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The Marlo Thomas Interview (Page 3 of 4)

An Interview with Marlo Thomas

Marlo Thomas: Oh yes. Having a child diagnosed with cancer or other deadly disease is very stressful for a family. At St. Jude, we believe it is so important to treat the whole family. We have a wonderful Child Life Program where the specialists create many opportunities for an outlet for feelings. We also have programs and counseling for the siblings and for the parents because we know that a child is not going to get well if the family does not stay whole and they are falling apart. When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it is like an earthquake that shakes the whole family. But when they come to St. Jude, they start to feel hope. They see that everything is being done for their child and that no stone is unturned and it is done at no cost to them.  St. Jude is not like any other hospital where, if you run out of money, you do not get the treatment; you do not get the radiation; you do not get the bone marrow transplant. A lot of stuff happens once you are diagnosed. There are many procedures that may be necessary to save a child’s life. I cannot think of anything worse for a parent than to not have the money or the insurance to pay to make their child well.

Gary Barg: When you go to St. Jude’s and talk with parents whose children are being treated there, what kind of things do they talk to you about?

Marlo Thomas: First of all, they always tell me about their journey, like where they were before they got to St. Jude and what that whole journey was like—how many doctors they saw and the diagnoses they got, the things that frightened them. They usually tell me about that and how they found St. Jude. Then they usually talk about what it is doing to their family. How the other children in the family get scared that they are going to get it, too, or they are scared that their sibling is going to die. They talk about everything—how they are coping and if their marriage is crumbling because of it or if their marriage is stronger. It is just like talking to a friend. It is like being in a foxhole with someone. When you are really up against a life or death situation, the conversation becomes very authentic, very real and very honest.

Gary Barg: Authentic is a great way to put it. The conversations are authentic and real.

Marlo Thomas: Yes, they are facing life or death with their child. This is not really a time for small talk. They want to talk about how they feel and they know that I care; they know that I am there to listen. We have good conversations. I have learned to sit there and have a conversation about their dying child or what the child went through and it has changed me as a person. You cannot be the same woman you were before this experience. It just completely changes you, and not just in the way most people say, which is that you understand what is important and what is not important. It does that, of course, but it also opens up another door in your soul that makes you become more expansive. There is a more expansive portal inside of you that can accept and live in a place of this kind of knowledge, to know what it is like to open your heart to somebody else’s pain and sit with it, be there for it without moving on to the next thing; really taking part in it completely, moment to moment, without being distracted. There are no distractions.

Gary Barg: It is the reality. What happens after the children are discharged? What is the program for follow-up care?

 

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