Now did you meet your husband, Doug, who I know is an artist, after you moved to Brandon?
I did. He first saw me in Safeway shopping with my mom, and I guess he told his friend, "That’s the girl I’m going to marry."
Yes. And that’s 53 years ago.
Career-wise, all I know is that you’ve been involved in the drama circles in town. But did you do other stuff to make money, because sadly, we all know that the arts doesn’t really pay.
(laughs) Yes. I was working in a grocery store — at the Co-op — and a few other places to make money. And then I did a lot of sewing, and I still do that, because I could be home and keep an eye on the boys. We have two sons. So that was good. And when they started the three-year program at Brandon University for theatre, I thought, "Hey — I’m going to go there."
So I took the three-year program and then went on to take four years of Summer Theatre School Manitoba, and then I was working in the Artist in the Schools program. I also did some adjudicating and then workshops because I just love theatre.
What is it about theatre that makes your blood race?
You can step out of yourself and do things you normally wouldn’t do. And it’s just wonderful working with a group of people — there’s the excitement and the passion and then having an audience enjoy what you’ve done.
Live theatre — live performance of any kind, I think — is always just so thrilling and invigorating for both the performers and the audience, because anything can go wrong at any moment, and unlike the movies, you don’t get to do a second take.
Right. So you’ve got to be on your toes and thinking.
Absolutely. So what sort of stuff have you done? We try really hard here in Brandon — I mean, there are the local musicals and plays that Mecca and 7 Ages and the university and the high schools do, but there’s not a ton of other theatrical activity. Did you go away to do some of that?
No, it was mostly here. I had a dinner theatre going for several years and murder mysteries that are all improv, because one year at Summer Theatre School in Winnipeg, there was an instructor there and he covered improv. And I was hooked.
What is it about improv? I find it fun, but terrifying at the same time, because man, you do have to be on your toes.
Yeah. As well, it’s great working with a group and planning — sort of like birthing something. And for me, that’s the great part, because you’re working at getting all these great ideas and working through the scenarios. I think you get your best product then.
Just because it’s so fresh?
It’s so fresh — yes!
You still continue to do that, don’t you? You recently did a murder-mystery at Seniors for Seniors with all proceeds going to the Canadian Cancer Society and the Brandon 2014 Relay for Life.
Yes. I was away from it for a while — when I was taking chemo. And for a few years after that, I just couldn’t do it. But getting back to doing this dinner theatre at Seniors was certainly a renewal.
Well, that’s great! Now you mentioned chemo, and that was the primary reason I wanted to talk to you, although I’m kind of getting a twofer with you because we’ve talked about theatre as well. But what was your diagnosis? How long ago?
Ovarian cancer. Seventeen years ago. So now I’m classified as a veteran. And it’s just great to have that space between the diagnosis, the cure — the chemo — and now.
Did your battle go on for ages?
Well, the chemo was only nine months, but it goes on for so long after in your mind. You get a little tummy ache, and you immediately think, ‘Oh! It’s back!’ So that’s something that, for me, had to be worked on. You know, I’d say, ‘OK — that’s enough. Get the test. It’s not back. Go on.’ And it’s just been the last couple of years that that has actually left me.
Wow. So it was a 15-year process, essentially.
Yes — for me. I don’t know how it would be for some other people.
Now this award you’re receiving — tell me about that.
It’s going to be presented on June 14 at Relay for Life. And that’s at the Sportsplex. The Brandon office of the Canadian Cancer Society nominated me — they said, ‘Can we do this?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ We thought it would be really cool if Brandon got in on this. And then I forgot all about it. So I was totally taken aback when I received it, and very humbled. I was left speechless when I got the call, and that doesn’t happen too often!
So you volunteer with the Cancer Society’s Peer Support program, which matches someone newly diagnosed with cancer with someone who’s had a similar cancer experience. Is that to let them know they’re not alone and that there’s hope?
That’s right. And when they hear 17 years, you here the silence. And then, ‘Oh! Wow!’ Because that seems to be hope, which is great. And after having cancer and going through that, it’s really fantastic to be able to help people.
And what do you do to help them? Just be an inspiration and talk to them?
Talk to them. I’m linked with people about my age who are going through the same thing — they may be just starting. Some people almost need to talk to somebody they don’t know, because there are some things they want to say or want to know. And it’s painful.
What are some of those things they want to say or know?
Well, a lot of it is about chemo. ‘What should I expect?’
And I imagine it’s different for everybody.
It is. So we can’t say, ‘This is what you should expect.’
But you can say, ‘This is what happened to me.’
Yes. And I got through it. And that, again, is hope.
When something like this happens, it changes your life forever — there’s just no way around it. And yet, do you ever — well, ‘resent’ is maybe too strong a word — but are you ever frustrated that your life-focus for such a long time has been on this vicious illness that so many people have to endure? Or do you look at it from the positive perspective of offering hope?
I look at it now, and I can say I’m glad I had cancer.
I’m always amazed by that, because I’ve heard that before. But why?
Because I don’t know what my life would have been before, but I know that it has changed me and it has brought me into a place where I can talk about it and help people and it all revolves back to that. And that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had cancer.
So making these connections with people is precious to you and you feel like you’re doing something that’s making a difference.
Yes. I mean there are still days when you think, ‘Oh my god — it’s cold outside and I have to go out and blah blah blah blah blah.’ But that’s just a part of human nature. And ‘gratitude’ is a big word in my life now.
To and for what?
For still being here, with my husband and our boys and our grandchildren. If I had lost my life at that time, the grandchildren — I wouldn’t have known them. So there’s a lot of gratitude.
But it probably didn’t feel that way when you were going through chemo.
No. The chemo was probably worse than the operation. And there were a lot of times when I thought, ‘I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know if I want to do this. I would be better if I wasn’t here.’ Your energy gets so low, but it’s even more than that — it’s just the loss of looking ahead. When you’re sick, you think, ‘What am I going to do tomorrow? Be sick again?’
But now you have hope again, and you can give that to other people?
Yes. I can. And I know this because people say, ‘Oh — I’m so glad I talked to you. I feel so much better.’ So again, the word ‘gratitude’ is predominant.
So I understand there are some upcoming events that support the cancer cause. Tell me a bit about them.
We have a tea for survivors and caregivers — we just started that about three years ago. It’s on Sunday, June 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. in Ken Robbins Hall at Lions Manor. Then of course the Relay for Life, which is Saturday, June 14 from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at the Sportsplex, and it’s for anyone who’s been touched by cancer or anybody who just wants to show their support. We fundraise for the Cancer Society.
I’ve always been curious about why the Relay for Life is at night.
Well, for those who are fighting cancer, from diagnosis to treatment and the road to recovery, cancer never sleeps. So for the relay, neither do we. It’s our way of letting them know they’re not alone. And when the sun comes up and Relay comes to a close, it’s sort of a way of saying we’re committed to continue the fight for life all year long.