Shrugged, Id: 'I've Got Cancer and This Is a Wig,' I Told Mike. but He Just Shrugged, Grinned and Said: 'You're Still Hot.'; One of the Most Remarkable Aspects of the War in Afghanistan 'I've Got Cancer Is the Light It Has Shone on the Extraordinary Character of British Soldiers. but Few Stories Can Match That of the Love Fallen Hero Mike Lockett Gave to Cancer Victim Belinda English
Byline: Audrey Gillan
It was the night before her hair was due to be shaved off and, instead of feeling sorry for herself, Belinda English had a party in a Belfast pub. She sported a long, blonde wig that resembled her own locks before they began to fall out.
She wanted to celebrate her impending baldness, make a joke of it, rather than have people pity her. The following day, her mother would remove what remained of her hair with an electric razor.
Belinda, 23, was wearing her floral halter-neck top, leggings and strappy gold sandals, and as she laughed with her friends, a good-looking man made his way across the room towards her and told her she was 'hot'. Belinda liked his blue eyes and his white teeth, but she had to be honest.
'I've got cancer. This is a wig,' she said, holding up strands of fake hair, fully expecting her admirer to beat a hasty retreat. Instead he shrugged and grinned. 'You're still hot,' he said. He bought her a drink and wanted to know more.
The man was Michael Lockett, then 28, a soldier with 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment and a holder of the Military Cross for bravery. As Belinda took off her wig to show her remaining wisps of hair, he was unconcerned. 'That's all right,' he said. 'I've got a friend with cancer.' 'I was kind of shocked when he hung around after I told him about my illness,' says Belinda. 'But we were inseparable from that night onwards. It was as if we were joined at the hip. He made me feel safe and secure.' That night in September 2008 was the beginning of a love story shot through with tragedy. Belinda was fighting a rare and aggressive form of cancer with a poor prognosis. Michael Lockett was a soldier who had survived two tours of Afghanistan and was set to return. He knew he too could make the ultimate sacrifice.
And on September 21, 2009, he did. Just four days before he was due to move in with Belinda, he was killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) while leading a patrol in the Gereshk region of Helmand. Knowing the risk he was taking, he had stepped forward to show new-on-the-ground troops how to approach a suspected IED. It exploded, killing him and injuring two others.
He left behind three children - Connor, eight, Chloe, seven, and Courtney, five - from a marriage that ended five years ago. He remained on cordial terms with his former wife, Natalie, who has now struck up a friendship with Belinda.
In the one-bedroom flat in Belfast where the couple were to set up home, Belinda says: 'Michael and I had a connection because he was going somewhere where there was a good chance that he could die, and I had cancer and there was a chance that I could as well. That was what bonded us.'
As they saw it, they had joined forces in a battle to stay alive. They did it through laughter, as Belinda's photo album shows, doing their best to cock a defiant snook at death. They played silly tricks on each other and told jokes. They tried to tread lightly over the fact that soon one of them might no longer be around.
Belinda consoles herself with photos and letters. She has some of his jumpers. Some days she puts them on and takes comfort in the memory of her one precious year with a man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with.
She says: 'He was an amazing soldier and an amazing person. I am quite resilient, but with him by my side I was so strong.
'The happiest I have ever been in my life was when I was with Mike. Losing him feels like something vital has been taken away from me, like my heart has been ripped in half. Mike was my knight in shining armour.' Belinda was working as a trainee veterinary nurse when, just two months before she met Mike, she found a lump in her breast. She went to her doctor and the lump was diagnosed as cancerous.
She says: 'It was invasive, stagethree cancer - it was getting to the point where if it hadn't been caught, I would have been riddled with it. …