One year ago (on 20th April 2016), Amy Richardson learned her husband, Lee Hope, had been diagnosed with cancer.
She wrote this powerful and upsetting account of what happened in the early hours of the next morning.
Our sincere thanks to Amy for sharing something so very personal with us all.
Amy and Lee
It’s 20th April 2016 around 11am:
I remember standing in my office looking at my phone.
I could hear the traffic outside my window and the click of somebody’s keyboard. These sounds, which should be so familiar, now sound like eerie clicks and clunks from an alien space craft. Simply, they don’t round real.
My hands suddenly feel very hot and sticky as they clutch a large blue lever arch file, bursting as usual with client papers and my scrawling childlike writing. A loose sheet of paper comes loose, and flutters to the floor, coming to rest on my shoe.
I don’t pick it up.
I realise I have been standing still for about five minutes. I can hear a thumping sound. Loud. Echoing around the room.
It’s my heartbeat.
In one movement I place the file on my desk, step out of my heels, into my flat shoes and shrug into my coat. I hear a muffled voice and, startled look round the room. I’m alone. I can hear someone shouting “Amy”, although the voice seems far away.
My mind goes through all manner of scenarios. Is it my brain playing tricks on me, have I actually cracked up at last? Is it a message from the spirit world? Am I being summoned by God, or more likely Satan? I strain my ear to listen.
Its then I realise I haven’t hung up from my last phone call.
“Amy…Aimes…are you there?”
The voice isn’t divine. It’s Lee, my husband, sitting in a hospital bed.
He’d been complaining (or whinging to my sympathetic ears) of stomach problems and constipation for about a week. At first he moans had fell on deaf ears, but as the week had went on, he had looked worse and worse when he came to collect Small (our daughter, Livia) or his washing.
Stressed, tired and upset at the state of the marriage, a kitchen floor covered in marmite and a television where programmes had to be watched through a collage of tiny sticky finger marks I had told (or rather, commanded) that Lee take himself off to A and E to get some constipation relief.
He’d been given some sort of powdered drink and sent home with an enema, which had informed me with barely containable glee that I would need to administer. Via his rectum.
Needless to say, that Sunday night has not been pleasant for either of us. A nagging concern had bothered me, as around 6pm, Lee had started to vomit. Knowing that if I even hear a retch it would render me incapacitated, he has went outside as I bathed small. However, the kitchen window was open, and I heard a retch then a splattering sound.
I never liked the flowers by the hedge anyway, and reasoned that the last person Lee would want rubbing his back and trying not to faint was me. It was only the protestations of the small one that made me realise I was scrubbing her hair too hard as I listened to my husband redecorate our garden hedge.
Lee was never sick. Never. It didn’t happen. He was 6’5 and over 23 stone (he looked like a mixture of ‘Bully from Bullseye’ and the thing from the fantastic four if either character had worn cargo shorts). I’d watched him leaning over the sink as I dried small. He was white and seemed to be shaking.
I think it was then that I realised I was worried. Lee was never sick. In the 10 years I had shared my life with him he was physically indestructible.
However, the pain had gotten worse and he had been sent by his GP back to A and E, where he had been told that he would need an MRI. We had discussed it briefly, but the conversation turned into who would pick small up and also could I tape an SAS programme for him and bring his tattoo magazine.
Dearly how I would love to be able to say we had a beautiful conversation about life and how much we loved each other. But, as the truth is often the only thing worth committing to paper, I can only report that we did not talk about love, live and the future.
“Ross Kemp is it? Well I tell you what you can do, you can sling your Ross Kemp! I’ve got to leave work early, pick up small, sort tea, bath her and do all my preparation for my hearing tomorrow! All your worried about is one half of the Mitchell brother’s ponsing about in a jungle!”
“Aimes, he isn’t in the jungle though, he is in….”
“I DON’T CARE WHERE HE IS THAT’S NOT THE POINT!”
The call had ended abruptly after that.
I’d argued with him this morning too, as he had repeatedly asked I transport his charger to the hospital as he wanted to check the Newcastle team news and had been several hours without Facebook and Twitter.
Lee with daughter Livia
I had replied, somewhat forcefully, that I had our two-year-old daughter to feed and get to nursery on time, a fully day of clients and Tribunals and then the nursery pick up.
I was not, therefore, particularly receptive to a phone charger recovery mission. If only Ross Kemp had been on board.
And, as I only I could, I informed Lee very strongly of this point. By strongly, I mean I had all but yelled down the phone my thoughts.
I had concluded with my usual Advocate’s flourish, his social media followers would have to wait for more of his riveting updates as I was busy picking through the mess his hospital admission had caused with childcare and the house work. When he had called prior to my leaving the office, I had wrestled with my stubbornness, but had decided to take the call.
