Cancer victim wrote his final note before he died

PHOTO: Cancer victim wrote his final note before he died

When Paul Flanagan wrote his final note "On Finding Fulfilment" before he died two years ago, there's a likelihood he did not realise how he would reach out from the afterlife to touch first his family, and then the world.

It was a message that he had carefully crafted while he grappled with the pains of skin cancer, with death hovering over his shoulder.

It was a message for his two precious children on how they should live their lives. He wanted them to know and never forget that he loved them till his last breath. And beyond.

Mr Flanagan, 45, died on Nov 27, 2009, but it was only June this year that his wife Mandy discovered "the awesome list" by chance.

It was a list of 28 instructions for living a good life. And it has touched thousands of lives around the world after the Daily Mail published an interview with the widow recently.

"It's really so amazing," Mrs Flanagan, 44, told The New Paper on Sunday over the phone from her home in Old Oxted, UK.

"The messages of encouragement, support and appreciation just poured in, from friends and strangers alike.

"Knowing Paul, he'd probably be smiling in delight yet modestly brushing off any accolades."

She chanced upon the document that was "just sitting there in Paul's laptop all this time".

"I don't even really remember what I was looking for then," she said.

Etched forever in her memory is that mind-blowing moment when she saw her husband's note. "I was stunned," she said.

"At first, the tears just rolled down...but then I started laughing. It seemed so surreal but every point reflected the way Paul lived his life."

The coincidence in the timing of the discovery was especially meaningful: This year would have been their 10th wedding anniversary.

Mrs Flanagan said: "The kids (Thomas, 7, and Lucy, 3) and I have moved on with our lives, the way Paul would have wanted us to.

"But this was like the gift hidden deep under the Christmas tree, the one that would sock the breath out of you."

In her interview with Daily Mail, Mrs Flanagan said: "While we didn't have a perfect marriage - lots of love and laughs, but lots of arguments too - I realised when I read his words that when it came to the stuff that really matters in life, we were absolutely united."

Which is why now, this special list has earned itself a spot on the walls of their two-storey cottage, along with pictures of Mr Flanagan as a floppy-haired schoolboy, a handsome teenage rugby star, a newlywed, and a devoted dad.

"When he knew he was dying, there was no time for self-pity. He became absolutely focused on doing whatever he could to continue being a good dad to them throughout the years, even though he wouldn't be here in person."

He wrote them letters, filmed DVD messages, bought future birthday presents, and even filled a large chest with his favourite books.

Mrs Flanagan explained: "Each book is accompanied by a note to Thomas and Lucy explaining why Paul loved it, and how much he hoped they would too when they're old enough to read it."

The Head of Economics and Business Studies at Reigate Grammar School (RGS) was first diagnosed with skin cancer in 2004.

A birthmark on his chest had become malignant, and was swiftly removed in November that year, when Thomas was just a few months old.

In January 2008, after years of regular check-ups, he was given the all-clear. That was also when Mrs Flanagan was expecting Lucy.

Mrs Flanagan told Daily Mail: "He was such a positive person, but he never allowed himself to believe that the cancer had been dealt with."

Worst fears confirmed

In May 2008, a swelling appeared under Paul's arm and specialists quickly confirmed his worst fears. The cancer had spread to the lymph glands in his arms, and was detected in his neck soon after.

Surgery and radiotherapy did little to halt its progress.

By March the following year, scans showed that the cancer had spread to his brain. His condition was terminal.

But he didn't allow himself to wallow in self-pity, said Mrs Flanagan.

"The diagnosis and perhaps the drugs he was on triggered a sort of mania. He suddenly had so much energy," she added.

"While I lay awake upstairs worrying, Paul would work through the nights, determined to get his affairs in order."

Mr Flanagan meticulously organised the family's finances, arranged his own funeral, and even bought his own memorial bench for the school grounds of RGS where he had taught since 2003.

He also set up a cricket team for all of his friends, who now play annual memorial matches to raise money for the Melanoma Foundation.

In an address during assembly three days after Mr Flanagan's death, the school's headmaster, Mr David Thomas said: "Paul accepted his cancer with both courage and serenity.

"He realised very quickly that his chances of survival were very low, and he set about putting his life in order. He made sure that his family was provided for, he visited future schools for his children and he made it a point to visit old friends."

