to Age: Living with Cancer – Relationships and Support Groups
Guest: Anonymous – Cancer Survivor
Host: Sally Smith – Author of The Circle
Smith: Welcome to Age to Age. I’m Sally Smith. Let’s talk.
We have with us today my friend, who wishes to be called my friend. She has built up several years of fighting
colon cancer and liver cancer and has, as she puts it, received a gift in doing
this. And it’s a gift that she’s giving
us today by talking about how she’s arrived at this spectacular attitude.
thing that we’ve talked about, just you and I, has been this feeling that you
do have a gift. I’ll never forget the
first time you said that to me. In a
way, are you saying new eyes of awareness from looking through the lens of
having cancer, is that sort of what you mean by the gift?
Guest: Very definitely. I think that I have been handed the
incredible possibility of managing the end of my life, and I think that’s
extremely important. It’s not given to
everybody. It gives me permission to
talk about the things I want to talk about without the fear of treading on
Smith: Wow. That is a power I hadn’t really thought
of. I’ve heard you say that there’s a
curiosity and a seeking as you open your eyes to the fact that you may be able
to manage these last years with an awareness and a knowledge of how they might
unfold and have some input. You’ve
always been a spiritual person, I know as your dear friend, but this part of
you has strengthened also. Is this
Guest: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s become more private in a way because I
do more reading. I do more
introspection, less, perhaps, going to Mass, but more thinking about what they
mean when they expostulate in saying a psalm, different things, I’m looking for
the meaning. I find that that’s
extremely important to me. It’s like
going back to school, actually. That’s
what it is.
Smith: How exciting. What a wonderful potentiality there. I’m thinking, too, that, I know a friend who
was once quite ill and as she got further into her spirituality, in a way, she
had a hard time stepping back into the daily life that was also part of her
last years. Is that an issue?
I think so. I think that you
sometimes dread to go to the place, I have a special place where I sit and I
write and I read, and sometimes the bell rings or the phone rings and you say,
oh, I really wanted to continue. I find
that I’ve been lucky enough to be creative.
I like to paint. I like to
sew. I find that stabilizing. It’s a way of meditating. And I think meditation is very important when
you’re ill. I highly recommend, even if
it’s just playing solitaire, doing something that can occupy your hands and
having quiet moments that you look forward to.
So, meditation doesn’t have to just be the Eastern way of
meditating. It can also transfer into
needlepoint or water colors, or whatever else I like to do.
Smith: Do you have a special place where
you do that?
Guest: Yes. I
think that’s important.
Smith: That’s your sort of sacred place
and everybody recognizes when you’re there that it’s your time?
That’s very true. I’m glad you
brought that up because I think to have a place to go is essential.
Smith: I remember my sister had a very
potentially scary thing happen and she had small children and a husband. She used to say the only place she could cry
was in the closet because everybody else needed to see her up and happy. She said, also, that a place ended up being
important, where she could just be totally, 100 percent, her own self.
Guest: Very much so, yes, yes.
Smith: Well, one thing, I love this idea
that you mention about the curiosity and opening your mind to what’s being said
in a spiritual way. You mentioned a sort
of freedom to talk about things, because it’s your life. Is that hard to do?
Guest: Not for me.
I’ve wanted to be frank all my life and sometimes I’ve really had to be
careful. You can give yourself
permission because people make allowances.
I know that my friends are close enough to me to let me know if I’m
exaggerating in one way or another. But
I don’t feel that it’s necessary because if it’s done with love, there’s no
reason to feel shy about it.
Smith: I know you have a group, several
groups, that you gather with that talk about interesting issues. One of them is a spiritual group, as I
We meet with a sister, a nun.
She’s highly educated, like a lot of nuns. They further their education more so than the
priests, poor things, they’re very often put out in the streets, very quickly,
to go and tend to the people. Nuns have
an enormous potential and they don’t often get to air their views. So, we’re having an excellent time with this
nun who is sharing her life with us, as we share our life with her. We’re all growing. And the fact that she’s there seems to
heighten the value of what we say and do.
Smith: One thing, too, is that, although
there are many support groups, as in other people that have the shared illness
or diagnosis or some such unifying factor, in your group, you just happen to be
someone who’s living with cancer.
