Sending letters to those with cancer

Alison and Brian
Alison and Brian

Charlotte Harding talks to a woman bringing back the art of letter writing.

There are alot of things that technology seems to have replaced. Many years ago the thud of post through the letterbox would excite rather than fill you with dread for the impending doom of bills.

But with the popularity of social networks and emails the art of sending letters seems to have been lost.

This is one of the reasons why when Alison Hitchcock found out her friend Brian Greenley had stage four bowel cancer she made it her mission to send him letters.

“A lot of effort has to go into writing a letter,” reveals Alison.

“You have to be considered and think about the paper you want to use, get a stamp, envelope and think about what you want to write down.

“Thought goes into a letter.”

It was after a while in the pub that the idea came about.

“Brian thinks I only said it because I didn’t know what else to say,” explains Alison.

“I thought it would be a good way to cheer him up.”

Over the course of two years Alison sent Brian a letter a week listing her various travels, the people she came across and the conversations she had overheard.

“Brian never replied but then I never expected him to,” says Alison.

“Our friendship grew considerably during this time. We went from acquaintances to best friends I suppose.

“When he was given the all clear I still carried on writing to him but with less frequency, as your life doesn’t just snap straight back after you are given the all clear from cancer.”

The idea to share what they were doing with others came after they took part in the BBC’s Listening Project.

The pair had seen it was stopping at St Catherine’s Hospice in Crawley as part of a nationwide tour and decided to go along and talk about their friendship.

“The producer on the show was so enthusiastic about what we were doing it made us think we should do something more with it,” smiles Alison.

“And in a strange twist of fate a day or so later someone got in touch with me through my website and asked if they could take part.

“Friends and family tell you that you are doing something good but it is when other people tell you that you listen.”

Launching its website in October 2016 the first plan is to hold workshops for people who want to write letters to their friends or family who have been diagnosed with cancer.

“People don’t know what to say and sometimes many find themselves distancing themselves from loved ones for that reason,” says Alison.

“We look at that and more in the workshops to help people deal with what they are going through and to help those they love.”

Those that have attended the workshops do so for many different reasons, one found it useful to write to a loved one with cancer but also decided she would get a group together to write to a friend who has bipolar who they don’t always see.

While another woman started her letter in the workshop but carried it on at home.

“She got in touch the next day to say she had written six pages to her friend who had passed away some years ago,” reveals Alison.

“She pulled away when her friend was diagnosed and used the letter as a way to tell her all the things she couldn’t. The morning after she called her friend’s mother and talked to her for ages.”

Writing the letters to Brian also helped Alison to launch a career in writing, something she had never considered before.

“He showed my letters to someone and they said about how good they were,” she says.

“I have since written a number of short stories and a novel.

Planning for the future Alison would love for people with and without cancer to get in touch that want to get involved, with strangers writing to other strangers.

“We have only just started but we would love to grow and do more to help people and share some happiness,” she smiles.

And while the reason for the letters may not be joyful it is always lovely to get something through the post from the heart.

For more information on From Me To You Letters, and find out about the next workshops visit frommetoyouletters.co.uk

This first appeared in the March edition of etc Magazine, pick up your copy now.