One of the things that Mr Flanagan had insisted on doing even as his health deteriorated was to go shopping for Thomas' and Lucy's 18th and 21st birthday presents.

Mrs Flanagan said: "We went to a jewellers in Spitalfields market in London to buy Lucy an eternity ring for her 21st.

"When the woman at the counter asked: 'Is it the right size?', Paul and I just looked blankly at each other. 'We don't know,' I said.

"She looked at Paul and saw how desperately ill he was. Then all three of us looked at Lucy sitting in her pushchair, completely oblivious to it all."

Paul died at home - eight months after his terminal diagnosis.

Mrs Flanagan said: "He was wise, brave and decent but I could never have found the words to sum him up so perfectly as he has himself.

"I can't tell you what a comfort it is to know that our children will grow up with a real understanding of what made Paul, Paul."

On finding fulfillment

Cancer victim Paul Flanagan wrote 'On Finding Fulfillment' for his children Thomas and Lucy, before he died

1. Be courteous, be punctual, always say please and thank you, and be sure to hold your knife and fork properly. Others take their cue on how to treat you from your manners.

2. Be kind, considerate and compassionate when others are in trouble, even if you have problems of your own. Others will admire your selflessness and will help you in due course.

3. Show moral courage. Do what is right, even if that makes you unpopular. I always thought it important to be able to look at myself in the shaving mirror every morning and not feel guilt or remorse. I depart this world with a pretty clear conscience.

4. Show humility. Stand your ground but pause to reflect on what the other side is saying, and back off when you know you are wrong. Never worry about losing face. That only happens when you are pig-headed.

5. Learn from your mistakes. You will make plenty, so use them as a learning tool. If you keep making the same mistake or run into the same problem, you're doing something wrong.

6. Avoid disparaging someone to a third party - it is only you who will look bad. If you have a problem with someone, tell them face to face.

7. Hold fire! If someone crosses you, don't react immediately. Once you say something, it can never be taken back, and most people deserve a second chance.

8. Have fun. If this involves taking risks, so be it. If you get caught, hold your hands up.

9. Give to charity and help those who are less fortunate than yourselves, it's easy and so rewarding.

10. Always look on the upside! The glass is half full, never half empty. Every adversity has a silver lining if you seek it out.

11. Make it your instinct to always to say "yes". Look for reasons to do something, not reasons to say no. Your friends will cherish you for that.

12. Be canny: You will get more of what you want if you can give someone more than what they desire. Compromise can be king.

13. Always accept a party invitation. You may not want to go, but they want you there. Show them courtesy and respect.

14. Never ever let a friend down. I would bury bodies for my friends, if they asked me to...which is why I have chosen them carefully.

15. Always tip for good service. It shows respect. But never reward poor service. Poor service is insulting.

16. Always treat those you meet as your social equal, whether they are above or below your station in life. For those above you, show due deference, but don't be a sycophant.

17. Always respect age, as age equals wisdom.

18. Be prepared to put the interests of your sibling first.

19. Be proud of who you are and where you come from, but open your mind to other cultures and languages. When you begin to travel (as I hope you will), you'll learn that your place in the world is both vital and insignificant. Don't get too big for your breeches.

20. Be ambitious, but not nakedly so. Be prepared to back your assertions with craftsmanship and hard work.

21. Live every day to its fullest. Do something that makes you smile or laugh, and avoid procrastination.

22. Give your best at school. Some teachers forget that pupils need incentives. So if your teacher doesn't give you one, devise your own.

23. Always pay the most you can afford. Never skimp on hotels, clothing, shoes, make-up or jewellery. But always look for a deal. You get what you pay for.

24. Never give up! My two little soldiers have no dad, but you are brave, big-hearted, fit and strong. You are also loved by an immensely kind and supportive team of family and friends. You make your own good fortune, my children, so battle on.

25. Never feel sorry for yourself, or at least don't do it for long. Crying doesn't make things better.

26. Look after your body and it will look after you.

27. Learn a language, or at least try. Never engage a person abroad in conversation without first greeting them in their own language; by all means ask if they speak English!

28. And finally, cherish your mother, and take very good care of her. I love you both with all my heart.

Daddy x

This article was first published in The New Paper.