15 Jun 2015

What would you do if you only had weeks to live?

If you know you’re going to die in a few weeks, how does that alter your appreciation of what remaining life you have? For the television writer Dennis Potter, it came down to “the blossomest blossom” – an intensity about his enjoyment of life once his death from cancer was imminent.

“At this season, the blossom is out in full now… and instead of saying ‘Oh that’s a nice blossom’… last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. The newness of everything is absolutely wondrous,” he said in an interview in 1994.

Moira Dixon (above) knows exactly what that’s like. She’s 53, and has just weeks to live. And although she says she feels “sad all the time”, her decision to “live in the now” has brought her unexpected happiness.

“I take pictures, like when it was raining on the bus, and the bus was going past St Paul’s [Cathedral], and I just thought ‘that looks beautiful’’.

I went to speak to Moira, an executive PA at a broadcasting company, about her decision to take part in a new research project launched tonight by Breast Cancer Now, a charity formed by the merger of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

She is one of 12 volunteers who will donate their cancer tissues immediately after dying, allowing much better understanding of how tumours spread.

Her family may not get to say a final goodbye, before her organs are handed over. But although she admits they were at first reluctant to give her the go ahead, she wanted to be part of the study because she felt she owed so much to the Royal Marsden, the cancer hospital which has kept her alive since her original diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in 2013.

Moira is astonishingly composed, and looks so deceptively well that even she admits she sometimes looks in the mirror and can’t quite believe she’s dying. So she’s determined to savour every last moment of her remaining days and weeks. “I just feel that if I stay too sad, I am actually losing out on a bit of happiness that I could have now. I would lose a day being sad. Why would I fill my days with sadness?” she asks.

Sadness there is, though, and she wasn’t the only one to shed tears as she spoke about the family she knows she will soon leave behind. She found herself organising the lives of her husband and 29-year-old son – lives which will carry on in her absence. “I had to stop myself, because that wasn’t anything to do with me any more, and I had to let go,” she tells me.

Moira hopes that the courageous decision by her and her family to take part in the research will help achieve a lasting legacy: an end to breast cancer deaths within decades. But there’s something else she has achieved immediately by talking with such disarming frankness about death.

Listening to her speak, you can’t help but admire her ability to discover joy in the everyday, and beauty in the most ordinary things. Next time it’s raining on the bus, think of Moira, and the blossomest blossom.

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17 reader comments

  1. anon says:

    this perhaps would be a blog where the only appropriate comment from someone outside of this is just to say God bless you Moira, your family, those who care for you or or who are affected, and anyone else similarly affected, God bless you all

  2. Philip Edwards says:

    Cathy,

    What a wonderfully courageous lady Moira is.

    Very sensitive, very human, very moving.

    Other words are superfluous.

    This report does you and C4 News great credit too. Thanks.

  3. Tony Ives says:

    Cathy, wonderful interview. Don’t usually fill up but it was so touching. Thank you for letting us meet an inspiring lady.

  4. Anon says:

    Moira
    If you’re reading this I just wanted to say how moved I was by your courage and stoicism you displayed in your interview. I was very moved by your words and pray somehow you will find peace . God bless you.
    G

  5. neil says:

    God Bless you Moira, having lost a loved one through this disease, her thoughts were like yours live for today….

  6. Barbara Townley says:

    I thought Moira Dixon demonstrated real strength. Incredibly brave. Very humbling.

  7. Ben says:

    I’ve never felt so touched by anything I’ve ever seen as much as Moira has touched me in this video. What an extraordinary human being she is,with such a beautiful soul. I am in awe of your courage and dignity xx

  8. Christine says:

    Thank you for sharing with me and others . You are so strong keep clicking your photos . Xxx

  9. Caroline says:

    My amazing Aunty who will live on in my heart forever her positive outlook is something I admire and will always try to live my life to the fullest in honor of her.

