IN 2010 Alison Hitchcock made an unusual offer to an acquaintance, Brian Greenley, who had been diagnosed with cancer – she offered to write letters to cheer him up while he was undergoing treatment.
She had no idea what possessed her – she barely knew Brian and didn’t imagine there was much humour to be had out of cancer. But two and a half years later Brian had defied the statistics and was cancer free, Alison had embarked on a writing career inspired by her letters and they had become best friends.
While Brian battled 3 bouts of cancer, was given a 10% chance of survival and struggled with the general unpleasantness of a colostomy bag, Alison was a 42 year old woman in search of a new career, a new love-life and purpose, distracting herself by writing witty letters to a man she barely knew.
Although she was putting on a brave face, she was feeling lost: life wasn’t working out, personally or professionally, and as she dithered and dabbled, it was writing to Brian, and following his own radical changes, which eventually led her to her passion: writing.
While the letters were only ever meant to amuse Brian, and his journal entries were only ever for himself, together they tell their story of friendship, following a passion, battling to stay alive and, above all, seeing the funny side.
In a final twist to the story, at the end of 2016, with Brian celebrating 4 years cancer-free, the two were recorded by Radio 4, telling the story of the letters, Brian’s recovery, and their friendship.
The positive response led to them setting up the charity, From Me to You, which inspires people to write letters to friends, family and strangers suffering from cancer; keeping them connected at a time they feel most disconnected.
The charity’s Donate A Letter programme has attracted thousands of letter writers from around the world, writing anonymous letters to cancer patients which the charity delivers to hospitals across the UK. This year alone the charity will distribute over 10,000 letters, supported by on-line and in-person workshops, presentations and collaborations with partner charities. With a very engaged online community, the charity has close to 10,000 of its own connected social media followers and many more through the extensive radio, TV and press coverage it has received.