A Narrative Revolution: Conversations with Steve Gaddis

Episode 4: Hello Cancer

January 01, 2023 Narrative Therapy Initiative Episode 4
Episode 4: Hello Cancer
A Narrative Revolution: Conversations with Steve Gaddis
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A Narrative Revolution: Conversations with Steve Gaddis
Episode 4: Hello Cancer
Jan 01, 2023 Episode 4
Narrative Therapy Initiative

How do you manage a terminal cancer diagnosis? How do you continue to live a meaningful, joyful life without fear and anxiety paralyzing you? In this episode, Steve talks with Darcey Surette, a narrative  therapist living and working in the Boston area and the Executive Director of the Narrative Therapy Initiative. You will also hear briefly from Steve’s wife, Ashley. In this conversation, Darcey and Steve discuss how the narrative community he had created through his teaching and training held him and his family tightly through his diagnosis and treatment. And how this community —  through skillful curiosity and tender care — helped him create a preferred relationship with cancer that allowed him to actively live with meaning and purpose and love, even as he was dying. 

Show Notes Transcript

How do you manage a terminal cancer diagnosis? How do you continue to live a meaningful, joyful life without fear and anxiety paralyzing you? In this episode, Steve talks with Darcey Surette, a narrative  therapist living and working in the Boston area and the Executive Director of the Narrative Therapy Initiative. You will also hear briefly from Steve’s wife, Ashley. In this conversation, Darcey and Steve discuss how the narrative community he had created through his teaching and training held him and his family tightly through his diagnosis and treatment. And how this community —  through skillful curiosity and tender care — helped him create a preferred relationship with cancer that allowed him to actively live with meaning and purpose and love, even as he was dying. 

Will Sherwin (Song: "Stephen") (00:13):

From New Zealand to Mexico. Over there in Boston, here in San Diego, people told their stories of living in this land answering the call of a good man.

Sarah Beth Hughes (00:38):

Welcome back to a narrative revolution, conversations with Steve Gaddis. I'm Sarah Beth Hughes, a friend and a writing sidekick of Steve's. Steve was an amazing man, a family therapist, a teacher, a husband, a father, a dreamer of ideas for how to not let problems rob us, of how we wanna live our lives. Even as Steve was actively dying, he was so passionate about how the narrative worldview saved him from living a life where fear had the final say. He died without fear and instead with love, and with knowing that he mattered, that his life had meaning and purpose. This is episode four. Hello Cancer Answer. Steve was not eager to have a relationship with cancer, but as he had no choice in this, he wanted to make sure he did have a choice in what that relationship would look and feel like. His dear friend Darcey, was instrumental in helping him figure out this relationship and find a way through his cancer journey with grace and agency.


Darcey is a friend and colleague of Steve's and is now the executive director of the narrative therapy initiative that Steve founded. She does this holding on tight to her loving and trusted relationship with Steve, holding onto his hopes for this community and knowing he believed in her ability to bring people together and help them in the ways she helped him. Darcy and Steve and I explore what made this preferred relationship with cancer possible and what kept fear at bay. Steve is clear he could not have done this alone. This ability to die without fear was a relational achievement.

Stephen Gaddis (02:30):

I know I've been sort of starting these podcasts by saying how happy it makes me to be with the two of you and how happy and smart I think I was to have a a nose for narrative therapy cuz it helped me end up around surrounded by people that I just think are the best people. And so I just wanted to share that with the two of you and the audience that Sarah, Beth and I are kind of sidekicks on this, but Darcy, you know, you're someone who I've known for over 20 years and who is just, just really important and special. And

Darcey Surette (03:13):

How did you guys meet

Stephen Gaddis (03:14):
You? You wanna tell the story?

Darcey Surette (03:17):

Sure. We met through a connection at a local community mental health agency called The Home for Little Wanderers. And our link was being marriage and family therapist. And I was a graduate intern, the first graduate intern M.F.T. Although Steve, you had been there previously, but you were a doctorate.

Stephen Gaddis (03:45):
Oh yeah, I was doing a doctoral internship there.

Darcey Surette (03:48):

I think that one thing I might say is that I met narrative therapy, but I didn't know it was narrative therapy. I met Steve because I hadn't really, I didn't know what, what we were doing might be linked to narrative therapy or the worldview. And I think Steve, that that's part of what, like besides being an amazing person for so many years, I you were like narrative therapy to me <laugh>. I don't know, would you add anything to what I said we

Stephen Gaddis (04:19):

Had? Yeah, and I mean that just, it, that feels so affirming for me because you know, I try to embody those ways of being and the way I live my life. So for you to experience it that way is really satisfying. And I just thought you were so fun and smart and playful and we just hit it off so quickly and got so, so close, so fast and I've been through so much together. No, I would just say that you're the sister that you're my first adopted sister, you know, has played a really precious role in my life. Now I have a bunch <laugh>.

Darcey Surette (05:00):

Yeah. Yeah. I think the other thing I'd say just about our meeting is that once I met you I was inspired to pursue and seek out and learn more and be around more, which meant being around you. So I would do a lot of driving to join whatever was happening. But also it really sort of sparked a, a purpose of where my life and career, a path that I was pursuing. So you've always been along with me in that and it's been such an incredible honor even though it was a couple years in the making to then come and work together around something like N T I that is like the for sure one of my life's passions.

