I HAVE no idea what to expect before meeting Dean Francis, other than he will be waiting for me in a black Range Rover outside Bristol Temple Meads station. Nor do I know what I should say to a 43-year-old who has been told by doctors that he will soon be killed by cancer.
I walk out of the station and Francis is positioned, as advertised, in a black Range Rover. We exchange nods, he gets out of the vehicle to shake my hand and it strikes me he looks incredible. He always did; broad shoulders with the kind of swimming pool physique that makes you reach for your t-shirt – while wishing you’d spent more time in the gym than the pub. Francis, who won several English, British, Commonwealth and European belts – from super-middle to cruiserweight – last fought in 2014 after accepting, at the age of 40, the world title he craved was forever out of reach. The following year he married Ghalia, his long-term sweetheart and mother of their now three-year-old boy, Rocco.
Then, in 2016, his body started to tell him that things were not quite as they appeared on the outside. His once regular and “triumphant” visits to the toilet – the kind that most men can relate to – became drawn-out frustrating affairs, repeated bouts of stomach cramps left him in agony and, on January 31 this year, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. But, the good news, it was slow growing, he could be cured. The bad news came three weeks later. After his treatment was transferred from Gloucester, where the diagnosis was made, to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, which is much closer to his home, he was told the cancer had invaded his liver and, worst case scenario, he had just months to live. And the best? If the chemotherapy doesn’t kill him, if he looks after himself, he can expect to live for another two years, maybe three if he’s lucky.