Posted in Essay, Guest Writer


Dilys Wood




Dilys Wood

Some friends of mine who suffered cancer and did not survive in the longer term were, as it happens, exceptional people with a special gift for sharing. That’s how I come to know that there can be shared happiness even when a friend is diagnosed with a serious illness. When time is short, inhibition may fly out of the window. You may feel ‘licensed’ to talk freely about every aspect of both your lives.There are no excuses for not doing the things you meant to do together. Boring daily chores just have to give way to what, at normal times, might seem a whim.

In fact, the more ‘whims’ your friend has the more delighted you feel to be able to help, even though, when someone is getting weak, there can be problems. If not used to being a caretaker, you sometimes feel stupid, inadequate and guilty. A few weeks before her death, I took a friend abroad and was in tears of despair at Heathrow airport because I hadn’t allowed for her slow walking and general debility. Why hadn’t I booked help? When we reached our hotel in Amsterdam, I was tired and she was ready for an enjoyable evening. I’d learnt the lesson that energy levels in a cancer patient can be unpredictable: a remarkable will-power may come into play, with a passionate desire to do new things, go places, indulge a little lavish spending, even when out of character.

Within a week or so of her own death, a friend learnt that an aunt was housebound and set off to see her. It should not have been possible for her to take that journey by car, train, tube and bus, but she did it on her own. When she told me the details it was obvious she had had one of the happiest days of her life. This friend was one who talked about everything under the sun, including questioning everyone, from priests to shop-assistants, about their idea of eternity.

Another friend greeted everyone on the street with, “I’ve got terminal cancer”. Far from resenting this – and despite the fact that she had just moved house – her neighbours were soon actively helping in every possible way, visits, shopping, lifts in their cars, re-plumbing her washing-machine. By contrast, I was unhappy when the close family of a dying friend banned visitors from the house in her last fortnight. Did she feel that “closing out” was harsh, as I did, or was it the right decision?

For another friend, dying in a Hospice, things were different. Lying in the bay-window of a large sunny room she was dying in a combined greenhouse and luxury hotel. Surrounded by a mass of cut-flowers and house-plants, her bedside table groaning with fruit and chocolate, she was eager for visitors, warm, loving even while hallucinating. I will never forget her friendly indignation as she pointed to the vision we couldn’t see, “Look a tiger, apricot stripes!”

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Dilys Wood ~ Dilys is poet, editor and founder of Second Light Network of Women Poets. She has edited four anthologies of women’s poetry, mainly with Myra Schneider and has published two collections of poetry, Women Come to a Death and Antarctica. She is a great advocate for women poets, especially those who come to the art and craft of it late in life. Dilys mother died of cancer.

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2 thoughts on “PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #8: A Gift from Cancer

  1. I could relate to the license to talk freely remark. When my mother’s elderly, best friend was ill with cancer and I was enlisted to stay with her after her chemo treatments, she spoke very freely to me on so many topics. She and I had never shared so much before.

    Thank you for sharing this.


  2. Thank you, Ms Wood. I think the ‘closing out’ may come from a misplaced sense of consideration in the mind of the dying person. A sort of ‘I don’t want to make my friends feel awkward seeing me like this’?


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