George was a qualified Civil Engineer from Bootle in Liverpool and had spent most of his life working in education as a lecturer. His Myeloma diagnosis came completely 'out of the blue' after he sought advice from his GP for what he thought was just a virus, before that he'd literally never had a days illness. His treatments meant that he couldn't continue his lecturing and role as Head of Quality and Equality at Liverpool Community College which he had loved - life would never be the same again.
I was in my second year of undergraduate opera studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester when he was diagnosed. Thankfully I wasn't too far away from home in Liverpool and as my training progressed professional performance opportunities arose - I can honestly say in the eight years of his battle with the disease he and my mum Sue hardly missed being in the audience at concerts and operas. They were an amazing team and he was always determined to travel around the country during various stages of his Myeloma to be there to see me perform.
Alongside that positivity and determination there were many moments when it felt like we had run into brick walls and things looked bleak; tough days with lots of anxious time in hospital. It was like being on a rollercoaster, we really found the true meaning of 'one day at a time' and sometimes it became 'one hour at a time.' I guess we each have our own ways of coping ..I've always been a scribbler and I just kept on sketching throughout it all - pen and paper doodles that helped to take my mind off things and make people smile a bit.. sometimes the quirkier the better!:)
One day 'Dame Doo Dah' appeared in my sketchbook and George took one look at her and described what he thought her personality would be like. Later that day he handed me a piece of paper - he had totally brought her to life himself through his writing!:) From then onwards he began to create loads of funny biographies for all kinds of different characters with tonnes of stories for me to illustrate. You would often find him with his notebook sitting in the treatment rooms of the hospital writing away - even when he had limited mobility and could no longer walk he still found so much pleasure in writing.
The handwriting above with 'The Dame's story' belongs to George. It was a great focus to spend time together creating the stories and illustrations together.
George had never written anything fictional since his school days but out of adversity he explored his creative side. We could be facing long and worrying waiting times in the hospitals but time would fly when we used our imaginations. In fact, his enthusiasm for writing was such that I couldn't keep up with drawing illustrations at the same rate as he was imagining the characters! Every day we talked about new ideas, shared our observations of people, animals, places, nature and scenes that inspired us along the way.
Our lives did change but in many ways for the better - more than ever we appreciated finer details and saw with real clarity how precious time, love and life together is. He kept showing me the funny side of life through everything and that's so important and something I'll always be so grateful for.
There's a Schubert song I love singing called 'Frulingsglaube' translated it means 'Spring Faith.' It's a song about finding courage through the changing seasons in life. It says 'Do not be afraid.. even in the darkest, distant valleys flowers will still grow'. The stories and illustrations were like those little flowers to us that kept on growing even in the dark times.
Dame Doodah and friends..
Maybe you're reading this in a similar situation; in a waiting room somewhere, or going through tough times. Whoever you are, wherever you're at, this is up here for you.