JACK Ashworth has been on a journey, and he admits he couldn’t have done it without the support of everybody at The Oaks.
One of the most terrifying things he has ever had to do, after being told he might die, was walking through the doors of the Macmillan day hospice and support centre in Elgin.
However, Jack (52), from Forres, now admits it will be even harder to step out the door and say goodbye to all his new friends as his remarkable recovery sees him contemplate a "normal life".
Jack has been attending the hospice in Elgin for the last 12 months, after undergoing two operations and chemotherapy treatment for bowel and liver cancer.
The former chief fire officer in the RAF, who was introduced to The Oaks through Macmillan Cancer Support, described the hospice as a "godsend".
"The journey I have been on, when you have been told you are more or less going to pass away, was hard. When you are down, you really are down," he said.
"You just feel like you want to give up, but the support of this place, relatives, and staff at Dr Gray’s and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary keeps you going."
Jack admitted that the word ‘hospice’ scared him initially, after being told he might not survive his cancer. "One of the hardest things was walking through the doors," he recalled.
However, he soon realised it was a place to meet friends and people in a similar situation. "When it is time to say goodbye and leave, one of the hardest things will be walking out the door," he added.
"We have all been through different illnesses, but we have been through the same thing, and everybody understands what you are going through.
"So many people must drive along the A96 and think ‘what is that building down there?’. I don’t think we realise how lucky we are to have it."
Jack has been attending The Oaks every Wednesday for support and a range of complementary therapies and activities.
"Every patient looks forward to coming here. You can be really down, especially people who live on their own. It is such a community feeling in here.
"You live for every day with a smile on your face. People have their own hardships, but when you go through a journey of cancer, it hits everybody."
Jack had just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan when he became ill in the summer of 2011.
"Being a stubborn old man, I thought I was just shattered from being in Afghanistan, because I had been out there a few times," he said.
"I was losing weight, and one morning I couldn’t get out of bed, and my wife Bev phoned the doctor; by the afternoon I was in intensive care in Dr Gray’s."
It was October before his illness was fully diagnosed and a tumour in his bowel discovered. He underwent an operation at Dr Gray’s Hospital soon afterwards, by which time his weight had plummeted to just seven stones from the 12 stones he had been for most of his life.
After undergoing more treatment, he eventually underwent a 13-hour operation at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
It has been a long road back to something approaching good health, but Jack, now up to 12 stones, is looking forward with optimism.
He is still undergoing regular CT scans and medical appointments in Elgin and Aberdeen.
"Everything is clear, and at the moment, touch wood, I am going into remission. It has been a long old slog," he said.
"I have gone through the journey, and my next step is leaving and trying to get back to normal. Your life does change, because I can’t physically do the work I have previously done."
Jack has just been discharged from the RAF after 35 years’ service. Originally from Blackpool in Lancashire, he came to Moray in 1980, and now considers it his home.
The couple’s daughters, Joanne and Stacey, were both born here, and grand-daughter Niamh (5) will start school at Anderson’s Primary in Forres later this month.
"I have so many good friends up here. It is such a nice community. If you are very poorly, people come out to help you," said Jack.
"I am positive and on the up. I am back to my previous weight and I am happy as Larry. I am taking each day as it comes.
"I want to do some volunteer work and put something back into the community for the people who have given me so much support.
"I probably won’t get back into full-time work because with the illness I have got, there is still a long way to go."
The Oaks is celebrating its 10th anniversary; to read more about the facility and more pictures see 'The Northern Scot' print version.