Throughout his illness Abe always said don’t call me brave. You can call me amazing, but don’t call me brave. Abe's parents share his sentimental story in their own words below.
I want to tell you a little bit about Abe and his approach to life and particularly how he dealt with his cancer and his disability. I say disability, he never considered himself disabled, at least not until he needed a special parking space or wanted to jump the queue at the airport.
We’ll start with a “proud Dad” and a “proud Mum” story.
My earliest “proud Dad” moment that showed me that he was amazing, was on holiday in Centre Parcs in the Lake District. Abe was about 7 years old and he kept going round and round the outside water slide. There was a problem with one particular part of the slide, that if you were little, you got sucked under water and just kept tumbling. There was an attendant in a wet suit permanently positioned to pull people out and send them on their way. Abe went round 6 or 7 times and, 6 or 7 times, the attendant pulled him out from the swirling vortex. On the 7th time she said to him “are you really sure you want to do this”? Abe’s response was “I’m going to keep doing it ‘till I get used to it”.
Julie’s “Proud Mum” story is a short and simple one. When Abe was a teenager, one of his girlfriends said to him “Abe! why are you so happy all of the time”. His response summed him up very well… ”Why wouldn’t I be?”.
Abe wasn’t perfect and he did like to wind up his friends. When he went out into town he didn’t like to wear his prosthetic leg and would go out on his crutches. On one occasion, when he’d had a few drinks he ended up outside the kebab shop with his friend Alice and he just toppled over drunk. Alice started laughing and Abe cried out pretending he’d hurt himself. Someone walking past looked at the situation before them and, quite rightly, started to berate Alice. Alice tried to defend herself by saying that they were good mates. Abe just looked up from the pavement and said “I don’t know her, I’ve never met her before in my life”.
I have to pay tribute to Abe’s judgment when it comes to his friends. They have all stuck by him before and through his illness. They have spent hours on busses and trains getting to and from the Christie. They have spent hours and hours and hours sitting by his bed and watching rubbish telly, pretending they liked ‘great railway journeys’ with Michael Portillo or ‘Four in a Bed’. They are a tribute to Abe and should be justifiably proud of themselves.
Even better judgement, in my humble opinion at least, was Abe’s choice of girlfriend. Abe met Jess in his first year at University and, putting aside how pretty and clever and charming she is, Jess has stood by Abe and loved and supported and cared for him in sickness and in health. Their children would have been unbearably beautiful and very clever.
Abe’s brothers have been superstars throughout his illness and have loved and cared and nourished and supported Abe. They are a credit to Julie and I and we are justifiably proud of them.
Lots of people have said to Julie and I how good we were to be there for Abe. The truth is, we were privileged. We were privileged to have known Abe for his 21 short years. We were privileged to have been able to take the time off work to be there for him and we were privileged to live in a society with the best health service in the world.
There are a few little snippets of Abe’s life, and his approach to it, that I would like to share with you, just to give you a flavour of his character.
When Abe was first diagnosed he had to apply to take a year out from university and had the usual pile of paperwork that he had to fill in. It was early days, so he hadn’t quite got James, his Clic Sargent social worker, wrapped round his little finger just yet, so he had to do it himself. He leaned across and said “what’s an MSc”. It’s a master of science we said. Why? That’s the course I’m doing, I just copied what my mate Ross had applied for.
When Abe was six we were on holiday in Cornwall and went on a boat trip looking for basking sharks. That night when I was tucking Abe up in bed I asked him what his favourite part of the day was. Well Dad, I really liked the ‘gasping’ sharks. We still do an impression of a shark smoking a cigarette.
Lourdes was a big part of Abe’s life and showed his caring nature. During last years trip Abe was sitting on the floor, crutches at his side cleaning the wheelchairs. Someone made the comment that the lad with the one leg seemed to be doing more work than the rest of them put together.
Abe did have a work ethic, once he’d put his mind to something. The staff at the Christie won’t believe this, but when he was fourteen he had two paper rounds and would get up at six every morning rain, snow or sunshine. I remember a few occasions driving to Macclesfield railway station to catch the six, twenty to London feeling sorry for my self and driving past Abe merrily delivering newspapers.
I can’t tell you about Abe without talking about his cancer journey.
It wasn’t a battle, it wasn’t a fight. They are the wrong words to use. If it was a fight, Abe would have won and we’d all look foolish sitting here while he was at home wondering where we all were.
