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).
Family history of the disease.
Certain genetic alterations.
Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Diets high in animal fat and low in fiber.
Source: The National Cancer Institute of the United States,