• Mark Wilkinson

What a friend's terminal bad luck has taught me

However bad you think you have it it’s worth remembering there are always people a lot worse off than you. Your malaise is likely due to your own overly critical self-judgment and absence of perspective. You therefore owe it to yourself to make the best of what you have. You also owe it to those without the opportunities afforded to you, however poorly you consider yourself to be compared to those you perceive as having more than you. That’s irrelevant. What you have, along with your attitude is all that really matters. So be grateful for what you have and do your best.

This is something I was reminded of quite a profoundly recently when I went to visit one of my best friends. He has a brain tumour and tragically is likely to die by the summer. Let me tell you about him. He is one of the nicest, most conscientious, thoughtful, and diligent people I know. He worked the last fifteen years for a public body playing a key role on a project team and helping it earn an award for outstanding performance. Last year he quit, largely from frustration that after years of service he wasn’t getting promoted. He planned to take a holiday to explore Japan for a few months then return to find a new job in which to fulfil his potential.

During summer 2019 he complained of an aching neck and didn’t make our usual weekly Friday coffee meeting. Two weeks past. He didn’t reply to my texts. I then got a call from his brother to say he was recovering in hospital after having surgery to remove a large brain tumour. A few months later we spent a day together in Cornwall where we both happened to be visiting. To my relief he seemed more or less back to his usual self, albeit being a little unsteady on his feet having lost some of his peripheral vision. I thought that maybe his long term prognosis wasn’t as bad as I feared.

But being an aggressive tumour it just grew back.

My friend worked hard all his life, was super conscientious, and always tried to do the right thing. At age 51 he was looking forward to enjoying some well earned R and R then taking his career in an exciting new direction. None of that is going to happen now. Instead, by an incredible stroke of bad luck, he’s going to die and spend his remaining months mostly in bed, on painkillers, with impaired sight and rapidly deteriorating health.

I am prone to ruminating over the things I lack – a good job in which I can fulfil my potential, a wife, a spacious modern equipped kitchen, enough money to go on nice holidays. Or cursing my bad luck - denting the car, losing money on an investment fund, missing out on an opportunity. When I met my friend recently, the first time since Cornwall, all my problems paled into insignificance. I’m in rude health. At age 48 I still have plenty of time to achieve my goals in life. Providing I’m careful and look after myself I’m not going to die any time soon let alone this year.

While I feel profoundly sorry for my friend for the incredible bad luck he’s fallen victim to, it’s taught me a valuable lesson. We’ll always fall foul of bad luck, but some experience it on a different magnitude altogether, one that can serve only one good purpose. To be bloody grateful for what we have, and to always do our best. Because there are always others who would be only too glad to change places with us. And we owe it to them and to ourselves to live by this simple, life affirming principle every day.

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