Cancer · Friendship · People


When I was in my early teens, a book was released which seemed to absorb my mother and most of her friends. I should note here that her circle contained a large number of current or former social workers, and people involved in social welfare issues, which may explain the level of enthusiasm it received in Brisbane’s inner western suburbs in 1993.

The book was The Shelter of Each Other by Mary Pipher and it explores issues around how our society supports families. I read it years ago when I was an early childhood teacher and must revisit it now. What has always stuck with me from this book is its title, which is drawn from an Irish proverb:

It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.

This strange time of the fairytale and the abyss has highlighted this for us like never before. At Peter MacCallum with our wonderful oncologists and nurses we find comfort and shelter. Yesterday at our fortnightly review my ever fantastic oncologist, Michael Jefford,  explained sensitively and eloquently the outcomes of my awful meeting with the surgeon a week ago. My specialist nurse Claire was there as well, doing her good works, having my back and just generally being amazing.

And then the chemo nurses…words fail really. Just goodness, gentleness, kindness, competence. An environment where really scary things can happen, but where the people who work there somehow manage to impart a sense of normality and life goes on. As always I left chemotherapy feeling wrapped up in warm blankets of love and care  (not literally due to Melbourne’s vile 42 degree C heat).

I had brought in gifts for my two oncologists – much like Sarah Debord at the Colon Cancer Chick blog I like to consider that I am freelancing with oncologists at the moment as next week I have appointments with two more!  However when buying these gifts, bottles of Veuve for the doctors and the wonderful Claire, a man approached me and pointed to the pram “Starting her early are ya love?”  I drew myself up to my full height of 5foot5 and with as much gumption as I could muster replied “I am buying these for my oncology team – I have cancer”. This reply sent him on his way. Much as I love to idealise the concept of our peers as shelter, some are just simply not.

Along similar lines, there is another quote by Emily Dickinson which I have loved for a long time: “I found it shelter to speak to you”. I am so lucky to have such an array of wonderful friends – as a little girl this was something I struggled with but in adult life I have been blessed with an abundance. However, there are a couple in particular for which this quote really resonates –  Michelle, Brigid, Fiona and Kim. These friends have seen me through the best and worst of my life – Kim for over 30 years, Brigid for nearly 20 and Michelle and Fiona for close to 10 now. No matter time and distance we always pick up straight where we left off and the feeling of being able to tell them anything and everything is wonderful.      I am never more aware than now of how precious that is.


2 thoughts on “Shelter

  1. Oh Caitlin, you write so beautifully. How can something so sad, also make me laugh so much? I do feel for that poor, hapless man – but boy, will he think twice next time?! Thanks for being my shelter over the years. And please, please keep writing – you have such a gift.


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