Stephen Gaddis (05:51):

I just so appreciate you saying about the inspiration or the spark to wanna learn more more like, cuz I think that's what narrative therapy and Michael w reading Michael White did for me. So the idea that, you know, I could provide that for someone else and then I know that you've been a spark for so many people at the home for little wanders and other places and you know, I think it's just super cool. And now that we've put together this organization that offers the possibility of a narrative spark for people who might be interested because you know, the narrative worldview and the narrative therapy are still so much at the margins of what, what's taught and what's possible in the mental health field. And we're all down for this narrative revolution. So this is, you know, the next, this is another vehicle, this podcast that Sarah Beth dreamed up to hopefully link up with people's in ways that spark them off and get them excited and help them recognize what it is that matters to them.

Sarah Beth Hughes (07:02):
I like remembering that. Yeah, you like remembering that and I like hearing that and like hearing the foundation of fun and smart and playful.

Stephen Gaddis (07:11): Yeah. <laugh>.

Sarah Beth Hughes (07:12):
How I like to think of both of you. So

Stephen Gaddis (07:14):

Yeah, one of the things that I am very drawn to about Darcy is this genuine humility intersected with this brilliant intelligence. It's really care for people that's just boundless. You know, talking about cancer, like I've just been on the receiving end of such skillful and delicate care. It's just ma made all the difference.

Sarah Beth Hughes (07:39):
Can you say more about that when with how Darcy is in particular is?

Stephen Gaddis (07:44):

Yeah, I think there's always been a quality in our relationship and I think we've talked about it explicitly, but it's been implicit as well that there's no expectations of each other. That whatever is possible for us to offer each other is enough. We've both been through lots of traumas and during those traumas we have been able to be there for each other in ways that are limited that we might not want to have otherwise be limited. And that's never been a problem, that's never been, you know, well if you were really my, my real friend or my real sister or brother, you would do more than than that. And so that's always felt so peaceful to be in relationship with that. And when I, when she offers to help me with the cancer and we co-create together kind of way, she really can help that make a real difference. And I, I can trust and relax that she's offering as much as is makes sense to her in her life and not just sacrificing herself for this. So that just creates a stronger sense of closeness cuz each, each time, you know, each event we have that we share, that we go through together, it is another story in our relationship about how significant our relationship is and how, you know, how how intimate it is. And

Sarah Beth Hughes (09:19):
Steve, I was just really stuck by the word co-create there

Stephen Gaddis (09:23): Mm-hmm.

Sarah Beth Hughes (09:24):

<affirmative>. And so with you, like on this cancer journey, can you just talk about the importance of that? Like that idea of co-creation?

Stephen Gaddis (09:32):

Yeah, I think, well when taught, when, when Michael in narrative therapy talks about working to develop an experience near description of the problem with the person you're talking with as a way to show that you're not just, you just don't see them as a, an object or a thing. Some universal person like everybody else who's in relationship with depression or whatever it might be. When it came to thinking, when it came to thinking about how do I wanna respond to what everybody does genuinely, which is say, how can I help everybody? Everybody wants to, and everybody asks. And I know it's genuine and I, it means a lot. I don't know how to answer with Darcy because we have this history and this relationship together where it occurs to me to think or occurs to her really to think, to ask me questions that help me think about what an experience near description of helping might be for me in a particular situation.


And like an example of that is that I was really struggling with fear. Like fear was getting a pretty good hold on me, as you both know. And, and I, I didn't want that to be how I was experiencing cancer. I was aware of that much. But when Darcy was persevering with her questions about, well, how else I might be some particular way that we might be helpful or something. And it was in that conversation and through her questions that it occurred to me that I would really like to be asked questions about my preferred relationship with cancer as I go through it. So she helped draw together, you know, our community and we started gathering weekly to kind of talk about that and

Sarah Beth Hughes (11:41): On Zoom.

Stephen Gaddis (11:42):

On Zoom, yeah. And that generated my own clarity about my, my preferred, uh, way of relating to, to cancer. And like, it felt very much like I was the primary author of that for myself through the questions that were asked. That's made a huge difference. I don't, since that was weeks and weeks ago and I haven't struggled with fear since I've been able to keep the ideas that came out of that meeting close to me. And without, like, there would've been a time in my life not that long ago where I don't think it would've occurred to me to think about asking for help by being put in a position of being asked questions, thinking that I had knowledges that could be subjugated, but really important for how I wanted to go forward in life when I felt stuck.

Sarah Beth Hughes (12:42):

Which just made me think of, you know, some of the, cuz there's a lot of discourses around cancer, around how you should be in relationship with it. Like, without saying that directly, but saying, you know, ideas like battling it or fighting it. And it felt like you, that wasn't what you developed out of these questions.