  10. Gill Wood says:

    Wow Moira, having watched your video of the programme, may I just say how fantastic you are, there must be lots of little things you still want to do and I really do hope that the cancer allows you just the right amount of time to do them.
    I pray for you and your family, I hope they have the same attitude as you going forward.

  11. lucy Marllow says:

    Thank you for sharing this. This is heartbreaking but what an amazing and brave lady Moira is.

    I wish her and her family love, peace and happiness xx

  12. Rob Norrington says:

    Well done, Cathy. Moira is clearly a brave and intelligent woman but your probing questions eventually managed to make her cry so that Channel 4 News could get that all-important ‘money shot’. A perfect example of squalid and shameful media exploitation for purely vicarious effect. If you can’t behave with more respect, just leave the poor woman alone.

    1. D. Kavanagh says:

      No Rob, I think you’ve misjudged it. I think it’s a very pertinent and fair question, though of course sensitive and unpalatable to hear, the answer to which is important. I say this, not out of any wish to indulge myself in another person’s sadness as someone who has no idea of the situation, but as one who recently almost lost my life last year, but was saved by a double lung transplant – my wife and I fully understood Moira’s feelings, which were similar to my own. It’s awful to see someone’s sadness and it is a difficult decision whether to ask such a question as Cathy did, but important for others to understand the feeling for a person like Moira. Some viewers may find themselves in the same position as Moira in years to come and be reassured that similar feelings are normal in such a sad position in their lives. I actually though t Cathy Newman handed the interview very sensitively. If anything, perhaps it wasn’t necessary to see Moira’s face when answering this particular question, although Moira was superb anyway in handling the question and a lovely lady in all respects from what I could gather. God bless Moira.

  13. H Statton says:

    I can only echo the above comments.

    Moira has a huge heart albeit tainted with sadness but showed us all in a very humble way how to appreciate all the beautiful and simple things in life that passes us by.

    And even though Moira is painfully aware that the end is near, still her resilience and soulfulness illuminates the room, crushing completely any self-pity and melancholy.

    Her philosophy seems more ‘I am living with it’ rather than, ‘I am dying from it’ – She does not waste, but enjoys every single day.

    We saw tears, laughter, a wonderful love of life and stoicism that I’ve never witnessed before.

    Well done Moira, you truly blossomed.

    And thanks must also go to Cathy Newman for conducting such a difficult, sensitive interview. Pitch perfect.

  14. Ghislaine Auguste says:

    Very sad, this is happening to us right at this moment, loosing someone very dear with metastasis breast cancer. Seeing her in so much agony is very sad. She is in for her radiotherapy treatment but on arriving on the ward yesterday the nurse informed me that she has deteriorated. We’re keeping her surrounded with love and letting her know how brave and special she is. It’s very sad and painful seeing such a bubbly loving person fighting for her life. In her words she said “it’s sad because there so much, so so much to do” “when I thought I was about to start looking after myself”. A very hard working nurse herself, took an early retirement, build her beautiful house and started a little business back home, preparing to settle down between home and here, took a holiday, went home with her husband and he unexpectedly past away suddenly. She came back to the UK and found out she had breast cancer…her battle for three years is nearing the end…our hearts feel heavy and our eyes are full of tears knowing what’s going to happen any moment now, we feel helpless for not able to do anything but I still pray for a miracle, a miracle against the odds just to give her one more chance. Reading about this research answered one of my so many questions ” how come she has been under doctors and specialists eyes and they could not see the cancer spreading even if she insisted that she knew and felt there was something in her brain while they gave her hope. Breast cancer is a major killer for women, although it is very good to know that the research is going to happen now, it feels really sad that such research has not been done yet…I am surprised to learn that not much is known about it and yet a major killer!!!

  15. Claire says:

    Unfortunately my truly amazing friend Moira dixon lost her battle this morning x

    She truly is an amazing person. X

    Rip Moira xx

  16. Jan Harris says:

    So sad to hear that Moira died this morning. We volunteered together at my local GP practice where we were involved in the Patient Group and Moira was instrumental in an installation of artwork by local children which was launched just last month…RIP Moira

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