On 28 January 2016, a Thursday morning, I glanced at my phone before leaving for work.
Two texts. One bank statement, and another from Kerry. Always glad to hear from my lovely friend, who I no longer have the good fortune to work with, or live near, I opened her text.
“Just wanted you to know, in case you heard anything, but it looks likely that Felix has leukaemia. Didn’t want you to hear on the grapevine “.
How do you react to news like that? Once I had digested the information, and thought about Felix and indeed his whole family, does it reflect badly on me that I probably almost immediately had to suppress the realisation that a terrible part of me felt subconsciously thankful or relieved or I don’t know what, that it wasn’t one of my own children?
Over the next few days, having sent a pathetically worded reply to Kerry’s text, and left an equally crass voicemail (what do you say to a friend who is experiencing such a situation, without resorting to a tirade of clichés like “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help”) a “Business as usual” approach to our relationship soon resurfaced. Looking back today at our texts, I see that I waited a whole five days to move from a slightly reverential tone, to a tentative enquiry whether I might be permitted to “post some silly advice in the Facebook group, whilst trying not to look like an insensitive bell end”.
Kerry’s reply that they needed “sarcasm and shit because sympathy makes them cry”, was a welcome sign that beneath the shock, anger and bewilderment of her situation, the Kerry I have always known, loved and admired was not buried so deeply that she couldn’t, at times, resurface.
As Felix began his treatment, I needed to tell my own kids about his illness. They asked all the questions which kids do, and which adults wouldn’t dare. There is a certain bluntness to “is he going to die?”, isn’t there? Then, the perhaps inevitable conclusion by my then nine-year-old, that she could also contract leukaemia aged 10. A conclusion which, as a parent, you can definitely put into context (it’s extremely unlikely), but can’t categorically disregard, if we are being totally truthful with our kids.
And then, as Felix was supported by the AFCB squad, and Eddie Howe, we had the interesting reaction from the kids, that Felix was “the luckiest boy in the world”. This did lead to discussions about whether these two AFCB mad girls would be prepared to go through everything Fe had, in order to share a cuppa with Eddie… It was clear to see that the reaction of the club played a major part in keeping the whole of Team Brown on something of an even keel, and it was actually when attending a match that the reality of Fe’s condition really struck me.
Leaving the match, I caught up with Dylan and Felix. Fe was in the middle of a heavy duty phase of treatment. His hair had gone, he was bloated by steroids and his lips were blue from the cold. I remember feeling really shocked when I saw him, and it is probably the image I will carry of him when I think back on this period of the Browns’ life in years to come.
Thank goodness then, that I can now contrast this image with that of the boy I paddleboarded with last week. Bar a couple of faint scars, you wouldn’t give this healthy looking, tanned 11-year-old a second glance. That doesn’t mean that he’s not still bound by the routines of his treatment, of course, but there is certainly a sense that Fe, his hilarious older sister, adorable younger brother and remarkable mum and dad, have turned a corner.
If ever there was someone who, after a spectacular day or two of constant weeping, (a trait which dates back to well before Felix’s diagnosis) will pick themself up, dust themself off, take a situation by the short and curlies, and beat the crap out of it until it looks like an opportunity for positive new beginnings, it is our very own Mrs Brown.