When Valerie Richards first listened to rock ballad The Long Road, she cried.
The emotive words struck a chord with Valerie, who had been diagnosed with cancer and battled through months of turmoil and exhausting treatment.
But the biggest reason for the emotional outburst was that her son Vince was singing the track to her down the phone.
Those lyrics meant so much because Vince – singer with local band Free From Gravity – had penned the song about his mum’s ordeal.
And now it was getting its first airing – to Valerie while she was hundreds of miles away in Spain and walking home from a hospital appointment.
‘I was walking down the road crying my eyes out,’ says Valerie. ‘It was the fact he’d written it and the words were so personal. It was about the support I was getting from family and friends.
‘But it could be about anyone. So many people go through this and I think a lot of people can relate to it.’
Vince, who lives in Port Solent, had written the song after visiting his mum in Spain during her treatment for non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) – a cancer that starts in the lymph nodes and lymphatic system.
Seeing Valerie, who had always been so spirited and strong-willed, lying ill in a hospital bed was a tough moment – and one that inspired the opening line of his song (see right).
‘I walked into the room and saw this skeletal lady with no hair,’ he explains. ‘I thought I had the wrong room and then I thought “I recognise those eyes” and said “hi mum, how are you doing?.’
But it wasn’t long before mother and son were joking and laughing as he sat by her bed.
‘We always end up doing that,’ says Vince. ‘I said ‘‘ see the cancer diet’s working’’ and we just ended up chatting like we do.’
But the moment had made a huge impact and when he returned to the UK Vince picked up his guitar and began playing with chords and words.
The song is about the support Valerie’s family and friends offered during an appalling time.
And now that the 70-year-old is clear of cancer, it’s also about her incredible recovery.
Diagnosed in the summer of 2010, Valerie’s situation was looking bleak. Her tumour was having an impact on her lungs, although the cancer hadn’t spread.
But by December of that year – and after she returned to live in the UK – she heard her treatment had been a success and she was clear of cancer.
Mum and son say her recovery is amazing and believe that complementary therapies might have contributed.
But Vince also admits that he never had any doubt in his mind that his mum would recover.
‘She’s always been a strong figure, I’m a strong person and I get that from my mum,’ says the 50-year-old business owner.
‘When we were ill as kids there was a lot of mother’s love but then it was “get off your backside and get to school”. I knew she would fight this in any way she could.’
At one point doctors seemed to be preparing Vince and the rest of the family for the worst. He says: ‘I told them “I’m sorry, you really don’t know my mum. She’ll survive this.’
Valerie had chemotherapy but Vince and his sister Carol also started looking around for anything else that might help.
They both came across stories of people who had taken bicarbonate of soda and followed diets rich with high alkaline vegetables.
The idea is that cancer cells enjoy an acidic environment and baking soda and some foods may raise alkaline levels.
Valerie took the bicarbonate of soda each day with maple syrup, which they believe acted as an agent.
‘Obviously I had the chemotherapy but whether the other things helped I don’t know,’ admits Valerie. ‘The diet was certainly very healthy. And I had people praying for me.
‘All I can say is the doctors were extremely surprised at how quickly it had cleared up.’
Vince and the band are now performing a gig to raise money for a charity he discovered after his mum’s experience.
Yes To Life offers support to cancer patients and gives information on integrative treatments – methods used alongside conventional medicine like chemotherapy.
Charity chairman Robin Daly says: ‘We’re supporting people who are taking what’s now called an integrative approach. It’s about looking at what might work with conventional medicine, taking a broader approach.’
He believes nutritional science isn’t being considered enough by medical practitioners.
Integrative therapies also include hyperthermia, a kind of heat treatment thought by some to work alongside chemotherapy.
Cancer Research UK believes in the importance of a healthy, balanced diet but says there is no scientific evidence certain foods can act as a cure.
It also says there is no evidence of sodium bicarbonate as an effective treatment for cancer, although researchers in the US are running a small clinical trial investigating whether sodium bicarbonate capsules can help to reduce cancer pain.
The charity is concerned, however, that higher doses may be harmful, and advises patients to see their GP before taking any complementary treatments.
Meanwhile, Valerie is just pleased to be here and able to listen to that song. ‘She still cries when she hears it,’ says Vince.
‘She came to see us at a gig in Brixton and was even crying there. I just hope it helps other people too.’
The Long Road
I saw you lying there, it was such a shock
It was plain to see how much your world was rocked
But you still have your inner strength
Your resolve will not be broke
Though you laughed a lot I could see the fright
Of the battle ahead, still you stand and fight
I know you will conquer this
But you’re never on your own
The long road has started
And you must be clear
Whenever you’re feeling down
We’ll all be here
When someone so dear suffers pain so clear
The hurt goes right to the heart
But you inspire hope with your attitude
And we know you’ll see it through
When you’re feeling down and nowhere to turn
The pain’s too much and it starts to burn
Remember we’re there for you
And we’ll carry what we can
The long road has started....
Take the long road to recovery
Take it one step at a time
You know that we’re there right by your side
Because the long road to recovery
Is painful and it’s slow
But you never need to walk it all alone
Because we’re there beside you
You fall, we’ll catch
And put you right back on track
But your spirit will see you through
The end is now in sight
You’ll walk the long road and you’ll be released
You’ll live your life like a bird released
Do all the things you’ve dreamed about
Now you do not have the fear
The long road has started....
Take the long road