A Valuable Lesson in Humanity

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I was at a breakfast function recently and I had the difficult decision to make about where to seat myself in the room of 50 people. I knew many people at the function, but something inside me said to sit with someone I normally wouldn’t. I saw an older lady with no eyebrows, wearing a headscarf sitting by herself. I was drawn to her and I had a feeling I would learn something from her.

The lady obviously had cancer and I would normally baulk at this situation as I know very little about cancer, I also thought she may want to be by herself, or the conversation could be ‘heavy’. I was feeling brave so I went up to her and asked if she would mind if I sat with her. She warmly said “of course, please do…I am Merri”.

We had some small talk for a few minutes and then I asked the following question “So tell me about your background Merri?”. Without hesitation Merri started to rattle off about her ovarian cancer and how long she has had it etc. I said to Merri “I am not asking about your cancer, I want to know WHO YOU ARE?”. She gave me this stunned look and she appeared to be lost for words. I had no idea what was about to happen next…..

Merri’s eyes began to fill up with tears and she said the following “This is the first time I have cried since my diagnosis”. The reason why she was crying was because she has been conditioned to have her cancer define her as a person. The first thing people ask her about is her illness because the scarf is a talking point. Merri had lost who she was as a person and was used to people feeling sorry for her, so she would always offer a positive spin on her condition to make them feel comfortable. I felt incredibly sorry for her, but I thought it was more important to not state the obvious and just ‘have a chat’.

Merri is very well educated, and a passionate former environmental lobbyist. Merri taught me all about what a lobbyist does and the best ways to influence the people in power (politicians). I told her that I hate politics and I don’t like people who only do things for popularity or votes. Merri said to me “If you want to change a culture you need to get in this space. Politicians are just normal people behind closed doors, you just need to find the best way to influence them, and have a determination to not give up”. Wise words indeed that certainly made me ponder.

Merri has given up her job as she has only one more round of chemo before she dies next month. I was so honoured to spend a small moment in time with someone who is about to leave this world. What do you say to someone who knows they are dying and even the actual time frame they are to depart?

I decided to ask her how she intends to spend her last month? Merri told me (almost apologetically) that she doesn’t have time for the crusade to advocate to help others. She has chosen to spend as much time as she can with her family just talking about good times and reminiscing. Merri encouraged me to keep fighting for people with dementia and she has a good feeling that things with dementia care will improve.

My time with Merri was almost over as she had to leave. I was compelled to ask Merri for a hug as there was something magical about our conversation. She reached out to me and gave me her ‘positive energy’ and I sincerely thank her for the valuable lesson and amazing chat.

“Thank you Merri… It was a pleasure to meet you”…..

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