It’s a journey that started with a broken leg after a particularly hard tackle playing football. Abe was a lovely boy, but put him on a sports field and, to put it politely, he got a bit determined. He broke his femur, and the x-rays showed that there was a cyst that had eaten through half of the bone. At the time the biopsy showed that it was benign and after 4 hours of surgery, lots of metalwork and a bone graft Abe was on the road to recovery. He went off to University on crutches and had a ball for a year. If we asked him how he was getting on and how he was managing to carry his bags, he’d say he was doing fine and there was a pretty girl called Jess who was on his course who would carry his bag for him.
Abe did manage to get his medical problems diagnosed to conveniently fit around term times. Just as he was finishing his first year at University he started to get some problems with his leg and after a biopsy in Birmingham, osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer was diagnosed. The only time Abe got upset about this was when he was told that he would have to miss a year at university. We were told at the time that he would need some chemotherapy and knee replacement surgery.
After the first two cycles of chemotherapy, the surgery was planned to remove his primary tumour and there were lots of discussions around whether it should be limb salvage surgery or whether amputation would be a better option. Abe’s approach to making this decision was one of emotion and hard calculated logic.
Abe drew up a list of pros and cons of amputation. On the pros list was that he would, paradoxically, be able to do more sport with one leg, the primary tumour would definitely be gone and weird girls would fancy him.
In the end the decision was made for us. After the amputation Abe had 4 more cycles of chemotherapy and thirty six immunotherapy treatments. All done and dusted ready to go back to university for his second year.
At his regular checkup in August 2014 there was a shadow on Abe’s right lung and after fourteen months of remission Abe was diagnosed with lung secondaries. Abe underwent 4 more cycles of different chemotherapy regimens that didn’t really slow down the cancer. In the middle of December Abe decided to stop treatment and enjoy his last Christmas with his friends, family and Jess.
We did have a good Christmas, surrounded by family and friends and we did eat the biggest, most expensive turkey that the butcher has ever sold. And Abe loved it.
Abe’s approach to dealing with long stays in hospital was one that his granddad would have been proud of. It’s an approach that is known as winding up the medical staff. With some of Abe’s chemotherapy treatments it was important to keep a check on his blood sugar and the finger pricking job was always given to the newest, most junior student nurse. Every single time he would hold out his finger, wait for the jab and then wince and cry out in pain. The nurse would look sheepish and apologise and then Abe would laugh and say “just joking”.
His finest nurse prank was the talk of the hospital for a week. Abe was struggling to breath when the secondary cancer got to his lungs and it was decided that to relieve some of his discomfort he would have a chest drain. Basically a plastic tube inserted into his back with a tap on it leading into a bucket. They could only drain so much fluid each day and when the limit was reached the tap was turned off. The next morning Abe was fast asleep and one of the senior nurses was showing a colleague how to switch the tap back on and tried to do it without waking Abe. I probably don’t need to finish this story, but, as you might expect, Abe woke up half way through but pretended to be asleep. When the tap was opened Abe sat bolt upright in bed, grabbed hold of his chest and gasped a breath as if it was his last. There is still an impression of the outline of a nurse in the wall on the other side of his bed.
We went to see Jimmy Carr just after Abe had had his leg amputated and Abe and Jimmy had a bit of banter during the show (Jimmy asked what was the worst present you’d ever received and Abe shouted out a Jimmy Carr DVD). After the show there was a big queue to see Jimmy and to get autographs. Abe was allowed to go to the front of the queue and it was only then that Jimmy realised that Abe was ill and had had his leg amputated. We went to take the photograph and a security guard stepped forward and told us that photographs weren’t allowed. Jimmy said it was ok to take the picture and spent 5 minutes chatting with Abe about his cancer, despite the fact that there as a big queue of people waiting to get autographs.
After Christmas Abe went downhill very quickly, especially in his last two days. He died as he would have wanted to with dignity and with no fuss. Aunty Delia, Aunty Annemarie and his brother Joe laid him out and we kept him at home ’till Jess could get to see him. All of his mates and our friends came to see him laid out too and we had a ball telling stories and laughing and crying together.
Considering how it started, that Friday couldn’t have been a better day, a fitting tribute to Abe and a relief for us that it didn't drag on for longer.
The evening before he died, Abe called me over and asked me to do him a favour. “Dad, can you help me to sort out some nice blankets for my friends, I want to give them all one before I die”. Fortunately, we did manage to get them ordered and I know that they will all cherish them and be reminded of Abe every time they are used.
I want to finish with some of the sentiments that we have had from the cards that we have received and from the Just Giving page that we set up for Abe.
And finally from Mum and Dad.
Sorry to say it Abe, but you are the bravest man we’ve ever met.