Carol Murphy – “Lucky to Be Alive”

Today’s Pink Ribbon Blues Contributor is Claire Festela writer from British Columbia. Her new book, Remarkable Yukon Women, shares the profiles of fifty women over the age of fifty who were born, or who settled in, the sparsely populated Yukon territory of western Canada.

Illustrated with portraits of these women by artist Valerie Hodgson of Whitehorse, Yukon, the book captures the lives of everyday women in a harsh, dry climate with long cold winters and short summers. The written and visual portraits in this book reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary.

What follows is Claire Festel’s profile of Carol Murphy, an English-born woman for whom cervical cancer is another part of an effort-filled, inspired, and creative life.

Born October 17, 1955 in London, England

When you walk outside – it’s beautiful. Even when the snow is coming down, it’s beautiful. Even at 45 below, it’s beautiful – as long as you have a good brand of coffee sitting on the wood stove and a few books. That’s life here – it’s good. – Carol

Carol drives up to my house in a red pickup truck. She opens the door and uses her arms to lift and swing her legs out. She slowly stands, keeping her hand against the truck for support. She gives me a wide smile, a friendly nod and turns her concentration inwards. Each step is an effort – she consciously lifts a leg, swings it forward, pauses, transfers her weight, lifts and swings. When she notices me watching, she smiles briefly, then grimaces with the effort and continues. I hold the door, look towards Marsh Lake and wait until she has mounted the steps beside me. We go wordlessly into the house.

Carol was born into a military family. Her parents met in England, where she was born. Her father was posted to Whitehorse in 1957 where her younger brother and sister were born, but Carol says, “We bounced around like the military does.” Carol grew up mostly between Whitehorse and Chilliwack.

Carol says she was not a very good student. “I guess I was troubled when I was younger.”  She spent a lot of time with Sylvia William’s (a frontier bush woman) family in Sleepy Hollow where she learned how to dumpster dive for food, shoe horses and work for big game outfitters.  She got as far as grade 10 and quit to work full-time. “Anything you could do outside – that was the key.” She ran equipment in mining camps and a buggy and a DC8 Cat at a placer gold mine. “Then, I bounced down to Atlin, B.C. and ran a scraper for quite a few years.“ She saved money to travel in winter, mostly to southern B.C..

In one camp, she sorted and screened nuggets in the gold room. She worked the mercury plates, the jigs and the tables. “We were allowed to buy an ounce of gold a month from the company.” She laughs, “I’d set aside the nuggets I liked, and at the end of the month, I’d sort through and pick out the ones I really liked and buy them.” That cache of nuggets prompted her to explore her creative side.

Carol took a goldsmith course and later got into carving. She wears her own ivory pendant. “My friend Norma Shorty prayed over it for me and so did a Buddhist monk. I wear it quite frequently; it’s like a little goddess.” I say its flowing lines remind me of fish, and her face brightens, “Ah – salmon. I worship at the shrine of Coho–I go to Haines, Alaska all the time. I love watching them come up the river with the tide – these silver darts shooting up the current. They’re a beautiful silver color when you catch them and they feed you so, so well and you thank them.” She comes back to the present with a shake of her head.

In 1984 she qualified as a medic and worked on the oilrigs in northern B.C.. “They want a woman out there if they’re good. The girls who went in there with the makeup and looking pretty had the problems.  If you kept in mind the men had families then you never had problems. You had to go in there and be the buddy. Then they trusted us essentially. You learned that with age.”

Finally, Carol tells me about her physical state. “I turned 50 and I think my warranty ran out. I had cervical cancer and they got it all out.” But her real struggle is the neck injury. It’s been two years since a rock hit the truck she was operating, “My head went back and forth, from side to side, inside the cab. It took me almost eight months to convince my doctor something was really wrong. Turns out I was walking around with a totally collapsed disk and my spinal chord is flattened against my backbone.”  She will be in operation after operation for the foreseeable future.

She wipes away a silent tear. “I’m living in medical limbo – waiting and waiting. Pretty much every thing that I did in my life is closed to me. I’ve been playing with my carving. I have to think about what I can do if I end up in a wheelchair.” Then she puts her hands flat on the table and breathes deeply. “But, my spine surgeon is going to bat for me and he’s one of the top spine surgeons in the world.

Actually, I’m lucky to be alive.”

Remarkable Yukon Women will be released from Harbour Publishing and is available for pre-order at Book launch and signing to be held June 4th in Whitehorse, Yukon.

ISBN 13: 978-1-55017-523-3

ISBN 10: 1-55017-523-8

Price: $29.95 CAD; $29.95 USD

Release Date: June 2, 2011

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2 comments to Carol Murphy – “Lucky to Be Alive”

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest

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