Guest: And nobody needs to know it. That’s another thing we stay away from. There are two of us who have cancer in the
group and we don’t talk about it; we sort of laugh about it. We’ve become like sisters, if you like. But she’s braver than I am, she’s younger.
Smith: Wow. Well, you’ve certainly had a magnificent life
and will hopefully have many more years.
We can keep our fingers crossed on that.
Is it hard to be in a support group?
You’re not in a separate medical support group?
Guest: No, no.
But it has happened that, if I’m alone in the therapy room with another
person, it happened the other day, the nurse came up to me and said, “You were
having a conversation with this lady and she would really like to be able to
doesn’t seem to have anybody to talk to.
Can I give her your address?” I
gave her my phone number. She still
hasn’t called. She probably feels
shy. I felt so badly for her. I felt, how sad, she’s probably a widow, just
the conversation we had for an hour in the chemo room seems to have helped her
in some way. I’d be happy to do that
more often, if it were useful.
Smith: I think about your rich family
life and your involvement, such a close involvement, with your children and
grandchildren. This must be a time when
the fruits of that seem particularly wonderful.
Guest: You really have to sew way in advance to be
able to get the treasures that I get from my family now.
Smith: What do you mean by that, sew way
Guest: I must have done something right. You don’t always know as a parent. I don’t think I was that good of a daughter. But it’s magic, the affection that surrounds
me. I don’t like to talk about it too
much because it doesn’t happen that often.
Very often, the family sort of likes to forget about Mom being
sick. They don’t turn their backs. They just do the duty, not the extra little
cup of tea, not the extra five minutes, not the caring. I’ve started to look into people’s eyes.
Guest: You detect a lot when you’re sensitized,
which, obviously, we all are. Something
like this, it really makes you look into people’s expressions and try and
understand them more, and, therefore, you get on better with them.
Smith: I also heard someone say that
sometimes they did look at some of their close friendships and saw these people
in a different way, sometimes better, but sometimes, not better. And sometimes they needed to sort of
disassociate from a few people who were pulling them down.
Smith: Or there for reasons other than
affection. Does it give you a sixth sense, this looking in the eyes?
Guest: I don’t know.
I think it may have a good result because, in that case, people look
back at you. What you need is the
strength of your friends around you and if you show you care about them, it’s
very easily reciprocated.
Smith: I love what you say about sewing
what you get. Having known you a long
time, here you have this family and I know the way you have been with your
grandchildren who, some, live here, some don’t live here. It’s not like you turn a switch when they
become college aged and they suddenly want to love grandmother. It’s all those times that you were painting
with them and all the times they slept upstairs, in France, and all the places,
memories you have helped build over those years, and now the fruit is born. It’s kind of like that. There have been many songs, The Cat and the Cradle, and different
ones that say, hey, you know…
Where were you?
Smith: Where were you, and now you want
me and I wasn’t ever trained to love you.
You know, I was never given that opening.
Guest: Yeah. Training is a good word. You would use the word, inspired. But, it is a training. It is a show of love. You’ve done the same thing with your
Smith: I’ve tried. I’ve had people like you to watch, and that’s
been important. When we were talking,
earlier, about relationships, a beautiful moment I recently shared with you
popped into my mind, a poem that you shared, touching on this new way of seeing
some of the relationships through the eyes of having to deal with your cancer. I wondered if you would mind sharing the poem
Guest: This poem was written just after I had been
told that I had this illness, this cancer.
I wrote about acceptance.
ask no more questions. I’m no longer in
charge. The comforting sprinkles of gifts
pour on me daily. Where do they come
from? Where was I, these gestures, these
acts of kindness? Where have I
been? They were there all the time. Why was I not listening? This new awareness surrounds me with a
wonderful circle of love. I now walk
hand in hand with God.
Smith: I thank you so much for sharing
that with us today and all our listeners, too, for joining us. We welcome your suggestions and comments on
our website. This is Sally Smith, Age to
Age, saying goodbye and wishing you courage and joy on your journey. We are all connected.
you enjoy listening to Sally Smith, you can buy her book, The Circle. It’s the story of how she personally
responded to her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a wonderful gift of hope for anyone with
a parent who has dementia. Just click on
‘Sally Smith’ under the health professional’s tab on the podcasts
homepage. All profits support research
at the Center on Aging.