Ruth Cave died last Sunday. I filmed Ruth as part of the TUESDAYS film, at the Maggie’s Centre. I keep thinking about her. I am making a DVD for the family of all the footage Ruth and I shot together – at home with the girls in the garden, cooking in the kitchen, walking on the huge beach at Monifieth. Ruth grins at me from the computer, arguing, telling stories, questioning me, telling me what to do with the film. Vibrant, alive.
Here are some pictures taken by Emma Bestall at last week's premiere of TUESDAYS, Amy's new film about a group of women with advanced cancer who meet at the Maggie's Centre in Dundee. Article to follow.
Ruth Cave and Karen O'Shanghnessy.
The film TUESDAYS is almost finished and the invites for the premiere are going out. I have filmed for several months with a group of very different women who come together every Tuesday in Dundee. They laughed and cried, exchanged shopping and cooking tips, and supported each other through life after a diagnosis of secondary cancer. One in three of us will develop cancer: it is a future most of us dread. This documentary shows that the reality is a bit more interesting, complicated and joyful than we fear – because once you've had the worst diagnosis, what is left to be scared of?
I have loved working with the Maggie’s Centre. Watching as the psychologist Lesley Howells holds the group week after week, encouraging discussion, even, or especially, about the really tough things, and bringing them through, makes me adore her. The team behind the scenes, based in London, are visionary. They offer – and expect – thinking outside the box. It was also very astute to bring Nell Dunn in as a consultant writer: she responded with such grace and clarity to the early cuts of the film. In fact the film ended up being structured chronologically, reflecting the ebb and flow of a group where mortality is first on the agenda: as Ruth Cave put it, “I joined this group to see how it is to die from cancer.”
Complementing major NHS cancer hospitals across the country, Maggie’s provides a unique approach to cancer that, at its simplest, can be described as ‘calmness, clarity and a cup of tea’.
Their unique approach to cancer started with Maggie Keswick Jencks. Maggie lived with terminal cancer for two years, and during that time she used her knowledge and experience to create a blueprint for a new type of care. One that lets people with cancer feel in control, not part of a production line; one that recognises the importance of reassuring spaces when people are feeling vulnerable; and one that never allows people to “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying” as she put it.
If you know someone who might benefit from the practical, emotional, or psychological support they offer, have a look at their website to find your nearest Maggie’s Centre.
I got up at 6.30 a.m. this morning to get to Strathcarron Hospice to show four of the very experienced nursing staff the film TUESDAYS we have made with the Maggie's Centre in Dundee. On the road by 7.20 a.m.… Brain into gear at one minute to 9. It was the first showing of the final version of the film. There was total silence from the four nurses as the women on the screen took us through their lives.
“Well that’s not what you read in the text-books,” was the first response. “You know what these women have done?” – I steeled myself.
“They’ve put it into words – the confusion, the thoughts, all the different emotions that people want to and can’t say. It’s not sad. Not sad at all. It's what we see on the ward...it's the black humour...the friendship....it's beautiful and true and doctors and nurses need to see this film. ”
I believe her. Not only because she is a consummate professional, but also because I have watched this gorgeous woman sing and dance her patients into well-being at Strathcarron Hospice. And I keep filming it.
The film about the Maggie's Centre is with the sound designer Marcelo de Oliveiri right now, and will have its premiere in Dundee on Wednesday 4th April, when the amazing women in the film will be there to talk to the audience. Tickets are free but limited: RSVP here.
This week I showed the final cut of the film I have been making with five women at the Maggie's Centre, Dundee. Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres are a charity that builds stunningly beautiful houses close to hospitals: places to go for well-being when you've been hit with the cancer diagnosis.
These women were brave and open and let me into their lives over the last ten months, sharing the messiness and fear, as well as their kindness and of course, their riotous sense of humour! Once the worst has happened, there is not much left to fear, time is short, and hey, life is for living!
It's a paradox – the film, through these women, looks death right in the face. So it is scary. But somehow, by going through the journey with them, you come out braver, less scared – it gives you courage. The film is with the fab composer Lennert Busch just now, and we will have a launch in April at Dundee Contemporary Arts, and then one in London. These women seem like front-runners to me. I feel I am slugging along behind them. They deserve medals – services to humanity. Order of generous.
Happy New Year everyone. Right now, I am spending every day filming either in a hospice, or in the Maggie's Centre, or with a group of doctors. That's a lot of mortality, a lot of death, that I see every week.
And this is my present to myself, my coping strategy – a tiny(ish) furry red bundle of optimism called Mitsuki, a foal, who loves more than anything to be scratched. Here he is, exploring snow and my husband with snowshovel for the first time. All best wishes for 2012!