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Dame Maggie Smith on Her Fight with Breast Cancer, Filming Last Harry Potter and More

Posted by: sue
October 04, 2009, 05:24 PM

On this day when we in the fandom are celebrating Professor McGonagall's birthday, it is only fitting that we hear from the woman who brings this character so memorably to life on the screen: Dame Maggie Smith. The Times has released a brand new interview with this acclaimed actress, where she discusses her career, her role as the Head of Gryffindor in the Harry Potter films series (she noted she is about to film again shortly for Deathly Hallows later this year), and most importantly her battle against breast cancer. Readers will recall of course that we learned she was fighting this terrible disease while Half-Blood Prince was in production, and in this interview she discussed going through treatment as she was filming, and the aftermath of the chemotherapy she endured where she lost her hair. Noting now she is OK and has received the "all-clear" from her doctors, Dame Maggie Smith speaks at length and very movingly of her battle as follows:

The cancer must have made it harder. “It was hideous . . . not so good,” she says tightly and looks for some wood to touch. The chemotherapy, she says, “was very peculiar, something that makes you feel much worse than the cancer itself, a very nasty thing. I used to go to treatment on my own, and nearly everybody else was with somebody. I wouldn’t have liked that. Why would you want to make anybody sit in those places?”

Smith had found a lump on her breast. “I had been feeling a little rum and didn’t know why. I was never nervous, well I was, but I didn’t think it was anything serious because years ago I felt one before and had been hurled into hospital. It was benign and assumed this one would be too. It was a bit unnerving when it wasn’t. But treatment is so swift you don’t have time to think about anything.”

Telling her family (two adult sons and their loved ones) was “awful. It [the illness] kind of takes the wind out of your sails, and I don’t know what the future holds, if anything. I really don’t know.”

She says that she has received the all-clear from doctors, and goes back for a check-up later this month, adding that she’s disposed of the hats and caps she bought to cover her baldness: “You think they’re going to work and they don’t.” It was “very weird” to lose her hair. “So weird. Oh, it’s awful. You really do feel horribly sick. I was staggering around Waitrose and felt ghastly. I was holding on to railings, thinking, ‘I can’t do this’.”

She filmed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince mid-treatment. “I was hairless. I had no problem getting the wig on. I was like a boiled egg.”

Smith says that she accepted the possibility of dying. “I was relieved to be the age I was, because by now you feel like it’s all over anyway. That’s why I hated seeing young people receiving treatment [at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London]. I couldn’t bear that, it didn’t seem fair. To be honest, you feel so ghastly you wouldn’t mind dying a lot of the time.”

She struggles for words. “I felt . . . I was just . . . It leaves you so flattened. I’m not sure I could go back to theatre work, although film work is more tiring. I’m frightened to work in theatre now. I feel very uncertain. I haven’t done it for a while [her last stage role was in The Lady from Dubuque in 2007]. I’m not quite sure if it’s like getting back on a horse or a bike. Not that I’d do either, I’d fall off. It’s one of those things you ought to keep on doing and I haven’t for a bit. I would love to be able to because I do love it, but I feel a great lack of confidence. Being unwell and having withdrawn . . . I haven’t been in London for so long, it’s quite scary up here.” Smith is clinking the ice absently in her mineral water. It will seem unimaginable to many that she is talking about giving up theatre, I say. “Well, there’s a limit to what you can do. I’m not into that argument there aren’t any parts for older women, though. Anyway, why should there be? If there’s work I’ll do it and if there isn’t . . . I’ve still got to stagger through the last Potter.”

Editor's Note: I think it's safe to say all of us here at TLC heartily support and loudly applaud Dame Maggie Smith's courage, humor and honesty in the article, a true Gryffindor if there ever was!

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126 Points

She is a formidable woman, and I admire her greatly. How sad that all she sees is the end for her…

Posted by Maestra2 on October 04, 2009, 05:41 PM report to moderator
4151 Points

i’m glad she’s better, she’s such a wonderful person and actress.

Posted by mai {beatnik owl} on October 04, 2009, 05:49 PM report to moderator
545 Points

Great interview…

Posted by Nicci Weasley on October 04, 2009, 05:50 PM report to moderator
625 Points

She’s a Courageous person!
I know some people whose mathers had the same problem and this is a hard condition for the person whohas this terrivel disease and also to those who live around her! A strong Will is needed!

I’m glad Maggie Smith is O.K. =)

And I wish her all the best!!

Posted by humbert0 on October 04, 2009, 05:51 PM report to moderator
13519 Points

I’m so relieved to hear that she’s doing better! She is such a wonderful actress and I really hope she gets her confidence back so she can continue doing theatre.

Posted by jenge {Meredith Mooncloud} ~ [ITC!] on October 04, 2009, 05:51 PM report to moderator
437 Points

Amazing…. :)

Posted by LadySidi on October 04, 2009, 06:09 PM report to moderator
2661 Points

Oh wow, I’m so glad she’s all right. She’s a brilliant actress.

Posted by Wingardium Leviosa ❄WBM❄ on October 04, 2009, 06:13 PM report to moderator
354 Points

She’s a great actress. Why does such an amazing person have to be diagnosed with such a horrible disease? She is a true Gryffindor.

Posted by Hermionerules!1844 on October 04, 2009, 06:15 PM report to moderator
63 Points

Hi all,

Just want Dame Smith to know to keep up the good fight. the reason I know about (Breast Cancer) is because my mom had (BC) about 10 years ago. So far it hasn’t come back! I pray every night that the breast cancer doesn’t come back & so far it hasn’t!

Posted by roller on October 04, 2009, 06:25 PM report to moderator
63 Points

Hi all,

Just want Dame Smith to know to keep up the good fight. the reason I know about (Breast Cancer) is because my mom had (BC) about 10 years ago. So far it hasn’t come back! I pray every night that the breast cancer doesn’t come back & so far it hasn’t!

Posted by roller on October 04, 2009, 06:27 PM report to moderator
1479 Points

She is great.That is so sad. :(

Posted by magicmaniac on October 04, 2009, 06:54 PM report to moderator
16258 Points

shes such a wonderful actress. shes one of my favorites.

Posted by Gryffindor1991 {ROAR!!!} on October 04, 2009, 06:54 PM report to moderator
1317 Points

What a marvelous and brave person she is! We pray this is the last time she will ever have to deal with that monster. A true Gryffindor through and through!

Posted by hewy on October 04, 2009, 06:59 PM report to moderator
2224 Points

I hope she stays cancer free!

Posted by on October 04, 2009, 07:04 PM report to moderator

So glad to hear she is in remission. Hope it continues and yes any treatment as Dame Maggie has had is invasive and very threatening. May she have many more years of performing to come. She is an excellent actress and I am sure if she tries stage work again she will excel.

Posted by Spook on October 04, 2009, 07:06 PM report to moderator
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