We were all very sad to learn that Daily Telegraph journalist Cassandra Jardine died this week after losing her valiant battle with lung cancer at the age of 57.
Cassandra helped to select Cancer Research UK as one of the charities to benefit from the Telegraph Christmas Appeal in 2010 and she wrote a number of heartfelt features in the paper that reflected our work as well as her own experience of lung cancer treatment.
As a result Telegraph readers raised almost a quarter of a million pounds for Cancer Research UK.
Cassandra continued to write about her disease with resilience and humour but without a shred of self-pity. Last year she was the deserving winner of both the Cancer Journalism Award and the Excellence in Oncology Award for her work.
Two weeks before her death she wrote about how she ignored a persistent dry cough – an early symptom of lung cancer. “Aged 55, I was too young and fit for lung cancer to cross my mind. Why would it strike a woman who had never smoked more than three cigarettes a day and had given up some years before?”
At a time when many of us might prefer to suffer in silence, Cassandra continued to work as well as looking after her husband and their five children. She blithely documented the ups and downs of her treatment, the chemotherapy, losing her hair and, in her final months, noted that the drain in her lung was a nuisance that spoiled her dress.
In a tribute her friend and colleague Rupert Christiansen, wrote: “Illness wasn’t something she could take lying down. I marvelled at her clear-eyed attitude to the prognosis and her compassion for those in an even worse condition than she was. Even two weeks ago, when her treatments had been stopped and she knew the end was close, she remained ebullient and optimistic.”
A little over a year ago she wrote this:
“I’m one of the lucky few. More than two thirds of those diagnosed with lung cancer die within a year; one of the two fifty-something women I know who were diagnosed at the same time as me is dead, the other is very sick. But the chemo worked for me. That doesn’t mean the cancer has gone away – it will grow back – but since January I have been able to work, cook, hit (tennis) balls (sometimes) and take the puppy for a walk. No longer do I have to operate my life by remote control, with loyal friends shopping, cooking and making my bed.
“As Easter approaches I marvel at the delicious sense of resurrection. I had forgotten what it is like to feel energetic. I no longer flinch when I see my ghostly appearance topped by wispy hair in the mirror. This return to normal began about two months after the final dose of poison in December when my face, which had been puffy, began to regain its normal shape. Most exciting of all, a fluff of new hair began to cover the shiny bits of scalp.
“For months I had longed for normal, and now I have it – sort of – I am not disappointed. Everything that used to be routine has a thrilling freshness. No one could appreciate the colour of a tulip, the warmth of the sun or even a trip in a rush-hour Tube more than someone who thought they might not experience those things again. Daily, I exchange emails with a reader in Derbyshire who, in a similar position, rhapsodises over the clouds and her children’s vagaries. Maybe everyone needs a dose of illness to appreciate the ordinary.”
Our thoughts are with Cassandra’s family and friends at this difficult time.