Stephen Gaddis (13:03):
It wasn't, and I was very fortunate because I, I had a bunch of skilled narrative practitioners asking me the questions, so I had that advantage. But,

Sarah Beth Hughes (13:14):

But I guess I'm wanting to get to what some of the questions might be. So people, other people Yeah. I who don't have,

Stephen Gaddis (13:20):
Do you remember any of them there? You're pretty good at remembering the

Darcey Surette (13:25):

Steve, I, I'm remembering a conversation that we had on the phone. And so maybe I can share a little bit from what I remember there because I Yeah, I know there were multiple conversations, if I remember. It may have been, it was over eight months ago, maybe even more. I remember that you had said like, I just don't want fear mm-hmm. To rob me of the time that I have to live

Stephen Gaddis (14:00): Mm-hmm.

Darcey Surette (14:01):

<affirmative>. And you were worried that that was gonna be happening. Like, I think it was around Easter. Yeah. Because you're like, I just wanna hang out with my kids on Sunday. I don't wanna be crippled by fear if I'm doing some telling of it. I don't remember any profound questions that I was asking. What I remember is us just really slowly slogging, uh, as a way that I think when I, and me asking like what small questions, like what are, what is it that you are worried about? And that's when I learned about just wanting to hang out on Easter and love you be with your kids. And then asking you more about this relationship that you were thinking about with cancer. I don't think we knew what it was, but that just, do you have any ideas about it? What are you thinking about? Does this sound familiar to you?

Stephen Gaddis (15:01):
Yeah, yeah. Sarah Beth Does it do, do you remember any, because I have, I have some thoughts, but I

didn't know if you remembered any of the questions.

Sarah Beth Hughes (15:12):
Yeah. So what I remember is like, I obviously wasn't part of that phone conversation, but I was part of

the bigger conversation when we were wanting to explore.

Stephen Gaddis (15:21): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (15:22):
That idea of fear not having all the say.

Stephen Gaddis (15:26): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (15:27):

Right. And I think I remember first we needed, I felt like that was important part was you needing to explore your fear a bit and get a near particular experience of your fear

Stephen Gaddis (15:40): Right.

Sarah Beth Hughes (15:41):
Before we could kind of then explore what you might want instead. Yeah. What do you remember, Steve?

Stephen Gaddis (15:49):

Yeah, I meant, I mean I think that ju that vaguely remember sort of talking about fear the way if it could talk what it might say or, you know, and like that it would claim that somehow I'd been cheated or like somehow something unfair was happening or some that something bad was happening. That's what, now, now I remember there was that, you know, fear was saying saying this is, you know, something, this is evidence of something bad having happened or looming or something like that. In externalizing of the fear and the recognizing of that, I started to recognize that's not how I understood that. I didn't wanna understand it that way. That I, that I wanted to understand this as something that just happened. Not, you know, like not hadn't, wasn't something that was being done to me.

Sarah Beth Hughes (16:46):
Yeah. And we were connecting, you were connecting that back to the, to the bad person's story. Right, right. Where things were done to you cuz you deserved it or

Stephen Gaddis (16:57):

It was a punishment or something. So Yeah. And so it was, so that was huge to be able to kind of go instead of re relate to cancer on the terms that the bad person's story would want me to, or the fear would want me to. And I remember Guadalupe being helpful here too because she, she offered something like, you know, we feel so entitled instead of appreciating life and appreciating something like that. And that just really resonated for me cuz I feel, I've always said since I got diagnosed with cancer, I feel like I've lived this blessed life and I feel so thankful for it. And I, I don't experience it as a less than life if I don't get another 20 years or whatever it might be. Once I was kind of in that territory of preferred meaning making, then a story popped up from my own life where I remember, I think maybe even somebody asked a question like, what was the first time you experienced death?


Or you met death, or something like that. I, it was my grandmother's funeral and the grandfather who I adored growing up was there. And I remember it vividly, what I remember him saying over and over and over to everybody that he would greet was, it's okay, it's okay. She had a good life. When I think about that being what people would say about when they think about me getting cancer, if it, you know, if and when it kills me, that's what I would want people to think or say. You know, I'd, I'd want them to think it's o you know, it's really, it's okay <laugh>, you know, I dunno how else to say it. He had a good life. He was, I've said this for, for a long time. Like I had a lot, I I've had a life beyond anything I imagined I would have, but want to be recognize that and be grateful for that. And I might say that, you know, yeah. If it was up to me, I wouldn't choose to leave yet. But it's not up to me,

Darcey Surette (19:22):

Steve, can I, is it okay to ask a question? Yeah. About when this kind of story popped up, this sort of, "It's okay."

Stephen Gaddis (19:33): Yeah.

Darcey Surette (19:34):
And am I understanding that you were saying that, that that was kind of some sign or, or some way that this was your preferred way of making meaning of your relationship with cancer?

Stephen Gaddis (19:49):

When I was freed up to be able to remember that story because I wasn't locked by fears storylines then, cuz I didn't see any fear in my grandfather's face. I don't remember any fear in relation to my grandmother. That was, you know, the next possibility of thinking, would that be a way of relating to, to can getting cancer and dying that are like, or appeal to me. And it immediately was so I don't, I didn't feel like I had to go any further.

Darcey Surette (20:24):
I didn't remember that story until you remembered it. But now, I mean, what, what has this kind of way of, of relating to cancer one that you said, well I don't really need to go further. Is that, is that right?

Stephen Gaddis (20:37): Yeah.

