It’s a no-brainer, really. Terminal illness isn’t something you can tackle on your own. It isn’t even something a couple can tackle on their own – at least, not without putting a (potentially terminal) strain on even the best relationship.

A diagnosis like that inevitably means you need to look beyond your closest circle for support. Which – for some of us – could mean a radical reassessment of our lives.

Me? I’ve been lucky. (Apart from the obvious, of course…) Yes, I have a happy and stable marriage with a loving partner who’s been with me for 33 1/3 years (or thereabouts) at the time of writing. (We thought that was worth celebrating, given the way Covid banjaxed our 30th anniversary…) And – on her side at least – we have a supportive and helpful family. (My English family are all but extinct, and my lovely Danish family are not really in a position to help, except remotely.)

But that’s not really what I’m talking about.

When you tell people something really significant – in particular, if you tell them you have a life-changing illness – they will inevitably respond. There’ll be the usual crop of ‘thoughts and prayers’ (which, understandably, is often because they have no idea what to say). There’ll be the (rather vague) offers of help, again because people aren’t sure what you need. (Again, understandably.) And there’ll be a small but select group of people who offer something tangible. (In my case Masses for my intention – and yes, that’s important to me – transport to and from appointments, and other help with getting about when, initially, I didn’t feel safe to drive.)

But there’s another dimension here. Because at a time like this you start to hear what people like about you. The things they would normally be too shy or too reticent to say. (And which, in other contexts, might sound like flattery.) And that, for me, was a revelation.

Anyone who knows me knows I try to live my faith. Not always very well, but I try. Which means putting myself at the service of the community. My church community (as a cantor, a reader a musician, and a webmaster). My village community (as elected Chair of the Parish Council). And my business community (as – at least until recently – Chair of Stowmarket & District Chamber of Commerce.)

The response – from all these communities – staggered me. Again and again someone would say ‘you give so much, it’s time you got something back’. I didn’t think I’d done all that much, to be honest, but other people clearly think differently. And the love, sympathy, encouragement, and real practical help that has come back at me is almost overwhelming. I feel humbled.

And definitely not alone.