In April 2023, Bekah Legg’s comedian husband Steve Legg was given a terminal diagnosis following a battle with cancer. A year later, she shares how they continue to navigate the journey with both hope and humour
Over the last two years, my husband Steve and I have been on a medical and emotional rollercoaster. It all began when we discovered a dark mark on the sole of his foot. What I initially thought was something he had stood on turned out to be melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. In April 2023, after numerous surgeries and failed treatments, we were told that the cancer had spread to Steve’s brain, stomach, liver and spine; that there were only palliative options left. So, it was time to call the life insurance company and make a claim because, in all likelihood, Steve only had five to six months to live.
He amazed me with his ability to switch off the sad and step into the joy
It is hard to describe the devastation of news like that. The white noise that builds in your brain making it hard to concentrate, the awful realisation that you have to tell the children they are going to lose their dad, the horror of realising that the future you had taken for granted is blowing away in the wind and the unbearable thought that the one you love is going to suffer and be taken away from you. It’s unimaginable until you live it.
It has been a journey I never would have chosen, but it has provided some unexpected lessons – about myself, about my marriage and about God, which I want to share with you now.
Keep your identity
A terminal prognosis can turn you into a patient and it’s easy to start being defined by the illness but, early on, I knew above everything else, that I wanted to help Steve to be Steve for as long as I could. He is an evangelist and travels the country doing comedy magic to share the gospel in churches. He’s brilliant at it and he loves it, but he had his driving licence taken away that day in April because of the brain tumours.
In response, I cancelled my own speaking arrangements and became his driver. That first weekend, we travelled to Norfolk and he amazed me with his ability to switch off the sad and step into the joy. It gave us something else; as a couple, we managed to honestly enjoy this unexpected weekend away, just the two of us in a nice hotel. It reminded us to keep our identity as man and wife, not just patient and carer.
It’s OK to plan
On the advice of the doctor I rang the life insurance company and in what was one of the hardest calls of my life, started the ball rolling on our claim. We visited the hospice, paid for a funeral plan and updated our wills. Aside from being horrible jobs, a little part of my brain was niggling: we had hundreds of people praying for Steve. Was it OK to be planning for his death? Was that a lack of faith? One night in particular I couldn’t sleep for worrying, but in the morning, God, in his goodness, answered me.
Our Bible reading for that day was the story of Mary going to tend Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. As we read the words, it dawned on me that she wasn’t acting like she had faith he would come back to her. She was just being faithful to the one she loved in the only way she knew how with the information she had been given. Critically, it didn’t stop Jesus rising and, even more importantly, she was the first person he came to say hello to.
Do what you can
When cancer is spreading invisibly inside the person you love, there’s not much you can do to stop it. It can make you feel helpless and out of control. Focusing on some things you can do really helps. I could make sure Steve was eating healthily and get him treats, make sure he got to events even if he slept the whole way in the car and I could make the difficult phone calls and conversations.
Know when to stop
I come from a strong line of women who ‘cope’ and, in the first recovery periods, cope I did. However, as Steve began to get better and back on his feet, I collapsed in an emotional heap. Spent, after months of being everything to everyone, I couldn’t cope with anything at all.
Last summer, I nearly did it again – I became Steve’s chauffeur while still running the charity Restored (restored-uk.org) and supporting the family, but this time, fortunately, I recognised the warning signs and asked for help. Steve now has an amazing group of friends who have taken on most of the driving and I do my best not to feel guilty for staying at home.
Don’t bottle it up
I’ve done my fair share of crying in the middle of the night; listening to Steve sleep and imagining a world where I can’t anymore. I’ve gone through a Christmas wondering if it was our last but putting a brave face on for the rest of the family so they can live free of that fear. Then I reached a point where I realised I couldn’t hold all this alone. I started a WhatsApp group with three precious friends, which became a space where I could drop my fears and my failings and send up a flare that would escalate things to a call and a hug when it was all too much. This was a space where I could say the things I didn’t want Steve or the children to hear. These friends have grounded and loved me and kept me going.
Steve and I learned to talk too; I’d been trying to protect him but we needed to be able to do this properly together. We take it in turns to be strong, and have discovered how to let the other know what we need in the moment.
This is not an easy one, and there are days when it’s been beyond me, but early on Steve and I knew that we didn’t want sadness to dominate whatever days we had left. We wanted to squeeze the life out of every last minute – and we have. We’ve walked on the beach, taken the girls to the Mamma Mia Experience (Mamma Mia! The Party at The O2 Arena), been on a glorious family holiday and eaten more great meals with friends than I can count. We had a wonderful summer that slowly extended into autumn and we enjoyed an unexpected Christmas, too.
It’s not all fun – it’s also included work and clearing the garage and decorating the living room. These things have been part of keeping our identity, but they’ve also been welcome distractions. It’s important to face reality and process what the doctors say, but then it’s time to start living and not think about dying all the time.
When my daughters were little and had a bad day, I used to get them to tell me five good things that had happened and we’d thank God for them. It was a good foundation for this season. As part of our summer of joy, we started to actively look for joy and actually, once we started, we were surprised by it at every corner. There is something in the darkness of the night we are walking through that enables the stars to shine more brightly. Our children, the sun shining on the sea, food, friends, not to mention our brand new beautiful granddaughter, are all things that we notice and choose to enjoy and give thanks for.
On a really personal note, there have been plenty of moments when I’ve questioned: “Why Steve?” I work in an organisation that supports survivors of domestic abuse and I honestly don’t understand why my kind, loving husband who does so much for so many people should be taken, especially when I see the impact of those people who hurt and harm their families. It doesn’t make sense to me. However, as I felt myself leaning into bitterness and resentment, I worked hard to instead be grateful for the 15 years I’ve had Steve in my life and to recognise those years as a gift, even though I wish I could have more.
Learn to be OK with uncertainty
For the last two years, I’ve not known what was coming around the corner. I still don’t. I’m a planner at heart and it goes against the grain to just not know if we can go on that holiday or if I’ll be able to fulfil that speaking engagement, make that board meeting or, most importantly, whether Steve will be here next week.
In the midst of uncertainty, I have repeatedly felt God telling me that everything will be OK. It might not be my OK, but it will be OK. I want to fight like a child to get my way, to see Steve healed and to keep things just the way I like them, but these last two years have forced me to hold things lightly, to understand faith in a very different way, learn what it means to live in the unshakeable kingdom of God – and for him to be enough.
Bekah Legg is CEO of Restored, a Christian organisation with a mission to speak up about violence against women and equip the Church to stand against domestic abuse and with survivors. Bekah is married to Steve and together they have raised their five fabulous girls and fostered more in a glorious if sometimes crazy blended family.