Last week our friend Andy Godden passed away after a battle with bowel cancer. Whilst his passing has prompted feelings of sadness and loss it will be the uplifting inspiration of his conduct during the illness that will be the lasting memory. He explains his own attitude to his diagnosis much better than I can in this Liverpool Echo piece but what struck me and how many others was how he showed a mental strength that is hard to conceive in ourselves, even in times much more fortuitous than his.
From his first social at Sefton Park CC, a sports quiz in the weary winter months, he settled right in. Off the field he was a friendly, funny guy who mixed with all and made efforts to make everyone welcome in his company. On the field, he battled his hardest in every over and innings. He loved playing the game despite, as disclosed by himself in various amusing ways, his limited ability. He worked his socks off though and took as much or perhaps more joy from the success of others and the bond of the team. I can’t describe how well he balanced wanting to win with an overall respect for the game as a whole.
Prior to the 2017 season he quietly informed me of his diagnosis. I was taken aback by the news but then thrown off even further when he refused to use it as an excuse. He pushed himself just as hard to take the shine off the new ball or stop the single as he had in better health. Each incremental achievement- a sharp catch at cover, a cut for four- was reward for his persistence. His grit brought out the best in others too. Surely we could push a bit harder when Andy is battling away as before to help the team?
No-one felt sorry for him. He didn’t give off any feelings of self pity to let us. Alongside all the ‘bucket list’ style adventures outside of the sport that he approached with his usual verve, a big part of him seizing the time he had left was playing cricket. Something that is taken for granted by many of us, considered routine each summer. His eagerness to stay involved made sense. It’s hard to explain what team sport does for you but if you know, you know.
In the months before his passing we discussed the concept of “It’s Not Weak To Speak”, a feature of our campaign rooted in mental illness but just as relevant in all areas of health. I made promise to him that I, and Opening Up by extension, would do what we could to further encourage people to seek medical help when encountering symptoms and signs that point to things not being right. His advocacy from Opening Up, supporting so many of our events, promotions and campaigns, came from a desire to help others lead happy lives.
The simple fact is that too many are dying young when a conversation could have prevented it. The problem seems to be particularly prevalent in males, perhaps centred around an idea we can tough it out, that we don’t want to make a fuss or whatever else. Many are gambling, unknowingly, that an hour sat in the waiting room at the doctors isn’t worth the time and they’ll get better alone.
Andy’s bravery and dignity were unsurprising given the nature of a man who was a warm, supportive presence in the dressing room and wider cricket club. We’ll continue to hold him in high regard and recall in awe a friend that showed us a perfect example of how to engage with challenges. It is also necessary to have a sharper, less comforting memory of him- the reminder that the conversation about seeking help needs to translate to action. In our chats about this he was impassioned by a desire for others to not follow the path he did. Our tribute to him must be to respect that wish.