What did you do when your friend died of breast cancer?

On February 13 this year my friend Ainslie died of breast cancer after fighting the dreaded disease for 12 years. I knew Ainslie was going to die, at the time of her death she had cancer in her brain, was wheelchair bound and her body was less and less able to function. Given that I knew she was going to leave, I was always so sure I’d know when the time came. However I did not.

It was a full 24 hours later – while away with my family on a weekend break  – when I got the text from her husband Phil to tell me she’d gone.  I went into the state of shock which comes when someone who is part of your life is taken, a parting even worse if that someone is young, in this case just 47. My son told me he’d never heard me cry like that. 

Ainslie Duffell

Ainslie, who fought breast cancer for 12 years

I asked him what he meant. After all, I’m so soft I’ll cry at a tv advertisement which pulls on the heart strings. He’s seen me cry regularly, hundreds of times. He just said ‘it wasn’t like that’. I think he meant I was howling – making that kind of sound you make when you are almost separate from yourself wondering why on earth you are emitting such a strange, animal noise. 

When home, i visited Phil and Alex to see them following Ainslie’s passing. It’s one of those moments you dread but know you have to face and I did it with one of my children who felt she wanted to be there. It was such a shock to walk into the house and see Ainslie looking at me from the sofa – my heart flipped. Perhaps there’d been a mistake – but how could there be? It was actually Ainslie’s sister, Lindsay, who looks like her, or who looks like her before cancer took over Ainslie’s body and tried – but did not succeed  – to rob her of her essential self. 

What do you do when your friend dies from cancer? When you could do absolutely nothing to help her when she was here apart from being there? You can – donate money to her funeral fund, you can support her family in the days following her death, offer to do some practical things like cook meals, do shopping, clean the house. However, having suffered loss myself before – that’s not where the best and most positive route lies. Do those things. Do them as a matter of course, but don’t let that be it. The best route for me lies in letting everyone know this person mattered  weeks, months or years down the line. For everyone achieving that may look different. 

I lost my dad when he was 58 and I remember him daily by talking about him and ensuring my children know what he looked like, the funny things he said and did. What he did or didn’t like. How he influenced me for good and ill. When I lost my brother in law at just 49, it was about honouring his children, seeing him in them, trying to support my sister through the worst times of her life – and trying to keep on doing it even when it’s hard to do so. That’s family. But what about a close friend?

When I went to Ainslie’s house to see Phil and their son Alex, following her death. Alex and Phil told me they had a plan. In her journal, Ainslie had said how sad she was that she was unable to see Alex achieve his first century at cricket. Alex is a rising young star on the Wiltshire cricket scene and the sport is his passion – as it is Phil’s who is a sports journalist and qualified cricket coach. Why was Ainslie unable to see her son play on that day? As a wheelchair user, the cricket club where Alex plays regularly has very poor wheelchair access and nowhere for a disabled or very ill person to view a match safely or in any degree of comfort. Although very proud of her son, Ainslie’s wish to see him play could not be fulfilled. Her journal revealed the true extent of her sadness.

Now I know nothing about cricket save it can involve teams dressed in white carrying bats, using very hard red balls and the word ‘runs’ comes into it. It’s not a sport I’ve ever been interested in and my only abiding memory of it is the novelist DH Lawrence refers to the ‘chocking’ of the cricket ball hitting the bat in one of his novels. I’ve always liked the word ‘chock’. When Phil & Alex asked if I would support them in a five year project to rebuild the cricket pavilion at the Purton Cricket Club in Wiltshire so that no other wheelchair user would be denied access – I said yes. 

As I said before, I could do nothing to help Ainslie while she was alive battling this horrible, disgusting disease – but this is something I can do. I can do my little bit to support Phil & Alex as they attempt to create a legacy in Ainslie’s name at a cricket club which will be 200 years old in 2020. I’m proud to have been asked and I’m proud to do my bit. 

Could you do your bit by sharing this blog post? It will be one of many charting this journey over the next few years and highlighting events to raise money. At this early stage, just over £5,000 has been raised to get the project off the ground. It will be a long journey ahead with obstacles, hurdles and great moments. But it will never be anything like the journey which went before….so this is what I’m doing for my friend Ainslie….

Cyber-bullying….are you at risk? Or a family member? Consider this….

Would you notice if a cyber-bully targeted you?

Cyber bullying – we’ve all heard of it haven’t we? In this age of social mediaand the freedom of the internet, there are risks.


People can be lovely, supportive, connected but occasionally someone can be vile or abusive. Or just plain horrid.


This bullying can take many forms. It can actually creep on you unexpectedly. How do I know this? Well, it recently happened to a close member of my family and it took me some days to realise what was happening…

When a member of my family changed schools recently, he left behind some friends that well, let’s just say, were best left behind. He had had some issues with one or two before and, although sorted out, it was no bad thing to have left those individuals behind.

Unlike when I was a child though, these days youngsters can keep in touch in a way they couldn’t before. That means keeping in touch with friends who have gone elsewhere to school. And those children know other children. I think you might be getting my drift here.

This family member mentioned to me that through Skype, he was keeping in touch with friends.

Through those friends, other so-called friends were also making contact.

For a while that worked okay. Then those other ‘friends’ (and I use the words advisedly) started sniping at him. Firstly it was criticising his ‘text speak’ suggesting that he should know how to spell properly. Then it was appearing to send a message and then deleting it. No swearing, nothing obvious, in fact really petty. Initially it was treated as such.

After a period of time, Skype turned to texts. Texts turned to at least one swear word that I’m aware of. Texts turned to sniping remarks. Trying to make him feel small and stupid. Again, really petty stuff.

But it suddenly occurred to me that I was viewing this as an adult in my 40s, not as a child would view it. For a child, this is serious stuff. This means that this petty person could be influencing people who really matter, friends who really matter to that child. He was fearful of losing true friends as a result of this means of being sniping and petty and needling. This was beginning to hurt.

Even when I argued that true friends would not be influenced, it cut no ice.

Again, I realised that it’s much easier for an adult – and a journalist at that – to brush off such criticism, such personal sniping. It’s not easy for a child.

I also realised that if the recipient of petty comments is hurt by them – that’s bullying. It also becomes firmly rooted when the person doesn’t stop when the child tells them to stop. The only reason this didn’t spill over into Facebook is that this family member doesn’t have a profile on that social media site. He’s too young and not allowed.

This was a lesson learned for me as an adult and, hopefully, for him as a child. As a family we’ve now discussed it. Cyber-bullying may not be blatantly obvious but the effects can be upsetting and it can happen over a very short period.

When a final text arrived accusing my family member of something trivial, I replied, warning that individual to leave him alone or I would be paying a visit to parents. I know where this person lives.

Since then no texts, no contact, to my knowledge. I hope the warning was enough.

But from now on, I’m much more aware of my family member’s interaction over the internet and texts. It’s worth remembering that it’s not just the obvious risks, but other, seemingly ridiculous, nonsense can creep up on a family unawares.

Recent Comments