There are some surprises about cancer, muses Neil Rankin. You gain an extensive anatomical knowledge (did you know your right lung has three chambers?), you start to enjoy wearing pink Lycra and you realise you can’t live without racing pigeons.
It is this and much more that the grandfather-of-two will be talking about at a friendly new two-hour drop-in session in Whitfield he has launched on the last Thursday of every month.
“For me talking is great therapy and if we can help one other person or a friend or family member with cancer in their lives then it will have been worth it,” he said.
Neil heard the oncologist speak the words no one wants to hear in 2017. Lung cancer. Yes he had smoked, par for the course in a career spent in marine and transportation environments. It was still a Richter scale shock. A routine x-ray was to alter the trajectory of his life and those around him for good.
Trips to London hospitals, painful operations and chemotherapy followed – as did a repeat performance with his left lung a year later. The care he has received has been exemplary and he talks about his medical team as friends.
Neil and his family were warned of the odds that he might not make that Christmas. Six years on, he is looking ahead to his 70th birthday in December. He is now living with cancer. He is living well with cancer. “I have three-monthly phone calls with the doctor and we have a laugh. I was a sportsman and the fatigue has put pay to that, but I have a different life now. I am here and I do enjoy life.”
Replacing his running and rugby training are new pastimes – morning tea and toast on his bed, with his granddaughter Summer, seven, who lets herself in from next door most mornings. And he has good friends who keep racing pigeons just over a mile away and he finds they make his spirit soar. “Ironically the pigeons have kept my feet on the ground. You still need a routine, albeit a new one. I don’t go in the loft because of my chest, but the birds are coming from Marseille or Perpignan or Barcelona and when you see them folding their wings up and gliding in, there’s real adrenalin. That is really great.”
As for the pink Lycra? He ironed his cerise spangles for Smart’s 10th birthday party in July and thought he would bedazzle in it again to make a few others smile. Neil added: “I have always needed to talk about it. Others will do too. If you have you been impacted by cancer in anyway, come and join us in a safe space to talk, listen, laugh or cry with people in similar situations.
“Whoever you are, whatever your age, we are here to support you.”
The Dover Smart Cancer Support Group is free.
Dates are booked in up until the end of November.
It will be held at the Whitfield Club in Napchester Road, CT16 3JD, between 10am and 12pm on:
• 31 August
• 28 September
• 26 October
• 30 November
Parking is free and there will be refreshments.
Find out more and see the map here: dover Smart Cancer support group