Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Power of Stories

My partner once said something to me that has always stuck in my mind. Just before I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time, as a way of dealing with the fear and anxiety of waiting for test results, I decided to immerse myself into the world of cancer literature. I began to read Lance Armstrong's moving autobiography, It's Not About The Bike while on a family holiday in Italy and managed to almost finish it just before I returned to the UK. After diagnosis, I was so desperate for a positive story about stage 4 breast cancer that I spent every evening trawling the internet looking for blogs and books that could give me some hope.  Of course, I also searched frantically for medical treatments and patient accounts that might provide me with the knowledge I'd need to question my doctors. No stone was unturned. I created a folder on my desktop called 'metastatic' and crammed every single positive page and abstract that I came across. After I did this, I borrowed and watched lots of dvds and I made sure that they were all about love in all its scary and complicated forms.

One evening my partner looked up from his laptop and said to me, 'you know, you did exactly the same thing when you were first diagnosed with cancer. You looked for inspiration, information and then escapism, in exactly that order.' The first inspiring book I'd read had been Lance Armstrong's. The information came in the form of lots of oncology abstracts, breast cancer articles and reports. And I've watched many a film and read many a book that has made me laugh, question and cry.

I'd never really considered this before but it's true. This is exactly what I do. I want to focus on one book today though. I'm sure every woman with metastatic breast cancer has come across it. It motivated me to push myself when I was feeling really low and every few weeks or so I think about this author and hope that I'm fortunate enough to also be blessed with her longevity. The book is called Red Devil - To hell with cancer and back, by Katherine Russell Rich and is a raw, riveting account of a young journalist's experience of stage 4 cancer. Her first doctor gave her just 2 years to live. She has survived for 22. Her graphic accounts of each and every painful symptom and procedure doesn't always make for pleasant reading and perhaps is not for the faint-hearted. But the thought of her sheer tenacity and balls in dealing with her diagnosis has often inspired and motivated me to do things that are outside of my own comfort zone.

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