The Equaliser

The Labour politician Frank Field (Lord Field of Birkenhead) has died aged 81. He had prostate cancer.

Back in 2015 I had my own fight with that disease. Actually, it was less of a fight, and more a minor altercation. A fracas, or an array. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and had an orchidectomy the next day. 

An instant cure, which I’ve always thought as Nature’s cruel contribution to the inequality of sexes. Some uniquely female cancers are not so easily dealt with and are just as deadly as they were a generation ago

Following my diagnosis and operation I was placed under surveillance at the (then) new Guy’s Cancer Centre at London Bridge. Like an Apple Store, there is a touch screen log-in system, and you wait in the concrete-and-wood waiting area for your name to flash up on the screen. 

I always noticed the diversity of names on the board. People descended from all parts of these islands, and the world. All in it together.

One morning I wrote down the names on the screen: Adebayo, Saunders, O’Leary, Jones, Patel, Mafukose, Yu, Sharp, and Field.

Despite being the grandest, most influential person in the waiting room, Frank sat on the benches beside us. More than one person recognised him and was drawn to his side, and he was happy to chat away as if we were on a seaside promenade. 

I only spoke to him briefly, conscious that were I to properly engage him in conversation I would end up reminding him that we had actually met before. In 2007 he tagged-teamed with the Social Market Foundation to undermine Gordon Brown’s tax policy. I considered that last thing anyone needs before the indignity of a prostate exam is a conversation about the abolition of the 10p tax rate.

Nevertheless, his name on the board and his presence in the foyer was a reminder that cancer is a leveller. It is a disease that doesn’t care what country you’re from, what religion you have or the extent of your assets. This may be a trite thing to say, but what was interesting is how that truism caused people to behave. Frank Field’s amiability was unsurprising — everyone in the waiting room was like that. Human beings together, no more and no less, united by their fallible, treacherous bodies.

“It’s a strange experience taking so long to die.”

Frank Field

Aren’t we all dying? That’s Life, Frank.

Frank Sinatra, ‘That’s Life’

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