“Yes?” I had replied briskly, “I’m on my way out, so be quick.”
I had heard a voice on the line, quite different to my husband’s voice I had grown used to over the 10 years I had known him. I expected a booming sound, with laughter not too far behind. Instead I had strained to listed to a hushed and terrified whisper.
“I’ve got bowel cancer.”
No pre-amble. No warning. No invitation to sit down. No safety demonstration. No adopting the brace position.
“You’ve got what?”
For someone who makes a living out of addressing a Court, I was lost for words.
“Bowel cancer. Aimes they think it’s in my liver too…..can you come now?”
And that’s where I had found myself. Walking like a black cladded zombie from my office into the office of one of the partners of the firm. I quickly ended the call to Lee by telling him I’d be on my way.
I didn’t say good bye and I didn’t say I love you. Just told him I was coming.
I explained to the Partner that I had to leave, that Lee was confused at the hospital and thought he had cancer. I explained he was not good in situations of stress and didn’t really absorb information, astounded at the lies that were tumbling out of my mouth like some sort of verbally inaccurate waterfall.
The Partner asked how I was getting to the hospital, her gaze travelling down to my small and impractical leopard print pumps. I stared at her, blankly.
I realised more time had passed. I didn’t like the feeling. I felt a strange sensation around my throat, like ice cold branches tightening their grip. Fire ants were running up and down my spine. The April sunshine was making my fringe stick to my head.
Walk. To the hospital. It was nearly an hour away by foot. Probably more if, like me, you veered towards the obesely unfit portion of society. I suddenly had a perverse image of my bed in A and E being pulled up next to Lee as I was hooked onto (or up to) a defibulator.
Someone kindly called a taxi.
The car bumped along and swerved through the traffic. I looked down at my phone. I had fallen out with a friend the evening before over his lack of effort in our friendship. I had been upset and stressed at Lee’s hospital admission and the fact that I had work to do and the house was not spotless, and so had decided to have an emotional melt down over something minor.
As opposed to what? Admitting I was worried.
Or admitting I was scared.
Nothing from the friend. I shoved my phone into my pocket. Why on earth weren’t people messaging me to check I was ok?
I remembered that nobody knew. I hadn’t told anybody. Many adjectives could be applied to my close circle of friends and family, but, mind readers they were not.
I began to type a message:
Hiya? Really? I deleted.
Am I American? Deleted.
I’m not addressing the Court. I once again shove the phone into my pocket.
I remember the last time I’d come in to the hospital from this entrance. I’d been 32 weeks pregnant with small and, true to her diva like tendencies inherited from her mother, her head had become “engaged” just as I was about to address the Royal Court in a child sex case. I’d been waddling around like a human Ker-Plunk, insisting I was in labour. I’d called Lee and demanded he leave work and attend to me immediately.
He’d taken five minutes to get to me.
I’d been crying and hyperventaling, convinced I was losing the baby. I’d begged the nurses to check there was a heartbeat, which of course, there was. I’d buried my face into the shoulder of Lee’s new Ralph Lauren polo shirt, leaving a mixture of snot and mascara on the sleeve like the shroud of Turin.
He hadn’t minded, and whilst he had tried to be brave I caught him let out a baring perceptible sigh of relief when the nurses confirmed our daughter was fine.
That’s what I thought would happen this time. There would be panic and hysteria and then the awkward thankful calm when the medical all clear was given.
I was feeling reasonably chirpy when I entered the ward. I was shown by the very kind nurse to Lee’s room.
A figure was slumped in a chair by the window. It takes me a few seconds to realise its Lee.
He didn’t speak.
He couldn’t raise his eyes to meet mine.
Instead, he pointed to his wrist. He has a tattoo on his wrist, the name of our daughter, “Livia”.
He bursts into tears. It’s a sound I don’t want to hear.
What can I tell him? Not to worry? It will be ok? The doctors have to tell a patient all the risks?
My throat was dry, and I felt the twigs of dread getting stuck, preventing any sound of escaping. I wanted to hug him, through my arms around those giant shoulders and tell him I love him, that it will be alright and that I can make it all better.
Instead, my feet were routed to the spot and I couldn’t move. I stand across the room, looking at him like the world’s worst mime artist. At last some words come.
“I forgot your charger.”
Lady Elsie with Amy and Scott
Amy and Lee’s brother, Scott, are fundraising for us through Hike4Hopey – a serious of fundraising events including a 333 mile walk from Ipswich to Newcastle. The walkers are currently in Cambridgeshire on day three of the 12 mile challenge.