March 14th, 2003.

Friday's song.

Imagine the scene. You're not feeling too good, you feel pretty sick, and you've been feeling this way for quite a few weeks now. But you're one of those kind of people who just tends to 'tough it out' and work on through whatever it is.

This time, however, you can't seem to shake it off. In fact, you're getting worse. The coughing and the tiredness are getting you down. You know something isn't right and so you make an appointment to see your doctor, albeit begrudgingly.

The doctor does what doctors do. He pokes and prods you, asks you loads of questions then makes appointments for a whole series of tests that are surely going to amount to very little. But you'll go for the tests, after all, you just want to be better because this sickness thing just isn't your scene.

A few weeks later you have another appointment to see your doctor and get the test results. You go to the appointment alone. It's the usual thing, you wait in the waiting room scanning through the slightly tatty magazines on the coffee table.

Eventually, it's your turn to see the doctor and now for some reason, you've become nervous. Tests are essential to learning what the problem is right? These results will enable the doctor to make you better, to get you back in the game. You'll be fine, it'll all be fine... won't it?

You're doctor asks you the usual stuff. How have you been feeling, etc etc. You answer, it's all routine stuff. But what about those test results, what's the score doctor?

"I'm afraid there is no easy way to say this."

The opening line sends a shiver down your spine. Whatever comes next isn't going to be good. If a doctor is saying that there is no easy way to say this, then the chances are this is going to be very bad.

"You have cancer."

Right at that moment, the world stops. The air in the room seems to turn to ice in an instant and your insides feel like they are about to bust. The doctor keeps talking but his words are just a muffled blur to you now. You watch his lips but you can't hear him because your head is becoming overrun with more thoughts than you can make sense of.

You went to the doctor wondering how much time this would take, and now you leave wondering how much time you have left.

It must be an unimaginably difficult experience, and surely the first of many.

Eighteen months ago my friend Bettie was pretty much in that very situation. She hadn't been feeling at all well for quite some time, but being a fighter meant that she would soldier on until it was necessary to go see the doctor.

She had beaten off cancer a few years earlier. It had been in remission for long enough for life to return to normal and to feel safe once more. She was back working at one of the two hairdressing salons she owned, enjoying being the boss and being busy again.

Although it was terrible news to discover that the cancer was back, she later told me she knew it had returned even before she went for the tests. This time it was lung cancer and the doctor told her to enjoy the coming Christmas because it would be her last. How on earth do you cope with something like that?

Bettie coped just as anyone who knew her would have expected her to, she just got on with life. And even though she started chemotherapy straight away, she still ran both the salons and was still very much in charge of the show, only now she was making preparations to slow down. She even joked with me saying that she was just taking early retirement.

Christmas came and went. She spent it, as planned, with her family. it was by all accounts a great Christmas, one of the best.

Through the next few months, Bettie began to return to her normal self. The treatment seemed to be doing the trick. This tough lady was once again going to beat this thing, and in a way, I wasn't at all surprised. Bettie is a successful businesswoman and tough by anyone's standards.

Because of the chemotherapy, she lost her hair, but that didn't stop her from coming out with us all one night. She wore a wig but complained that it made her too hot, so it was often be comically discarded. She didn't seem ill, at least not to me.

More tests revealed that the chemotherapy hadn't worked. Treatment wasn't helping, the cancer had spread and there was now very little the doctors could do. Suddenly the focus was once again on the question on time. I asked her what she was going to do, and in the brutally direct style she had made her own, she just looked at me and simply said "Die."

That was last summer though. Since then Bettie has seen a Christmas she was never supposed to. Sold one of her salons to Rachel, a member of staff, and a girl she once told me she considered to be her "second daughter", and a few weeks ago she told me that all she wanted to see was her daughter, Wenda, settle into the house she had just bought with her boyfriend.

I've tried to see her a few times since then, but she's been having more bad days than good days recently, and her husband George said she needed a lot of rest. I can understand that of course.

Last week after a party we dropped Wenda and her boyfriend off at their house. She said it was still a bit of a mess, the way houses can be when you're doing a lot of remodeling and such. But this was going to be the first night they stayed there, and that week they finally moved in.

This morning Lucy, one of the hairdressers from the salon I live above, shouted up to me asking me to come downstairs. On my way down I looked out of my lounge window. I couldn't see Wenda's car.

Lucy was stood just inside my kitchen door with Sarah, one of the other hairdressers. I knew right away what they were going to tell me. They needn't have said the words, their expressions were easy to read.

Bettie died in the early hours of this morning.