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My journey into Cancer Care starts with an Ed Byrne joke

Yesterday I stood on a threshold.

Stepping over it is the beginning of a journey. Not like the journey my family and I undertook five years ago when we relocated from North London to the northernmost town in England. Nevertheless I shall be joining a well-travelled path, trodden by mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents… and now me. It involves a word that is simultaneously revered and feared a bit like Voldemort in Harry Potter: Cancer.

It started with the comedian Ed Byrne’s visit to the Maltings Theatre in Berwick early in October. The Maltings is a venue our family has treasured since we moved to Berwick and, believe it or not, we did not even know it was here when we first moved! Great research, eh? The Maltings is a place I’ve imbibed (literally in the bar and restaurant as well as figuratively) original drama, art, musicals, comedy, pantos etc., and latterly performances streamed live from the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s a place I love and that I suspect will come under increasing threat as the ripple effect of austerity bites and funding is whittled away.

Some may say that the arts should stand or fall on their own merits. Why should our taxes fund high-falutin’, weirdy beardy stuff – some of which we don’t even want to see? I say the arts give us a precious space to explore boundaries in ways that change and shape lives; and allow young and old to express themselves, explore who they want to be, and consider how they are going to engage in the world. At the Maltings, for example, a recent packed audience (which included many rows of school children) heard Zdenka Fantlova, one of the few remaining holocaust survivors, share her heartrending story. In the listening, we all became tear-stained witnesses to something that, for God’s sake, should never ever happen again. Back in today’s real world we see and hear vitriol randomly piled on ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’, partly because they present a very challenging global phenomenon but also because they’re people ‘not like us’. Hopefully all of us will say: ‘No!’ to attitudes that are a cancer of our age.

The arts give us precious space to explore boundaries in ways that change and shape lives

It was a joke that Ed Byrne told about visiting the doctor for a severe case of the squits (Go Ed! that one will run and run…) that prompted me to visit Berwick Infirmary via my GP. One thing my husband hoped for when we decamped from London was a training hospital (the old people’s friend). The Infirmary may not be that, but it’s a damn good facility, peopled by some damn fine staff.  Looking at our area and seeing how far the nearest hospitals are, makes you wonder why Berwick Infirmary isn’t packed. I’d suggest that a decline in users directly correlates with a decline in provision. As funding and services are siphoned off to ‘centralised’ facilities, that’s inevitably where patients are referred to. People in and around Berwick need more than a building, we need ready access to a range of high-quality treatment equivalent to that afforded to city dwellers. That means facilities and trained staff deployed across the region.

True care is something we should all receive, whoever we are and wherever we are

My own trip to the Infirmary involved an intimate procedure (cameras, tubes, need I say more?) which could have been embarrassing and humiliating. However I was treated with understanding and compassion – a person not a case. I was even given a cup of tea and biscuit before I left. This is true care. And we should all receive it, whoever we are and wherever we are.

It’s been a great laugh and privilege sharing my tales of moving from south to north through this column for five years. Now I’m going to take a little time out to pause and concentrate on this new journey.

(A version of this article was first printed in the Berwick Advertiser on 29 October 2015)

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