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.
Follow @cathynewman on Twitter