Supper Club: The C-Word

AH18 Giovanni Martinelli, Death Comes to the Banquet Table (Memento Mori), Circa 1635Supper Club: The C-Word was an evening facilitated by artist Dan Koop as part of the Mere Mortals program curated by Arts House. Mere Mortals was a series of nine works, “that expand the notion of mortality and tackle the taboos of peoples inevitable demise, [allowing] audiences to dig deep into death, dying, grief and celebration in playful and surprising ways.”

With The C-Word, that word is cancer. Over the course of two-ish hours, a light dinner is hosted among a series of tables. At each table a discussion is hosted by a person who deals or has dealt with cancer, or death in a unique cultural or artistic context.

There’s an artist, activists, therapists, death doulas, doctors and nurses from from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and a man trying to literally put a needle on cancer cell like you would a vinyl record and listen to the sound cancer makes.

Which is the first table I’m seated at. Darius Kedros is working hard on how to hear what cancer is saying at a cellular level. At the same time, he’s also involved in interview people living with – some eventually dying from – cancer. Over the night, we hear three audio collages of interviews.

Like physicists theorising on the nature of sub-atomic particles trying to understand the movements of enormous bodies in space, there’s something fascinating about the connection between the micro and marco here – listening to the smallest aspect of cancer, the cell itself, and listening to the largest aspect of cancer, the person diagnosed with it.

The second table is spent with Nicki Morrison, a gently spoken Registered Nurse from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, who speaks about her experience of being with patients and families in their final months, days, and moments. I speak a little about the last hours with my father in 2014 and I learn a new term: Cheyne–Stokes respiration.

It’s apparent that I’ve shown up with experiences I thought were singular to myself, but are shared by many people in the room. These thoughts of my father lie heavy, so I’m anxious that the final table I move to head in a different direction.

The last table is hosted by Sonia Fullerton, Consultant and Senior Doctor in Palliative Medicine with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. The discussion moves up and away from the personal to larger questions of what “palliative” now means and I’m happy to learn it’s now not as bleak as I and many at the table have assumed.

What comes through strongly from Sonia is how seriously they take their duty of care. For a table whose topic I thought was a synonym for “terminal” – this is a surprisingly hopeful place to finish on. Our plates are cleared away, thanks are given, my heart aches for my Dad but I mostly feel grateful as I leave and walk out into the night.

Supper Club: The C-Word
Arts House, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Event: Thursday 29 November 2018 – 7.00pm

Image: Giovanni Martinelli, Death Comes to the Banquet Table (Memento Mori), Circa 1635 (detail)

Review: David Collins