I would like to introduce you all to the beautiful human being that is Mr Craig Sutcliffe. We go back a long way and he kindly invited me into his home today, after ten years of very occasional internet contact. It was awesome to catch up with him.
If you ask him what he’d do with a lottery win, he will tell you that not only would he buy each of his family members their houses (of which there are many), but he’s also worked out how to save them from paying extra tax money in the process. This is a man who has given this plan some serious thought!
He’s the youngest of five brothers and sisters, a much loved tutor at the local school (which he used to attend as a pupil), currently rents a farmhouse belonging to a family of Bacon’s (!!!) and had never taken a sick day in his life. Until now…
How it started
As soon as Craig pulled into the car park, I recognised him by the huge grin on his face. All 6’5″ of him barely fits into his spacious blue Escort and his Will Ferrell-type humour had my mascara running within minutes. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that he’s a child at heart; he ruined a suit last year at a wedding due to sliding around the dance-floor on his knees, he’s always watching re-runs of cartoons and loves embarrassing people in public. He doesn’t often like to do what he’s told either; rock climbing with a severed tendon in his hand, for example. But I think this is what makes him so good at his job; he’d rather eat lunch in the dinner-hall than in the teacher’s lounge and it’s clear to everyone that his students love him.
In August of last year, Craig started to suffer from intense chest pains. He’s always been an active person but he began to feel out of breath when simply climbing the stairs. He went to the doctors, who signed it off as a digestion issue, and they sent him home with a drug prescription. The pains started to get worse, breathing got harder for him and more symptoms started to appear. The following February (2013), shortly after a test for Asthma, Craig was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Stage 3b. Cancer.
An X-ray showed that his ribcage was barely visible due to the size of the tumour.
I’ve personally had nightmares about being told this kind of news because statistics say that 1 in 4 people have to hear they have cancer at some point in their lives. Three doctors told Craig that, due to the aggressive nature of the tumour, they were surprised he was still up and walking around. They were probably even more surprised by his ‘let’s get on with it’ reaction: “Thanks, fix me…”.
When I first met him over a decade ago, he had hair down to his shoulders – often tied back with a bandana, facial hair that did as it pleased and eyebrows that resembled shocked caterpillars (you know it’s true, Craig). The day he heard the news he shaved off his hair (still sporting a slight goatee) and instantly picked up the nickname Walter White from his cheeky, unsuspecting students. They have been incredibly kind/upset since hearing the news, emailing him their best wishes and suggesting that the other teachers send him crates and crates of beer to cheer him up. How very well they know him! Seeing him today was a huge shock to the system and with little hair he looked even taller! However; the same bubbly personality shone through and washed away any stranger-like feelings almost instantly.
Since being diagnosed
Since February Craig has taken 120 steroids (completed in the first week – that’s more than 20 a day), had seven sessions of chemotherapy (the longest being 5 and a half hours and he has 5 sessions left to attend), injects himself with bone marrow drugs 3 days out of every 14 and takes multiple tablets to ease the side-effects caused by all of the above.
After the chemotherapy he will have to do the standard 12 sessions of radiotherapy in 14 days. And then he can think about going back to work, which he took leave from in March.
The tumour is no longer ‘living’ and has started to shrink, he’s had a lot of problems with collapsing arteries but they have now been resolved and he’s one hell of a fighter. He denies himself time for modesty but it’s not hard to be impressed with his attitude: “It’s frustrating when I feel held back but I try not to feel sorry for myself. I don’t wonder ‘what if…’ or ‘why me?’ I just get on with it. That’s how I’ve always been.”
And he’s not wrong; since having to spend time off work he’s kept himself busy with multiple projects like building furniture and guitars from scratch! He says that time has never passed faster, probably because he’s constantly anticipating the next chemotherapy session, but he hopes that it slows down again once he’s better.
He’s made himself a workshop and even put together his own tools, he’s still not doing exactly as he’s told (he’s supposed to avoid getting cuts or scrapes wherever possible) but his ‘botch jobs’ look fantastic to me! I have taken some photos of his workshop and tools below.
He says that when his hair grows back, he hopes it resembles that of Philip Scofield. Ha! Me too, Craig. Me too. Although I’m not sure Philip’s hair was quite as “funky” at 27.
Why he opened up
When I asked Craig why he let me write about his current situation he said: “I don’t think cancer should have such a stigma around it. It’s been weird for me – having the tables turned like this – you know? I’m usually the one looking after everyone else.” He’s been overwhelmed by the generosity of people; wanting to thank them for all their gifts and kind words. He feels like this unlucky situation has brought his family together and more than anything he’s really happy to now be working towards a solution. Getting better.
Another major point he wanted to make was that once it’s over, he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. He doesn’t want to be labelled as ‘the guy who had cancer’ and I can totally understand that. It’s not that this isn’t something to be proud of; overcoming such a destructive illness is an amazing and noteworthy feat. It’s that, for Craig, there has been no other choice.
I was so grateful for his time and have a lot of respect for Craig. He said “literally you can ask me anything and I’ll tell you”. I had no idea what was involved in such a rarely talked about illness and above anything else I hope he had as much fun catching up with me as I did with him. I had arrived emotionally prepared which was totally the wrong thing to do; I should have invested in a girdle to prepare myself for how much he made me laugh.
I took some photos of the farm where he currently lives and of Craig doing his usual hands-on work around the house. I got a full tour of his home and workshop, was made a huge bacon sandwich and even had an exclusive performance of one of my favourite City & Colour songs. Enjoy the photos!