Tales from the Cancer Ward, a book by Paul Cox

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By April Forward Nelson

When Paul Cox fell ill with a near fatal liver cancer, his mind escaped to the tranquil city of Venice. In a dreamy haze when fear could have robbed the bravest of their sanity, the artistic director floated peacefully along the canals of hope and fate.

Although born in the Netherlands, Paul Cox is regarded as a great Australian Writer and Director known for movies such as The Man of Flowers, Innocence and the documentary Vincent. He has been nominated for numerous awards which include the 1984 AFI Award as Best Director and Best Screenplay for his Feature film My First Wife.

His real life experience inspired his latest book, Tales from the Cancer Ward which he intends to resource for his next film. In a recent talk at the South Melbourne Library he referred to himself as Resurrected and thanked the skill and dedication of doctors and nurses for his recovery.

He deeply appreciates the gift of life he received from his donor.

Paul Cox was brought up in war torn Europe where death was vivid in his childhood years. He understood at an early age the precariousness of life. To hear Mr. Cox speak is to be inspired by his wisdom as he questions the direction of the human race. His deep appreciation of life is confounded by the superficial pursuits of our generation that undermine the development of the individual.

“Its hard to explain how real life changes after the transplant and how extraordinary the gift of life is. We make such a mess of our existence“

Paul Cox’s remembers the difficulty he had funding his film Innocence, the project was rebuked on the grounds that “nobody was interested in seeing two old people f—!” It was a tender human script that was initially judged on its commercial appeal rather than its artistic and human merit.

During his battle with cancer, Mr Cox was inspired by the courage of the people that died in the hospital. The beauty that they showed in their final moments touched him. These were the true Australian Heroes, losing the big battle with dignity. He was close to those moments himself. He held a Christmas dinner party and invited family from overseas to say goodbye at his last supper and then he received the CALL. A liver was available to save him in a life or death operation.

Paul Cox has visited the edge of life, as we know it.

“Suddenly my life turned into a nightmare. It was a very humanising experience” He explained.

The simple pleasures of a night sky silenced his deepest anxieties. His last words before the operation were “ To be at one with the Universe.”

He now views those in the medical profession as group who make a life out of giving. He claimed that the hospital stay had put him in contact with people who were very humane. He remembered the vivid beauty amongst the pain and anguish of the experience. It was a wonderful opportunity for him to observe those around him.

He felt on some occasions he could have slipped away into eternity but his love for his children and grandchildren kept him here.

Paul Cox is not a religious man but rather a fan of integrity and beauty. He said that many talk but few listen. It surprised him that many people over sixty were still interested in money and “crap” It concerned him that they were terrified of living and terrified of death.

Amidst the interview, the South Melbourne Town Hall clock struck twelve, which suspended the moment as the small crowd began to surface from deep contemplation into the freshness of the day. At question time there was a flood of questions regarding the meaning of life and less about his career as though the experience had given him an authority. With a 2% chance of life and a deep appreciation of his renewal, it is a well-earned position.

Today he walks humbly among us, talking to us, writing to us and making movies for us, to tell us that life is precious and to look for its meaning.


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