The Stroumboulopouli

The Stroumboulopouli

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

June Callwood - About Cancer, Death and Her Outlook on Life

Recently, The Hour aired June Callwood's last interview. She was a journalist, humanitarian, social activist and she died on Saturday, April 14th. She was 82 and had been dealing with inoperable cancer since 2004. You can read a news item about her life and accomplishments from the CBC here and her Wikipedia article here.

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)

7 comments:

Barbara said...

I keep thinking about June Callwood... That interview is hard to watch without getting emotional.

George was saying it was hard for him to not get emotional while talking with her. They talked for 90 minutes...

I think we can all relate to what she is saying and what her and her family are going through is some way. It makes it all the more personal to many of us.

Thanks for sharing your experiences Brooksie and posting this... I could not do this justice and you have.

Anonymous said...

i was first introduced to June when I was in high school. my english teacher made us read an essay she had written about poverty. what struck was how calm she was. she took her time answering the questions George posed and laughed at herself and talked about the things that she loved the most. i can't believe that she still had to do lists and kept herself busy. such an example.

Tammy

Angie said...

I've been thinking alot about cancer in general since the interview. My Grandmother passed away in 2004 of a similar type to what June had. Watching the footage of June has been reminding me of Grandma. They were roughly the same age, had been married about the same amount of time and were both frank about their illnesses. I can only hope to be half so courageous if ever faced with a situation like that. I think it says an awful lot about George (and The Hour) that she chose to have her final interview with him. I hope we all learn from her and try to follow her example in our own way.

Anonymous said...

June Callword is one of the main reasons I got socially aware and involved. My mom has met her a couple times, so my mom would tell me about all the things she did for this city and country. I can definitely call her one of my heroes.

Hawa said...

p.s
its hawa
i think i forgot to log in when i wrote that :)

Rui said...

Hey guys,
Because of many, many requests we're going to re-run June Callwoods' final interview. If you missed it the first time, you can catch it tonight on The Hour at 11pm on CBC tv.
Be good. The Hour Crew.

Miss A said...

Hawa,

If you consider Ms. Callwood a hero, you may wish to find out more about some other phenomenal Canadian women...Agnes Macphail, Nellie McClung, Dr. Jennie Trout, Dr. Emily Stowe, and Emily Murphy.