Last night tout Londres gathered at Daunt Books in the Fulham Road to celebrate Lucy O’Donnell, a formidable lady, and the launch of her book Cancer is My Teacher.
The evening was emotionally charged as Lucy was in her element, looking bright and beautiful – and full of her usual zest for life.
Here is the text of my short address on this moving occasion.
Ladies and gentlemen, today marks a special launch of a remarkable book written by Lucy O’Donnell, one of the beautiful daughters of Lady Vanessa Hannam, the distinguished historical novelist whose last two books were published by Quartet.
Cancer is My Teacher is a very moving account of the author’s struggle to stay alive, despite the ravages of an advanced cancer.
We are therefore assembled here to celebrate Lucy’s tenacity and her fight against all the odds, never to give in, but to carry on as if nothing has happened to devastate her normal life.
I first met Lucy about two years ago when I sat next to her at a dinner to mark the publication of one of her mother’s books and quite frankly was totally entranced by her energy, her joie de vivre and her natural capacity to make friends. Intelligent and determined, I found her to be a woman of many parts but always exuding a certain warmth that I would describe as her visiting card with some magic attached to it.
Despite the disruption that cancer can cause to one’s ordered life, Lucy never lost her spirit or whinged or complained about her ill-fate, but smiled throughout her ordeal as perhaps few people in her state of health could have done.
Her book is the story of courage and the stark determination of a young woman in the prime of her life who has astonished the world around her and, in particular, her close friends, for her combative power and her endurance in incredibly harsh circumstances which would have defeated most others.
She has more resilience than anyone I know and we are here to pay her the tribute she has rightly earned, for showing us the way of how to turn calamity into hope, and despair into strength.
This evening we must demonstrate how much we admire this indomitable woman by ensuring that each one in this room buys not only one copy, but a few copies of her book, even if they have to dig deep into their pockets – for her cause is not only admirable, but sacrosanct.
The more people buy the book the more hope they give for cancer sufferers as they follow Lucy’s example and say no to cancer, and utter the immortal words, ‘You shall not prevail.’