The F*ck Cancer Diaries project

I’ve stalled on writing my first novel. I don’t know why; it’s not writer’s block, exactly, just that I haven’t felt like writing it for months. I got to about 8,000 words and then sort of mentally put it in a drawer.

It’s called ‘Alexander Black’s Peculiar Year’ and it’s about a slightly depressed, lonely man in his late 30s whose life is turning out to be rather mediocre. One cold grey January day he walks out of his job as the editor of a business magazine, after hearing a the voice of a woman in his head. Then the mysterious young woman to whom the voice belongs turns up on his doorstep and moves into his spare room… I can’t let you in on what happens after that, but I promise there will be a happy ending. I do love a happy ending.once upon a time

I’m still excited about the story; it already exists in its entirety in my head, and really it’s just a question of getting it on paper. But. It just doesn’t feel like the right time, and I was confused by this (and feeling lots of ‘shoulds’) until me and DH had a slightly tipsy Thirsty Thursday chat about it and he hit the nail on the head. ‘Pinchos,’ he said. ‘I just don’t think the novel is meant to be your first book. I think your cancer blogs need to be your first book.’

Whoah. That’s an idea. We talked about it some more. We may have gone a bit Los Angeles, as words like ‘closure’ and ‘therapy’ (for both of us) entered the conversation. Then DH said he’d like to include his thoughts and emotions too, about what it’s like being a husband and father of young children when your wife is diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Writing isn’t really his thang, particularly not writing about, y’know, feelings and shit. So we agreed that he would talk and I would take notes (dusting off my journalism skills) and we would include his perspective on key moments in the story.

The first step was to put all my cancer blog posts into one big document. I’ve just double checked and they amount to pretty much 60,000 words. Seriously. That’s a lot of cancer chat. Basically, it’s book-length already. I started with a light edit. Including our names, and our children’s names, for instance, getting rid of hyperlinks and giving a little more useful explanation of the terms, process and treatments involved. I began adding in stuff that I hadn’t talked about at the time for whatever reason. Creating a little more of a coherent narrative. Although because I spent so much time writing and editing each post in the first place, each post already feels like a natural ‘chapter’ – they are all of similar length, and have a beginning, middle and end. There’s funny bits and tear-inducing bits and warm fuzzy bits and plenty of drama. Real life, in other words.

I cried a lot, re-reading all the posts through as one body of work. Even at this distance, it makes me feel quite bilious. There were entire bits of my ‘journey’ that I had completely forgotten about, and aspects of the treatment came back to me with a jolt. I guess the subconscious has to tuck some memories away at the back of the cupboard; remembering everything, all the time, would be too much to bear.

I started work on the project in the summer. The wonderfully long, sunny summer hols caused a hiatus. Then the start of term was a bit weird because me and DH (and no doubt our families) were quietly counting down to the three year anniversary of my diagnosis, and therefore my annual mammogram and check-up with my surgical consultant Tracey Irvine. Throughout the weeks leading up to 13 October, I was preoccupied, and sleepless, and tearful. I began, like this time last year, noticing miscellaneous aches and pains. I felt a constant, low-level fear. Because what if it’s not good news, and we have to go through it all again, probably with less positive outcomes? What if I didn’t get that three year tick in the box? What if we weren’t actually over the hump in the five year period beyond which I would generally be considered to have escaped another invitation to the cancer party?

In the event, all was well. Tracey poked and prodded and squeezed every inch of my boobs, glands and torso, sneaked me in for an immediate mammogram (always a delightful experience…) so I didn’t have to come back again a week later, got my bloods taken, and then looked me in the eye and said ‘You’re fine’. Huge relief, I can’t tell you. The mammogram results came back just three days later confirming that there was no sign of breast cancer. Thumbs up all round. Phew.

So I’m again ready to pick up the work in progress I think of as ‘The F*ck Cancer Diaries’, and make it happen. It’s shaping up as half-memoir, half actually-quite-useful book for the growing number of relatively young women diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and their partners and families. One of our friends suggested we call it ‘Walking Two Abreast’, which is a marvellous pun.  I’ve had a huge volume of very positive comments over the past three years about the way I have written about my experiences, and I really hope the book is a worthwhile endeavour. A goer, as it were.

But I don’t know the first thing about book publishing, and I need your help and support, please. I would like, very much, your comments here on what you think of the idea so far. Is it a good one? Would you read it? What else do you think I might include? Know any agents or publishers? Have any advice on self-publishing? That sort of thing. If you could pass on the link to this post to anyone you know who might have thoughts or ideas or contacts, I would be terribly grateful. Merci beaucoup.

Because this feels like the right thing to be doing, now. The thing I need to do to finally close this extraordinary chapter, and move on to the next bit of the story. And one of those happy endings I am so very fond of.