Page last updated at 07:22 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 08:22 UK

Stopping cancer having the last word

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Elle and Andrew
Elle and father Andrew Stewart

When actress Elle Seivwright remembers her father Andrew she can chuckle.

Her father died three years ago from lymphoma, but she prefers not to dwell on the illness that claimed his life, but rather to focus on his life itself.

So when she was approached by a cancer charity compiling a video archive of happy memories she was only to happy to contribute.

"I thought it was a good way of advertising a charity rather than somebody in a bed looking all sorrowful with a number coming up underneath it.

Funny tale

"I told a daft story about my father cutting the grass.

"He was quite vain about his appearance and his clothes and when he cut the grass he always looked dead smart.

Obviously his illness was horrible, but I like to have him immortalised in a positive way
Elle Seivwright

"He cut the grass while smoking a cigarette and looking like James Bond. It was quite a big lawn and he was out there for ages."

But she said that one day it had gone very wrong.

"It was a big petrol lawn-mower and it ran away from him and he went round and round in circles chasing it, Benny Hill style.

"It is a positive way to remember him. Obviously his illness was horrible, but I like to have him immortalised in a positive way."


Elle Seivwright: "My dad mowed the lawn looking like James Bond" - courtesy Association for International Cancer Research

The Association for International Cancer Research (AICR) is collating the positive clips for its campaign "Don't let cancer have the last word".

The idea of the archive is to create positive memories, which can be accessed by everyone through their website, which might help grieving relatives remember their loved ones in a positive light.

"When we lose someone to cancer we lose many things but their quirky little sayings, stories or jokes stay with us and help to keep their memory alive," said a spokeswoman.

Dr Mark Matfield, scientific adviser at the charity, agreed.

"It is obviously a very positive thing for all the family and friends who have died from cancer to focus on a positive memory because watching someone die from cancer can be very difficult and traumatic and tends to imprint itself on your memory," he said.

'Make me smile'

"This campaign in many ways offers the opportunity to have a positive memory of them.

"One of my roles with the charity is to deal with e-mails, letters and telephone calls re medical questions and although the person's husband, wife, child may have died years ago they still find it an incredibly traumatic thing.

"The death of someone from cancer can strike people very hard indeed and they are focusing on the death, but I suppose what you should be focusing on is the life of the person, because they have a life like everyone else."

He said this positive spin could even have a health benefit.

"This is not really something anyone has done before so nobody knows whether it will have a measurable positive effect," he said.

What you should be focusing on is the life of the person, because they have a life like everyone else
Dr Mark Matfield

"But I certainly hope it does; it will be a great bonus. We just think it is a good way of focusing on cancer as an issue and giving someone who has lost somebody to cancer the chance to think about them more positively."

Elle, from Prestwick, said her father had been a positive person, so it was good to remember him in a positive light.

"He had a good life and even when he was ill he never complained. I just can't remember him complaining once," she said.

"He just accepted it and dealt with it, which is in a way positive.

"I bought into that. We did not go around singing and dancing, but I was not melancholic around him.

"Privately I was obviously very upset, but when I was around him I did not want to reinforce the fact that he had something that was going to make him die.

"So I was not overly upbeat, but was quite positive around him."

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