Darcey Surette (20:38):
What's it contributed to you or what, what about this relationship?

Stephen Gaddis (20:43):

For some, somehow it's just made it possible for me to relax and just, yeah, just be at peace really. Like, genuinely with whatever's happening. I mean, it doesn't mean times don't suck. Like there aren't experiences that aren't hard but that, that's different than it not being okay. And there's something that happened the other day where I think Ashley and I were both really sad and we were crying. And this has happened in other conversations, like with you, you all in different groups we've had where like somehow I'm able to, when I'm able to connect to that and I just want to stall remember that this is, this is okay, right? Like it's, yeah, it's painful and it's sad and it's okay. Just seems like it shifts it not just for me, but it shifts it for it can sh has the potential to shift it for everybody so that it's just like any other event in life, it's something we have to make sense out of and navigate. And so in that way it's not this radically unique thing. <laugh>, I don't know,

Darcey Surette (22:03):
Steve, I guess as, as you're tacking and, you know, you just shared this example of with Ashley. Did I follow that? You said somehow I can connect to it.

Stephen Gaddis (22:17):


Darcey Surette (22:18):
Do you have any guesses of like what else has made it so powerful to be able to connect with it? And then did you say also that it can shift it for everybody?

Stephen Gaddis (22:31):

Yeah. Well I guess if we bring, bring it all the way back to my relationship with the narrative worldview, then it comes back to meaning making. It comes back to what's more important to me than dying is or anything else is feeling like I can have the final say about how I make sense out of what anything means. And I didn't have that in a lot of my life, right? Like, I didn't, I didn't have that experience of feeling like anybody gave a shit about how I might make sense out of any something or that how I made sense out of any something was ever gonna be fully understood by anybody else and was kind of hopeless about that. To have that, even in this moment around this event where I can feel like, no, no, no, I know that all the dis discourses and all the poles and all this other stuff are, you know, saying I should be afraid I should make it a big deal. I should whatever, when I can see it, you know, when I can externalize it and I can see it, I can go, that's abuse. You know, that, that's violence, that's oppression to not allow me to have the final say in something that my life is at the center of. And I'm not, I'm not for abuse.

Darcey Surette (24:11): No,

Stephen Gaddis (24:12): Not for violence. No,

Darcey Surette (24:15):
I know. How's this going?

Stephen Gaddis (24:17):
It's great. I mean, it's cool to sort of, you know, make some of these loops and links and stuff. It's fun.

Darcey Surette (24:27):

Was there any loop or link that seems to be standing out to you more? Like, I know you said my, it sort of goes back like my relationship with the narrative worldview, it comes back to meaning making and, um, having the final say of what this means. Yeah.

Stephen Gaddis (24:47):

I mean, I think about that little boy who was really lonely and really hurting and really angry. There was no guarantee that, you know, he was gonna leave this world having a chance to experience himself as mattering, right. To be so clear at this moment how much I matter and to be able to trust that, to be able to believe that that's really real and really true. I mean, what more is there <laugh>? I don't know.

Darcey Surette (25:27):

It had me thinking about when you said I can have the final say mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but I know you said it, it wasn't something that you could just decide or create on your

Stephen Gaddis (25:39): Own. Right.

Darcey Surette (25:40):
What through conversation or what.

Stephen Gaddis (25:44):

I hope I make this very explicit in all these podcasts that what's possible individually is a relational re relationally generated. You know, the only way that I could have, yeah. The only way I could have developed this alternative story about it's okay versus fear story, you know, is through the community of relationships that I'm part of that took the care and the skill and the time and the effort to meet me in narrative ways, right? Like in and meet me in those those ways where they were purposefully working to help me develop an alternative story that was meaningful to me. Those are critically important. Like, uh, you know, the, they make everything possible and I, you know, like harm happens in relationships and healing happens in relationships. For a big part of my life, I think I was deeply harmed in relationships and for another big part of my life, I think I've been deeply healed in relationships.

Darcey Surette (26:57):
Well, it has me thinking a lot of things, but one is, when you're saying meeting you in narrative ways, is there a particular greeting or meeting that you're thinking of

Stephen Gaddis (27:11):

<laugh> Yeah, I mean there's just this persistent curiosity, but in specifically around me as somebody who has knowledge that I might have lost or forgotten and who's already kind of got a sense of purpose and direction, but maybe it hasn't yet been storied in a way. So it's through those kind of engagements that I'm able to sort of develop or co-construct my sense of, I couldn't, I couldn't experience a choice until there became the alternative story of, it's okay, there was no choice. It was just the only way I had to make sense out of things was on the terms of the fear. And it was through my relationships with you all and the questions that you brought that, you know, and my engagement with that too. But that helped create this alternative story that I could just quickly go, "Oh, I choose you." And that felt, you know, like, that felt possible because it came from me. Like it came from my meanings, it came from my mm-hmm. <affirmative> knowledges, you know? So even though you all played a huge part in the development of it,

Sarah Beth Hughes (28:39):

I just wanna highlight some of the practical pieces, right? Because like, felt important that, you know, you and Darcy had talked about these kind of ideas, the two of you, and I'm sure you had conversations with other people, right? But then you brought it, we had it as a larger group, right? And so there could be lots of different ideas keeping you at the center, but people asking questions there, curiosity from different directions. Mm-hmm.

