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• His work with Artists for Peace and Justice
• UN Ambassadorship for The World Food Programme
Sunday, April 15, 2007
June Callwood - About Cancer, Death and Her Outlook on Life
George's interview with June resonated strongly with many viewers. They spoke about her experiences with cancer, her outlook on life and death, and her marriage. I thought I would take the time to write down a few of my thoughts on this interview and how it made me think about my own experiences with cancer and death. Please feel free to share your own experiences and reflections in the comments.
First, some background. When I was 19 my father was diagnosed with colon cancer which had spread to his lymphatic system. He was 49. He had surgery and then chemotherapy. He went into remission for about a year and then the cancer returned. It spread to his liver as colon cancer often does. He did various chemotherapy treatments, he fought hard, but then there came the point where there were no more drugs they could give him. He died on November 25th, 1995 at the age of 54.
As I listened to June talk with George I was reminded of what my family dealt with as my father had cancer and ultimately died because of it. I thought about the relationship I had with my father and how I wish I had more 'deep' conversations with him. We did talk, but I was just entering my adult years, not even considering myself to be an actual adult. I was busy with trying to keep it together, paying my rent, getting an education, figuring out how to be in a meaningful romantic relationship. When we spent time together we spoke about my life more often than his. I think that was important to him - to know how I was and that I would be OK.
Sometimes though we did talk about his cancer ,and much like June and her statement about her body "I'm a mess", his attitude was a mix of honesty, humour, and frustration. About his actual death though, he was less candid with me. I think he was trying to protect me. I do know he spoke about it with others. I think for many speaking to a stranger about your own imminent death is different, easier than speaking to your own family about it. I think that may have played a role in why the June-George interview was so compelling.
I find it interesting to see how different people handle their own mortality. I think part of it comes down to personality and temperament and part of it comes down to your age and life experiences. I used to think that when I was faced with death I would be accepting. That all changed when I was 30 and I came down with a mysterious and rare autoimmune disorder. I was near death as the doctors tried to figure out what I had. I was scared and definitely did not want to die. What is great in theory is not so great in reality. I was humbled.
My grandmothers both died well into their nineties. Both had said that they were ready to die and I believed them. I think when you have had a rich, long life and then the body starts to fail you your perspective on death is different. After dealing with my own illness and fear of death, this is what I hope for. Certainly, June's attitude and how she expressed it during that interview reinforces this in me.
On a bit of a different, but not necessarily lighter note, I really appreciated hearing her talk about her marriage, about how things changed over the years, and how the hardest part of dying was worrying about who would take care of her husband. One of my professional interests is romance, relationships and intimacy so her words were such wisdom to me. And sweet and real too.
"He's neat. Oh, I wanted to marry him before I met him." - June
"You're still with your husband." - George
"63 years. We haven't had a fight since last night." - June
And beyond all this talk of life, death, cancer and marriage she spoke of what she believed in - kindness. That was good to be reminded of.
June Callwood on The Hour
about assisted suicide (air date November 16th, 2005)
about child poverty in Canada (air date February 23rd, 2006)
final interview (air date April 2nd, 2007)