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 Amazon.com. 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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* GAYLE IN THE MEDIA *

"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today

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