Stephen Gaddis (29:07):

<affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Sarah Beth Hughes (29:08):

And then we've, we, um, recorded it, right? And then I just remember like, and now I'm, I, I can't remember my, the timing, but at some point in the fall it felt like the conversation for me was getting a little bit lost and I was, fear was coming up in me a little bit. Yeah. And so then I'm like, oh yeah, I, I need to go back to that conversation. And so then Darcy could send that to me and I could re-listen to it. So then I'm like, I'm gonna transcribe it cuz maybe this will be helpful for other people to revisit this conversation.

Stephen Gaddis (29:45):
And I, it was getting distant from me too until you made that transcript possible for me to, to read.

Sarah Beth Hughes (29:54):
Yeah. I just had like, I just was thinking about how we can have important conversations and they can get lost sometimes. Yeah,

Stephen Gaddis (30:00): Sure.

Sarah Beth Hughes (30:01):

And how do we find ways to hold onto them? And so to me, putting it in writing helped. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> solidify it and, you know, and then distributing it amongst the, the groups. So thinking we could all hold onto it, especially you Steve, but

Stephen Gaddis (30:16): Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Sarah Beth Hughes (30:17):
I knew Darcy and I needed that too at that point.

Stephen Gaddis (30:21):

I think one of the stories that's helped me over the years ultimately figure out how to create community is to just do relationships and, you know, just do relationships with the people I'm in relationship with in ways that I most want to do relationships and then invite people to meet in ways that make sense. And then next thing I know, like there's people from Western Canada, meeting people from Eastern Canada, meeting people from, you know, wherever.

Sarah Beth Hughes (31:04): Not just Canada

Stephen Gaddis (31:05):
<laugh>, not just Canada, but you know, the, but not getting caught by those discourses of stories that say, well, it's not a community if it's not big. It's not a community if it's not

Sarah Beth Hughes (31:20):

In person,

Stephen Gaddis (31:21):

In person. It's not a community if you haven't known each other forever. I think also like just really being clear about what I value and noticing when someone seems to resonate with that. And then just really becoming curious about that <laugh>,

Darcey Surette (31:43):

Steve, what, what was it about as, as Sarah was kind of talking about remembering that conversation and then transcribing it, offering it to you and me that had you thinking about just doing relationship. Was there some something about that that might have

Stephen Gaddis (32:05):

Well, all of that takes time, right? Like all of that takes energy and time and, you know, so there there's only so much of that we have, I think, I think I, I, I can get seduced by discourses of like, well, how do I compare my community against other communities? But I unfortunately I can quickly say, that's not what I care about <laugh>, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, what I care is the relationships I have and not, not get tricked into seeing them as somehow less than anything else. I guess I like that. I just, I don't know how to say it. Can you guys guess at what I'm thinking?

Darcey Surette (32:49):

I'm not sure if you were, this might be a guess, but when you were, you were saying just do relationships. Yeah. Cause you said I'm clear about what I value. Yeah. Like Steve o one thing, it had me, so I could ask you a question about, okay, well what, what about these doing of relationships, how, what, how does that reflect what you might value? But I don't know if that's

Stephen Gaddis (33:15):

Well no, but just listening to you helps. Like, so, so sir, uh, Beth and I have gotten incredibly close over a short period of time. And when I think back over the development of that closeness, I think of our successfully navigating really tender, difficult moments like that among other things, you know, about laughing, sharing projects, but also like, you know, her take, her taking the courage to say, that's not okay with me. Or, and hopefully me responding in a way that helps her know that I'm taking it seriously. And that I think she, she experiences herself as mattering in the relationship and that can have influence and the other way around. And so that skillful relational navigation, I think is something I value because it creates a cl the kind of closeness that I don't think is easy to find or experience other words. So once I feel like we have that and I think about what do I want to build community around, it's primarily that first and foremost that, you know, we care about each other and we help each other know that we matter and everything else is important, but not as important.

Darcey Surette (34:47):
Steve, I wondered would going a bit back to the, it's okay. Would that be something interesting to you? Or what, what, what might be standing out to you?

Stephen Gaddis (35:01):
Well, can I ask Sarah Beth that question first?

Darcey Surette (35:04): Yeah.

Stephen Gaddis (35:05):
I think she would like to either ask about, or think would be good for us to talk about.

Sarah Beth Hughes (35:12):
Well, I guess I, I was thinking about, you know, the narrative worldview and the narrative revolution has

really supported you through

Stephen Gaddis (35:21): Mm-hmm.

Sarah Beth Hughes (35:22):

<affirmative>, the relationship with, with cancer. And I guess I was wanting to talk a little bit more about that so that other people who are going through similar things, what fear might come up would kind of have a little bit of idea of, you know, not being you, but how can they, yeah.

