The bright side

Recently I spoke to Margaret, who is someone I knew in Manchester. She has had terminal ovarian cancer for three years. After six lots of chemo they’ve now finished all treatment.

Margaret has been taking part in a Sky documentary about cancer patients at Christie’s hospital, so she’s had a camera crew following her around. They filmed her having treatment and interviewed her at home. They came to the party she had for friends and family to celebrate her life. And when she planned her funeral, they were there too.

Now this may all sound a bit Jade Goody, but if you know Margaret, you’ll know that nothing could be further from the truth. She’ll be doing this to raise publicity for the hospital and to encourage others in a similar situation.

And it will help because Margaret is remarkable. She has a deep spirituality so in facing death she has a destination in mind; this is just a preview, what comes next is the main event. It must be comforting to be that sure.

Psychologists say most of us live in a state of existential denial most of the time. We think we will go on for ever – even though we know we won’t. Having cancer – no matter how good the prognosis – brings you up against your own mortality. And that is terrifying. Unless you’re Margaret.

She is approaching death like she approaches life, with courage, faith and good humour, looking on the bright side.

She told me about her phone conversation with the undertaker.

Undertaker: ‘Can we do your hair for you when you’re in the coffin?’

Margaret: ‘I’ve had chemotherapy and I haven’t got any hair!’

Undertaker: ‘Well will you let us put some makeup on you? A little mascara perhaps?’

Margaret: ‘I haven’t got any eyelashes!’

Undertaker: ‘Some rouge?’

Margaret: ‘You do whatever makes you happy. I won’t care. I won’t be there!’

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