Lynn Redgrave's touching, engaging story of her faith journey following breast cancer drew tears and brought Synod-goers to their feet with a standing ovation Tuesday morning at the Civic Center in Hartford, Conn.
"It's not a point any more how long I live, but how I live," said the tall, elegant Redgrave, her one-inch silver hair framing her face. "Time is short -- live every moment so you don't feel you've wasted anything."
Redgrave, a well-known actor with credits that could fill a page, is part of the famous acting family: father Sir Michael Redgrave, mother Rachel Kempson, sister to Vanessa and Corin Redgrave.
But "we know her as Lynn," said the Rev. Melinda Keck, Redgrave's pastor, in her introduction of Redgrave. "She's a doting mother of three, a grandmother. She is kind. She is compassionate. She's our friend."
Redgrave's journey with cancer began two weeks before Christmas 2002 when she felt a lump in her right breast. She turned over in bed and thought, "Hmm, this lumpy mattress. Then I discovered the lump was me."
On Friday the 13th, Dec. 2002, she learned the lump was malignant.
"This couldn't happen to me," she said. "I was so fit, so healthy. I was absolutely terrified." There was no history of breast cancer in her family. She'd never had an iffy mammogram.
On Jan. 16, 2003 she had a mastectomy. She chose not to have reconstructive surgery.
Soon after, Redgrave said she made a wonderful discovery: First Congregational UCC in Kent, Conn. "I had never been a part of a congregation. I heard through my son [who lives in Kent] there was a wonderful woman minister there. With a woman I would feel safer."
This was a time when "I felt so lonely, so sad. And I walked into the First Congregational Church."
Keck remembers that day in early February 2003. "Someone said, 'Lynn Redgrave just asked what door to go in.' We have a small church. We just wanted to be there for her," Keck said in an interview before Redgrave's speech.
Redgrave describes her first day at church in her journal: "I find I cry at first, at Bach on the organ, at prayers. By the end I feel very peaceful and optimistic… A way to be part of a community. A way to feel I am not alone in my worries. A young woman rose to her feet and asked for prayers for the 26 men and women of her husband's unit who have just been deployed to Southeast Asia. It all puts my little battle here in perspective."
At first Redgrave didn't want to tell her family about her cancer. Her son, Ben and his wife were expecting a baby; her daughter, Kelly, a Buddhist nun, "is into alternative medicine, and I thought she'd say go to Mexico and eat a peach pit or have a coffee enema. English tea would have been one thing," said the British actor, with her heart-warming sense of humor.
"And I was terrified as an actor that people wouldn't hire me." But her agent called and said the National Enquirer was going to "out" her. "Enquiring minds want to know, but enquiring minds don't want to be in the Enquirer," she said.
Larry King, Jane Pauley and Barbara Walters all wanted interviews. "I chose Larry King – I knew he wouldn't be soft with me. With Larry it would be, 'So, they cut it off and then…?'"
Redgrave and her youngest daughter, Annabel Clark, a senior studying photography at Parsons School of Design, decided to create a photo project. "'There will be a beginning, a middle and then there will be an end when Mom's well again,'" Annabel told her mother.
"The project was a lifesaver for me," Redgrave said. "My journal was my therapy." The project was later published as, "Journal: A Mother and Daughter's Recovery from Breast Cancer." The book includes extraordinary pictures of Redgrave, including a poignant view of her looking at her scar and considering her remaining breast.
Even though she had a mastectomy in January 2003, her hair fell out on her 60th birthday in March, her mother died in May 2003, and she suffered months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Redgrave considers 2003 "one of the greatest years of my life. The people I have met -- getting to know Melinda; the members of the club we didn't want to join, the cancer survivor club."
Redgrave said she admires the UCC "so tremendously. I go online when I am on tour to see what church I can go to and still get to the matinee… If the UCC ran this country, we'd be OK."
Redgrave closed her speech with a reading of the 23rd Psalm. Tears flowed throughout the Civic Center. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me… Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life."
The Rev. Susan Drake, a delegate and a hospice chaplain from St. Louis, Mo., said "I just absolutely adored her [Redgrave]. She is so articulate, so authentic. I'm so proud she'd join our church."
For the Rev. Dianne Shirey, from the Ohio Conference, Redgrave was a highpoint for her at Synod. Redgrave "came to us today not as Lynn Redgrave actor, but as a woman, a cancer survivor, learning incredible lessons about life."