Stephen Gaddis (35:41):

I don't know. I, I kind of have this, um, you know, there's these discourses that you, you know, you should have lots of support or lots of friends or lot, you know, lots of equal, lots of people out there who are equally helping out or something. And, and I feel like somehow this has just evolved, but like, I have this structure of support surrounding me, you know, where I have my picture of is my wife sort of sitting next to me holding my hand comforting me, and then Darcy at the foot of the bed just kind of leaning in ready at any moment to be a link between what's happening in that space to people who care about me, right? So people who want to know what's going on and wanna and wanna help if they can. And again, I think the quality of relationship that Darcy and I have that make that possible has been informed by our shared commitment to a narrative, narrative ways of being in values and, um, or at least narrative values.


And the narrative worldview has supported things that matter to us, like how we relate to each other. Like, I, I don't know, man, I get these bouquets of flowers from people, students I haven't seen for years. I get cards and letters from all kinds of people and, and I'm not, I am protected from the stories that, you know, I, I'm responsible to have to do something and to respond to those things. Like, and that's been really helpful for me to be able to just be with the cancer, be with Ashley, be with myself in, you know, that those moment to moment things of like staying in dialogue with myself. Like, okay, how are you gonna do this today? I don't know. I'm not sure I'm getting to the real, the question that you were asking originally.

Sarah Beth Hughes (38:00):
No, no. You were, and, and you like, what's helpful for you. Right. And I guess one of the, the dilemmas that's been on my mind this week, and I know, like, I, I keep thinking about us doing these conversations this week. Here it is, it's the week before Christmas and like you are really not feeling well, right? And I'm like, oh, it's like, is Ashley just thinking Sarah's crazy? Like pushing these conversations on Steve? But so I'm just like, I can get caught in like, oh, it's really important. We need to do it. And like, Ooh, I'm interfering on his

Stephen Gaddis (38:35): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (38:36): Experience.

Stephen Gaddis (38:38):
If you were to be relating to those ideas from your preferred narrative, worldview revolution perspective, how might you think about

Sarah Beth Hughes (38:53):

Yeah. Well luckily I am responding in that way. They're happening <laugh>. Yeah. <laugh>. And we're, you know, sort of trusting, like you were saying, like if it, if you didn't want it to be happening, you would tell me. And if you I

Stephen Gaddis (39:08):

Absolutely would. Yeah. Yeah. And, but it is that kind of, I don't know, would you say it took, would you characterize you sharing that? How, how, what name or how would you characterize just sharing that just now that you've been feeling some of that?

Sarah Beth Hughes (39:26):
I guess transparency, I guess, of wanting to like show how the dis discourses that can

Stephen Gaddis (39:33): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (39:34):
Can fuck with me at times and, you know, and keep me from doing something that feels really important, you know?

Stephen Gaddis (39:41):
So would you say that it required any kind of vulnerability in your part too? Or is that not a word that

Sarah Beth Hughes (39:48):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. Some vulnerability of, and also like asking vulnerability of, of you too, I guess. Right? Like sharing my vulnerability and saying like, also wanting to know Yeah. How are you feeling in a, in a way about us kind of asking you to do these conversations every day this week, <laugh>.

Stephen Gaddis (40:09):

Yeah. So I mean, that's where I feel like you're doing something in relationship there that I think is so meaningful to me and so important, which is to invite me to know something that then you and I can kind of navigate together instead of the dis discourses or something. And so I can just say, oh, you know, first of all, you know, I just, how much I appreciate you caring about Ashley's experience, how much I appreciate you caring about my experience. And I, that's not what I've been thinking at all, but I've been thinking at all is like how grateful I am that you've been making such a big commitment and escalating these things so that I can have a chance for what I most want at this point, which is for the book to be finished. That continues to be the case. And I haven't heard one word from Ashley about like, what the fuck are you doing? Like, I think it, in fact, I think it's probably the opposite for her, which is she can see me kind of light up when these meetings are about to happen. And like, I wasn't feeling good this morning and now I have all this energy and I think she feels, you know, really good about that <laugh>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.

Sarah Beth Hughes (41:33):
It's interesting, right? It's kind of breaking from like it's a revolution of how ideas about how we should be sick.

Stephen Gaddis (41:40):
Right? Right, right, right. I have the best care like <laugh>, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Darcey Surette (41:48):

You said it, it's sort of like a revolution of ideas of how we should be. It reminded me of something I think you said on Sunday and which was, do you remember when you were talking about these multi, I think experienced that you'd had a bad night and were in a lot of pain mm-hmm. <affirmative> and then woke up and at some point had that sense of like, excitement of, of coming to the meeting and you were saying like, it's just so,

Stephen Gaddis (42:23): Hmm.

Darcey Surette (42:23):
It just, it had me also thinking about this sort of preferred story, like it's okay. Or this revolution of ideas of how we should be sick. Has it

Stephen Gaddis (42:38):

No, that, thank you for reminding of me of that. Cuz I, I think like another way I prefer to be relating to the cancer when, especially when you, you know, you remind me that one of the things I'm caring about that it's linked to is not having things get robbed that I don't want to have robbed. And right now, one of the things that I'm getting to experience is a weekly Sunday church gathering with people that I love.

Sarah Beth Hughes (43:07):
You should explain the church part. <laugh>.

