Weekly Local Biography

  Erica Crutchley

By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.

Erica Crutchley was born in London and experienced the notorious Pea Soupers of 1952, those devastatingly unhealthy four days of pollution that was so heavy you couldn’t see two meters in front of you. She remembers walking home from school and not being able to see from lamppost to lamppost. Four thousand people died, triggering serious air pollution reform. What it triggered for Erica’s family was an immediate move to the suburbs. She was seven years old.
She found school uneventful. She attended and did her work, but didn’t particularly like it. She went on to grammar school, thinking that she would study nursing one day. But an illness put her into the hospital and she observed that nurses work very hard and the work is often very messy. A conference with a school counselor, and she learned about other helping professions. She visited a speech therapy clinic and loved what she saw, and soon was training in London. She received a grant to study, and says it was a “gateway to the world”. She says training was wonderful. She shared a flat with other young women who were also studying speech therapy. They’ve kept in touch through the years, and all will have their 60th birthdays this year and return to London for a big reunion. Hopefully, it will be free of pea soup!
Erica went to work at a speech clinic on graduation, gaining experience working with both normal and disabled children who had speech problems, including autistic children. She married Chris, who worked for the railway. His job was mobile, and she went from position to position as they moved about. She gained a lot of experience. When they moved to Somerset, she worked with an inspiring team leader who pressed her into working with adults. She experienced enormous satisfaction in her work with post-stroke patients, and expresses a lot of appreciation for their struggles to communicate and their problem solving skills. The deinstitutionalization movement was developing in the western world, and those were exciting times for patient advocates such as Erica. She worked with people who had severe long-term disabilities. Some had spent many years in institutions, but some lived with elderly parents. Either way, they had little experience in accomplishing the activities of daily living. Getting up, bathing, dressing, preparing meals and cleaning up were all tasks to be learned. For too many years they had been told what to do and when to do it. Now they had to internalize those routines to live independently.
Along the way, Erica and Chris adopted a little 4-year-old boy. He was strong willed but intelligent. He had experienced no stability in his little life, and was often desperately frightened when changes took place. It was a challenge, but a loving challenge. He had to both learn new coping skills and unlearn old ones. He is completing university now, and working as a welfare worker at the same time.
As time went on, Erica and Chris began to talk about retirement. Their parents were gone, and their son was grown. They visited Bali but found it too small. They came to Chiang Mai and were intrigued. They went home, came back, and went home again. Then they began making serious plans to retire, and moved to Chiang Mai three years ago. One day Erica read in the “Chiang Mai Mail” about a group of women who have lunch together once a month, the Lunch Bunch. She telephoned the organizer and made arrangements to join the group. One contact led to another, and soon they had made many friends. They joined the Opera Society, they played mah jong, and they enjoyed the beauty of their country home and played with their dogs. Then Erica’s elderly aunt died, and she went home to England to handle arrangements.
She didn’t feel well in England, and began to experience uncomfortable gastro-intestinal symptoms. She came back to Chiang Mai, scared. But Chris and her many friends supported her, and she made an appointment with a local physician. Frightened, she learned the diagnosis – colorectal cancer. Radiation therapy and surgery followed. Then chemotherapy. She has nothing but praise for the physicians who took care of her, are taking care of her. They have personalized her care, spending large amounts of time with her, phoning her, teaching her. She has faith in them. She is recovering.
She’s doing well, and she’s doing some amazing things. She is forming a support group for cancer patients, pulling together local people who have the skills needed to support patients. She hopes to eventually found an in-home hospice so that terminally ill patients can die with dignity in their own homes. She understands the concept of a “good death”. She wants to tell local oncologists about the volunteer resources that are here, both Thai and western. Erica Crutchley is not sitting around feeling sorry for herself. Not at all.
She’s playing the piano. She’s taken up tai chi, and she’s circle dancing with friends. She has joined a group of women who have named themselves the Optimists, and they’re working on healthy nutrition life styles. And she’s getting ready to go on a major holiday, first to the reunion of her flat mates in London in July, then off to the U.S. to visit her brother and his family, on to Canada and then down under to Australia to visit friends. It’s all about family and friends. Life, she says, is good.
Author’s note: Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in both men and women. Research has shown that people with the following risk factors are most likely to develop it:

Age (90% of people diagnosed are over 50 years of age).
Colorectal polyps.
Family history of the disease.
Certain genetic alterations.
Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Diets high in animal fat and low in fiber.
Cigarette smoking.
Source: The National Cancer Institute of the United States, www.cancer.gov