Home' Nova National : October 2009 Contents 35
© NOVA OCTOBER 2009
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difficulty communicating to people who've
not had cancer the gift that it has been in
my own life. The possibility of a shorter
life; that has altered, complicated and
compromised my life and those I love."
Loneliness and people treating you
differently were common ideas; "Other
people's attitudes...The pity that can be
seen in people's eyes". As Brian explains,
"I had friends who I had thought would
give me support, but they didn't. People
do avoid you. But others who you don't
expect to support you come out of the
These glimpses into the harrowing
"death sentence" that cancer can be, make
the insight, courage and gratitude expressed
so often in the survey even more powerful.
"For every action there is an equal and
opposite reaction." Here, of course, Sir
Isaac Newton famously summed up the
laws of physics, but he could just as well be
talking about the deep resilience found in a
Since 2002, Richard's company, Wire
Surveys, has surveyed people on a variety
of topics, from the war on Iraq to optimism,
driven mainly by his own curiosity rather
than commercial gain or research agendas.
Richard explains that he enjoys asking
ordinary people to reflect on living, to
think about "those questions people rarely
ask". While the cultured minds of, say,
Deepak Chopra or Nelson Mandela can so
eloquently extract and surmise the wisdom
of our age, Richard is more interested in
how everyday folk see their everyday lives.
"I can't relate to what John F Kennedy says
about leadership, because I'm not on that
level. I'm not running a country," he says.
"There's so much spiritual self help
stuff around to read. But there's nothing
like these direct, real life quotes from
Australians. Every comment is different...
it's heartbreaking, emotional. When asked
'What cheers you up?' one respondent
wrote, 'My mum'. It's so simple.
"I think cancer patients have a directness
that comes from not being afraid of being
open. There's fearlessness and optimism."
Three years ago, in another survey, Richard
posed similar questions to Australians over
the age of 50. But, he says, "The responses
were different [to the cancer survey] -- the
advice was softer. This time the answers are
more powerful, harder.
"Cancer can put a lot of things in
focus. It's about death, awareness and
living consciously. This survey captures the
private thoughts of 200 people, all different,
all alone; it shows how they have been
For those who have suffered illness
and adversity, this anonymous survey is
a chance for fearless self reflection and
sharing. For our healthy selves, perhaps, if
we listen well enough, we'll view our own
No doubt each of the 205 respondents
has a different story to tell. But in the
common thread there's a reminder that,
while you're alive, love and enjoy the act of
living, have the courage to be yourself, see
how lucky you are and know that nothing
stays the same.
"There is always someone worse off.
Life is too short and sometimes it is unfair.
Life is full of surprises. It can be shorter than
you think. Make the most of it!"
SOME SURVEY RESPONSES
What advice would you give
someone who feels like "giving
up" on life?
● To look for one positive thing in
their life no matter how small and
write them down each and every day
and finally you will realise you have a
lot to live for
● Surrender for a time, but try to
eat well and go for long walks in
nature. Don't push or try to create
an artificial life
What does success mean to you?
● A mixture of success and failure
make one more compassionate
● Learning something new about
myself as often as possible
● A calm and content self
● Little things, completing a job,
volunteering, getting a bit of praise,
getting things to grow, feeling good
for part of each day
● A loving partner and no money
What cheers you up?
● Good company and a few beers
● Not much at present, but being
with my partner helps
● My wife's love and sparkle
● The courage of other people
● Jokes on the email, laughing with
friends, seeing little babies, getting
into the garden, dancing, singing,
being with family
What has your illness taught you
● Not a thing
● Life is short, so find some bliss on
a daily basis
a doing word
● Don't worry so much about
things. Get plenty of sleep. Find
someone to share the worries with
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