Stephen Gaddis (43:09):

Okay. So the church is just, just our playful way of recognizing that it's Sunday morning, but it's really just a gathering of about 12 people who have committed to like, have conversations that are help helping me finish my book and helping me think about my relationship with cancer. So, but it's among the most meaningful experiences of my life to be part of this group. So I'm having a relationship with cancer and I'm ha which includes, has a lot of negative effects, physical and otherwise, it's also making other things possible that are just beautiful. Like, just like the Sunday church thing. It's just so beautiful and so wonderful to be a part of. Right? And so I wouldn't have that experience without my relationship with cancer. So I wanna kind of keep thinking about it relationally. So I don't, I don't miss out on what re what cancer itself might be contributing that I'm appreciating, but also how it can, you know, have me sensitize me to certain things that I might be more attuned to than I wouldn't otherwise without cancer.

Darcey Surette (44:30):
Steve, is your, were there other things that you, does anything pop out that your relationship with cancer has maybe sensitized you two that you may not?

Stephen Gaddis (44:44):

I think on the other side more like, what, what I've been really struck by is how little regrets I have. It's helped me know I don't want to do anything different than I've been doing, even though I have, I've made my life, I've linked my life to, to the values that I care most about. So I'm really happy about that. Like, I, I'm proud of that. I'm proud of like having, for example, you know, it was really important to me to be a father who helped their kids have a sense of self that was independent and confident in where they were. They didn't experience any fear in the home or as at least as little of that as possible, you know? And to know that I've achieved that is just really gratifying. I wanted to have a relationship with a partner that didn't involve fighting and abuse and oppression and really experience a sense of soulness together and oneness together. And I've achieved that and that's really gratifying. Um, and now I have this community that I, I hadn't thought about would be a part of that wasn't something that I had occurred to me until my children were gone. And I was like, well, what now? <laugh>, you know, like, so

Darcey Surette (46:18):
No more soccer games now. What?

Stephen Gaddis (46:20):

Soccer games, right? <laugh>. And uh, it's just been super cool for the last, you know, 12 years to be creating, co helping to create this community that I know involve people who really love each other. You know?

Darcey Surette (46:38):
Oh, I'm thinking a lot of different things. Uh,

Stephen Gaddis (46:41): You're good at that,

Darcey Surette (46:43):

But having little regrets and then you share these, this your relationships with your kids. Yeah. What your relationship with your partner with Ashley, and, and then I know you were talking about the and the, the community.

Stephen Gaddis (47:02): Yeah.

Darcey Surette (47:03):
What, like, is that an effect of your relationship with the narrative worldview? Or how do you I know, or how is the relat your relationship with the narrative worldview?

Stephen Gaddis (47:15):

Yeah. No, I, I've been thinking about that lately cuz I, I'm sort of at that part in my book. I think one of the reasons I was, so what was the phrase that you found in that book, Sarah Beth? About grab my attention or the compass point, like when the compass went

Sarah Beth Hughes (47:35): Magnetized, you

Stephen Gaddis (47:37): Magnetized something like that

Sarah Beth Hughes (47:40):
When it shakes. Is that what you're the

Stephen Gaddis (47:42):

Compass? Mm-hmm. When I came, when I came into contact with that idea that the person is the not the problem, the problem is the problem. And I was like, immediately, what is this? Right? Like I was drawn to the, was because I think my whole life I had either, you know, I don't, I was thinking about trying to, how do I language this that I believed that was true. I hoped that that was true. I knew that that was true. And here was like a, some kind of a affirmation, but like, like a significant one because it's, you know, in a textbook and it's in a co it's connected to a theory, all this stuff, whatever. So, you know, when I teach, I often say that what I believe is that narrative has given us, most of us who are drawn to it, a language for something we know that didn't have a way of speaking it. I don't know, it's a dialectic, it's a tension. And I think that, so there was a resonance or something like that, that took place. And then I think for me anyway, pursuing it further took me beyond anything I had thought before. Right? Like, and certainly in terms of things like power. And Are you holding up Sarah Beth?

Sarah Beth Hughes (49:13):
Good, good. I'm, I'm just, what you were saying there made me think of a, of a story. Is it okay if I share?

Stephen Gaddis (49:21): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (49:21):

My story just like, so last week it was, um, Andrew's Christmas party at work. It was just like his crew went, went out for drinks to this other town. And so he organized with me to drive with another woman. Like he would drive there and then this other partner and I would drive out together and then do the driving of home of drunk people safely. And so I drove with this woman and um, you know, I knew that her, her 16 year old son had died last year of cancer.

Stephen Gaddis (49:55): And,

Sarah Beth Hughes (49:55):

You know, when she picked me up, she, um, we, we were, you know, at first just talking about Christmas or whatever and she works at a local grocery store and she was telling me about how all we, she was doing different things with her hair. Like she made her hair into a Christmas tree and she put little lights all around it. Oh, oh my word. Then she made it into a wreath, right? And I was like, totally like overjoyed. And another part of me was caught by some cancer stories mm-hmm. <affirmative> of like, or grief stories or something of like, oh, this is her first Christmas without her son and she's having so much joy

Stephen Gaddis (50:32):
<laugh> mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Sarah Beth Hughes (50:34):
Right? So it's just for me. And I thought, well, instead of like just sitting with that and judging that, like,

I'm gonna be curious about that.

