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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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53 Points

shes so strong and im so happy shes cancer free :)

Posted by blackloverxoxo on October 05, 2009, 12:59 PM report to moderator
689 Points

I’m so happy that the treatment worked and she’s in remission. She’s extremely strong to continue filming and i greatly respect her for that.

Posted by HPandtheDA007 on October 05, 2009, 01:08 PM report to moderator
2224 Points

Amazing woman!

Posted by on October 05, 2009, 01:17 PM report to moderator
58 Points

My father passed away last year from cancer and I know the struggles, trials and tribulations. What I wish for you Dame Maggie Smith is for you to be free and clear of cancer filled with a full and rich life with a good strong ability to do as you wish on and off film. Many blessings to you!

Posted by Catherine_R_Williams on October 05, 2009, 01:21 PM report to moderator
80450 Points

I truly love that woman… What a treasure we in HP fandom have in her…

Posted by Won_Two on October 05, 2009, 01:29 PM report to moderator
595 Points

Dame Maggie – I am so sorry that you have been ill and had to fight against this despicable disease. You have the spirit and the gumption to get through this, and am so happy things are in remission and you are able to move forward…not just with the Potter movies, but with your life as a whole. Chin up, shoulders back, always remembering to breathe deeply. That will get you from one move to the next. Best of life and love going foward!

Posted by MJLeakyCon on October 05, 2009, 01:48 PM report to moderator
3271 Points

I love Maggie Smith! She is a wonderful actress and a lovely person. I’m so thankfull that she is feeling better now and is going through remission. She is such a brave woman…. definitely a Gryffindor if I ever saw one! :)

Posted by Half-Blood Princess66[ROAR!] on October 05, 2009, 01:51 PM report to moderator
4452 Points

I didn’t know she had breast cancer :( She’s v brave :) A true Gryffindor :)

42 Points

She is a great actor, and an inspiration to us all. It is sad to think of her having to go through the fight, but she has come out a winner. We can all learn from her example.

Posted by TheOldHeadmaster on October 05, 2009, 02:18 PM report to moderator
4056 Points

I never imagined Mcgonagall any other way than how she looks in the movies. I’m really glad she’s okay. : D

Posted by fifi ~::~ ıɟıɟ {WBM!} {ITC!} on October 05, 2009, 02:28 PM report to moderator
85 Points

We already lost Richard Harris from the Harry Potter film saga, so I’m very grateful that Dame Maggie is beating back this cancer. To lose another incredibly talented actor like her would be devastating. I’ve always admired her as an actress, I have even more respect for her now as a person hearing more of her personal story. Bless you Dame Maggie, keep up the good fight!

Posted by kleigh629 on October 05, 2009, 02:34 PM report to moderator
141 Points

I have always greatly admired this woman – for her talent, her tenacity, and her fearlessness. And now? Add to that an even stronger dose of tenacity, courage and integrity – she’s simply brilliant. I am so thankful that she is in remission and pray that she continues to grow stronger. Her fans, like me, are thinking of her! xoxo

Posted by BwaySaint on October 05, 2009, 02:57 PM report to moderator
523 Points

Dame Maggie is one of the great powerhouse actresses of the British stage. She has had such a facinating life. It seems this illness has taken a lot out of her. I wish her the best of luck. And what an appropriate interview for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Posted by Rhiannon on October 05, 2009, 03:12 PM report to moderator
180 Points

thank goodness she’ll be ok

Posted by Ganduean-Vampiress on October 05, 2009, 03:18 PM report to moderator
654 Points

Good for her! I really hope she gets better soon

Posted by mjkalldaway (ROAR) on October 05, 2009, 03:33 PM report to moderator
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