“In the end, what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived but how it draws to a close.”
Those were the words of Tessa Jowell, the former Labour politician who died of brain cancer on 12th May at the age of 70. Now a special edition of BBC Panorama will provide an intimate look at her final days as she fought her last campaign to transform care for cancer patients across the UK.
The documentary, Tessa Jowell: Her Last Campaign, began filming in April – eleven months after her diagnosis with a deadly brain tumour – and concluded filming just one week before her death. It will air on Monday 4th June at 7.30pm on BBC1.
Panorama was able to exclusively follow the former culture secretary as she used her last weeks to secure her key demands on cancer funding and access to more cancer treatments on the NHS, including her powerful appearance at the Houses of Parliament.
There, at her old workplace, she earned a standing ovation as she lobbied those in government who can change things from the top. Jowell was also able to secure an extraordinary admission and pledge from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Jowell was elected as a Labour MP in 1992 and later became a Cabinet Minister. One of her crowning achievements was leading London’s successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics – and now she will also be remembered for her brain cancer campaign in the final year of her life.
I'm so moved to have been surrounded by the love of colleagues from across Parliament today and their support to beat cancer together pic.twitter.com/TTS781IOmn
Jowell’s daughter Jess, who stars in the documentary, said: “The only time I’ve seen mum cry since she got ill, she was sat in the waiting room and had what she described as the absolutely heart-breaking realisation that those who had that privilege of access or income may well live longer because of that and those that didn’t may well die much sooner because of it.
“And in her words, that is just the most despicable example of inequality. In those moments, her mission was really identified.”
Jowell, who came second to Sadiq Khan in her bid to be selected as the Labour Party’s official candidate in the 2016 London mayoral election, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in May 2017.
The tumour – Glioblastoma Multiforme – is the deadliest and most common brain tumour, killing three out of four patients within a year of diagnosis. But there have been no significant new treatments for 50 years, and minimal research funding.
Nicole Kleeman, Executive Producer, Firecrest Films, says: “It’s impossible not to be touched by Tessa Jowell’s story. We’re honoured to have been able to spend this precious time with Tessa and her family as they championed this important cause.
“Our aim with this film was to portray her fight with respect and sensitivity, and we hope that her campaign to improve cancer care and funding will be successful, to add to her list of many lasting legacies.”
Panorama – Tessa Jowell: Her Last Campaign will air on Monday 4th June at 7.30pm on BBC1