Stephen Gaddis (50:41): Yeah.

Sarah Beth Hughes (50:42):

And I asked her questions and so we ended up just having this most lovely conversation about, um, her experiences of being with her son. And they were at the BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver and it was Covid so nobody could visit. And it was just like him and her and, uh, she couldn't see her other son. He couldn't come visit. And it was such a hard story. And she's talked about all these creative ways they found to make connections and to make joy. And that her, what she's left with is this legacy of, of wanting to like, make life joyful

Stephen Gaddis (51:24):
And what an awesome story to retell.

Sarah Beth Hughes (51:27):
And it was just such a beautiful story. And it was funny cuz getting close to the, to the pub and she's like,

I'm just slowing down cuz I wanna keep talking. <laugh>. We're like, then we get there and they're like, what took you so long? Oh, they had stories about women drivers and women being late and we're like, yeah, no, it was, we were having a really important conversation that we didn't want to end.

Stephen Gaddis (51:58):
Power of curiosity and how the narrative revolution would really, I think, feature that being a big part of the shift would be to remember that we can ask questions.

Sarah Beth Hughes (52:13):
Yeah. And how to, trying to find ways to ask them that aren't like, you know, why are you so happy when your son just died? <laugh>,

Stephen Gaddis (52:22):
That's not a real question. <laugh>.

Sarah Beth Hughes (52:24):
That's Yeah. It can come out that way. Right. So just, yeah.

Darcey Surette (52:29):

I mean it remind, I, it reminds me a little bit, Steve, of what I've heard you say before, but like a narrative revolution when you said we're remembering to ask questions mm-hmm. <affirmative> that they're, I think you've said that we might be sort of vying for being decentered.

Stephen Gaddis (52:49): Yeah.

Darcey Surette (52:50):
And what might that, what might the world be like,

Stephen Gaddis (52:54):
Um, if we're competing to be

Darcey Surette (52:57): Decentered

Stephen Gaddis (52:58): Decentered instead of centered

Darcey Surette (53:00):

Yeah. <laugh>. And, and, but, but it also, Steve, as you were sharing at the beginning, that how you were in relationship or related to to cancer was something that was informed by your, your knowledges that, um, and so Sarah Beth, it, it reminded me of that and sort of inviting the knowledge and the experiences of this woman and not those, oh, this, this should be the first Christmas. This should be really

Stephen Gaddis (53:40):

Awful Ha,

Darcey Surette (53:41):
Awful hard. Maybe something I shouldn't talk about. Or, and appreciating that, um,

Stephen Gaddis (53:48):

What do you guys think of if Sarah Beth had asked the question, oh, I'm just find myself curious about how you're relating to, how you're relating to Christmas this year, or how you're relating to whatever, what, what mm-hmm. <affirmative> would that appeal to you guys as ways of engaging

Darcey Surette (54:10): Yeah, yeah.

Stephen Gaddis (54:12): What you did, right?

Sarah Beth Hughes (54:14):
Yeah. Yeah. I asked a, some version of that,

Darcey Surette (54:17): Of,

Stephen Gaddis (54:17): Yeah.

Darcey Surette (54:18): Steve, how are you doing?

Stephen Gaddis (54:21):
Yeah. I'm starting to fade, but this has been Well how soon?

Darcey Surette (54:26):
I am just so honored to be here with you both and Steve ask you a couple of questions. And

Stephen Gaddis (54:36):

I wish you, maybe you do, but I don't have a sense that you do. I wish you knew how fucking talented you are and skills that, you know. It's the skills that I think Michael had a lot in spades, which was, you, you wouldn't recognize the what he was doing that was so amazing. So I don't know how to describe it. You had to read the transcript. It's, it was, same thing would be for we read the transcript, we could go, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.

Darcey Surette (55:12):
Hmm. Well, I too appreciate my younger self that said, I wanna be around this a lot.

Stephen Gaddis (55:21):

<laugh> <laugh>.

Darcey Surette (55:23):
And I just thank you for letting me be here today for being with me, not letting me be, for being with me.

Ashley Gaddis (55:40):

Hi, this is Ashley. On Christmas Day 2021, just a few days after this conversation was recorded, I had to rush Steve to the emergency room at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. His heart rate was dangerously high and his blood pressure dangerously low and the doctors found that his heart was surrounded by fluid filled with cancer cells. Together we made the difficult decision that he should enter hospice care. And he came home on December 30th. One week later on January 6th, 2022, Steve died at the age of 59, will, Laurel and I were all with him, along with his mother and other family members. He died without fear, without regrets, and knowing that he had become the primary author of his own life

Will Sherwin (Song: "Stephen") (56:40):
From New Zealand to Mexico over there in Boston and here in San Diego, people told their stories, living in this land, answering the call of a good man. First met Stephen eight years ago, came to talk with our narrative group in San Francisco. The first five minutes, he shed a tear. He said, "It means so much to me that you are all here. People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. Brought us all together, elders mixing with the new, the up-and-comers front and center, wouldn't have happened without you. People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. From Beijing to Sydney, from Perth to Bombay, through Cape Town to Burlington, from Chicago to L.A.  People told their stories of living in this land, answering the call of a good man. Thanks, Stephen.