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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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22044 Points

thanks God she’s ok!

228 Points

I had no idea this was happening, I’m so happy she is better. She’s really something, a Gryffindor through and through.

Posted by RAzzLe on October 05, 2009, 10:05 AM report to moderator
62 Points

I’m glad she is okay. She is a great actress, I love her. Sending many thoughts and prayers her way.

Posted by on October 05, 2009, 10:07 AM report to moderator
110 Points

I am so glad she is on the mend. Being from a family that had two cancer patients (one with breast cancer, the other with lung cancer) dealing at the same time, I can honestly say that there is a sense of depression that happens during the aftermath. You really reflect on your life and take stock of what you’ve done in the past and of what’s important. I think as she recovers, she will again regain some of her vigor…it’ll be a bit of a road, but she has the inner strength to do it.

Posted by LadyCake on October 05, 2009, 10:08 AM report to moderator
120 Points

Dame Maggie Smith, a true inspiration. I’m happy to hear she is recovering nicely.

Posted by Aurora_7 on October 05, 2009, 10:14 AM report to moderator
1579 Points

i applaud maggie smith in her battle, and am soo happy she is ok.
keep fighting

Posted by Beckster235 on October 05, 2009, 10:25 AM 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 05, 2009, 10:26 AM 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 05, 2009, 10:28 AM report to moderator
39680 Points

i know how she feels! im so glad she’s better now, im not sure how it would be if we lost our only mcgonnagal. so glad she took the courage to film DH! :)

Posted by chocolaterabbits on October 05, 2009, 10:32 AM report to moderator
43 Points

She is a wonderful, amazing woman. I wish her all the best in the future, too… b/c she so richly deserves one!!

Posted by Sherylyn on October 05, 2009, 10:40 AM report to moderator
3560 Points

Thankfully she is in remission and she can continue bringing my favorite Transfiguration master to life. Long live Maggie Smith!!!!!

Posted by Brosia, OoM 2 [WBM] on October 05, 2009, 11:02 AM report to moderator
47 Points

shocking! hey dobby

Posted by rumble_roar on October 05, 2009, 11:10 AM report to moderator
3455 Points

OMG! breast cancer is so horrible, my aunt has it, and its aweful, treatment and everything. i love maggie smith, she is one of my favourite actress (she wasnt knighted for nothing!) and i really hope she is all right! it would be so horrible—ugh i cant think about it!
Cheer up Dm.Smith, a positive attitude really does help! sending you all my love and good wishes! get better soon!

Posted by Catherine ( *SQUEE!*) on October 05, 2009, 11:14 AM report to moderator
1642 Points

I’m really happy to hear she’s doing okay. I wish her the best!!

Posted by Matea on October 05, 2009, 11:15 AM report to moderator
42 Points

She is a wonderful actor, and a beautiful person, even after what she’s been through to still want to work through the last films,
I hope she continues to have strength when she needs it, and think she has a amazing heart, and will set through anything she puts her mind to.

Posted by loseyouslowly on October 05, 2009, 11:20 AM report to moderator
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