, as is captured by Cancer Research’s recent TV ads, the moment of having to share the C word with our family.
Maybe writing this is a form of therapy. However I am not writing this for sympathy or sorrow but instead to share positives and urge others to be positive and thankful.
We took a strong approach to fighting Cancer and decided we would do all we could not to dwell on “why us?”. We postponed our wedding and faced the next few months with an army of supporters sending us positive thoughts along the way. I am thankful that The Wife found the lump early, thankful for the work of a great surgeon and thankful that The Wife’s body allowed the treatments to do their work with only a few, relatively mild side effects.
Even as I fight back the tears as these feelings return, I must say that the cliché “time is a healer” is very true. At the time we couldn’t imagine going through a day without crying; would there ever be a time when our lives would not be overshadowed by Cancer?
I am pleased to shout to all who will listen, the answer to that questions is YES!
Hours become days, days become weeks and weeks, have most recently become months. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t ever disappear forever and there are still things that trigger those memories (the aforementioned Cancer Research ads for example), but it does get easier to deal with.
We appropriately decided that our return to NYC would be Thanksgiving in 2009, not only marking 2 years since our engagement and the end of The Wife’s treatments but also the beginning of getting our post-Cancer life back on track. Just 9 months after diagnosis we were rewalking the frozen paths in Central Park, getting the engagement ring repolished at Tiffany’s and for the first time in those 9 months being able to look beyond the next day, week, appointment into our future together.
It was on this visit that I persuaded The Wife to venture to Ground Zero – she had previously been adamant that we shouldn’t go.
I couldn’t explain why I wanted to see the scar that had been inflicted on my favourite place in the world. In a way I guess it was similar to the reluctant desire to see the scar that had been inflicted on my favourite person in the world following her surgery. I knew it wasn’t going to be pleasant but only after seeing it can you get a realisation of what has happened. The scale of Ground Zero took my breath away. The enormity of what had happened just can’t be portrayed by the TV pictures.
Just as our visit to NYC signified the start of rebuilding our future, the cranes were already working on rebuilding the Manhattan skyline. Of course it would be different, but it would stand for much more.
We eventually had our special day 11 months later than it should have been but what a celebration! The best day of lives made even more special by the added meaning that had been imposed on us. To be able to celebrate with all the people who had provided our support network was fantastic. It was only fitting that we return to NYC for our wedding anniversary this year and it was great to see a new addition to the Manhattan skyline – albeit still with cranes perched high above, the replacement to the Twin Towers is growing rapidly.
The connection that I have made with NYC makes my feelings for all the many people affected by the actions of those few on this day 10 years ago even stronger. I know all too well that it impossible for bad memories to be completely wiped out but I also know that they will be easier to deal with as time continues to pass.
It was both my personal feelings about Cancer and thoughts of NYC on this day that carried me along this morning, on my challenge’s most adventurous route so far. The Wife drove me out to Burford, the gateway to the Cotswolds, and released me from the car like a proud owner of a homing pigeon!
I travelled from Burford through Widford, Swinbrook, Asthall Leigh, Fordwells, Field Assarts and Crawley then touching the edge of Hailey before returning through the centre of Witney and back to home – a total of 19 kilometres in an hour & 52 minutes!
A brilliant run helped by the amazing scenery, interesting wildlife and friendly people. What I hadn’t realised is that it was the Witney Road Runners’ Cotswold Classic 10 Mile race today and my run crossed paths with the course at Asthall Leigh. I stopped to chat to a friendly marshall before applauding the tail end of the field as I set off on the next leg of my journey. As I headed towards Crawley I was to find the course for the second time and this time, after a shorter chat with 2 female marshalls, my route took me along the last mile or so of the race.
I felt slightly guilty taking applause and encouragement from the remaining marshalls and spectators but it really helped to keep me going – some of the hills were leg sapping so I’d like to extend my thanks to the marshalls and spectators of the Cotswold Classic 10M for helping me to run my furthest distance since the 2006 Great North Run and only 2 kilometre short of a half marathon.
This has been a longer-than-normal post so thank you for reading!