Guest Blog ‘Book Review: 100 Stories edited by Helena Traill’ by @Coldethyl2

‘Book review: 100 Stories edited by Helena Traill

I’d like to thank J at Welliesandseaweed for inviting me to contribute this review to her blog.

100 Stories is a collection of cancer stories and images collated by Helena Traill and self- published through a Kickstarter project appeal. Starting life as a final year piece for her degree at Central St Martins, the book is an attempt to harness the power of design and story telling, in order to help normalise the experience of, and conversations around, a diagnosis of cancer. Contributors were recruited via social media platforms and asked to narrate their cancer story, focussing on how social media has helped them as they live with and beyond diagnosis.

Each participant in the project was asked to provide a portrait photograph of themselves which Helena digitised using the symbol that forms the logo of cancer charity, Cancer on board, who are one of the supporters of the project. These images accompany the stories in the book and form a moving adjunct to the narrative, making the accounts both seem more direct and personal through their obvious connection to “real” people, while simultaneously conveying the sense of separation and loneliness that a diagnosis brings through the emotional distance that using a pixellated image creates.

I was familiar with some but not all of the contributors through my own use of social media, but it was interesting to read their accounts in a less fragmented format than is the norm on the likes of Twitter or Instagram, particularly the extended accounts towards the end of the book. It was refreshing also to hear from some of the lesser known online contributors rather than the usual “cancer celebrities” that now dominate the various social media platforms, and in this book, Helena has given those people a voice along with another medium to share what it is like to live with a cancer diagnosis on an a everyday basis, rather than in the false glow of a heavily curated virtual reality.

As with its online counterparts, the contributors are predominately females with breast cancer, but one can hope that the common ground of many of the experiences shared in this book will help open up the dialogue around living with a cancer diagnosis, regardless of sex, gender or race. With 1 in 2 of us likely to experience cancer at some point in our lives, the common threads of resilience, hope and finding joy in living shared by this book’s contributors are ones that should encourage anyone beginning their own cancer story. Cancer can feel very isolating, but as this book shows, there are others out there who understand our experiences and social media communities that can offer the necessary support that sadly our healthcare systems all too often cannot.

I ordered my copy from Amazon for £20 including p &p and it arrived promptly and nicely packaged. It is a beautifully presented book and I would recommend it for those with cancer themselves, as well as a suitable gift for anyone touched by the disease.

© Coldethyl2′

(When I was writing my blog about my involvement in 100 Stories I thought it would be interesting to have some feedback about the book from someone who has been affected by cancer but who was not involved in the project. I knew D, who tweets as @Coldethyl2, was already reading the book so sent her a message to ask if she’d consider writing a guest review for my blog. She kindly said yes and has shared her thoughts in this brilliant and thoughtful review, which covers some salient points. Many thanks D!)

Book review: ‘My Super-Compact Self-Care Script’ by Neeta Oza

This little A-Z is a treasure of a book. It is an easy and light read. A book to read through and return to, to dip in and out of. Full of affirmation and tips about the hows and whys of self care. I love it.

In recent years I’ve worked in stressful roles and been a family carer. I know how important self-care is but I also know it’s not always easy. When I cared for other people at home and at work, I had a tendency to put my own need for care at the bottom of my to-do list. Then came my cancer diagnosis and treatments and I was forced to slow down. Now as mentioned in a previous blog I consider self-care ‘…a necessity rather than an optional extra’.

I need regular reminders to look after myself and ‘My Super-Compact Self-Care Script’ is perfect for this. Bite-sized gems like this one,

‘You have a precious Energy Tank within you, which is constantly being consumed every second of every day. Be super-conscious of where your energy is channelled and take time to allow solid refuelling time-just for you’ (p.11).

Being a ‘Super-Compact’ pocket sized book this is one that you can easily fit into a bag and take with you. I read mine on a train journey. Often good things come in small packages.

With many thanks to Hashtag Press who sent me ‘My Super-Compact Self-Care Script’ to review.

Book review: ‘Ticking Off Breast Cancer’ by Sara Liyanage

When Sara posted a tweet asking if anyone would like an advance copy of her book to read and blog a review about, I didn’t hesitate to respond. I was attracted to and intrigued by the title. Having followed Sara on Twitter and read some of her blogs I felt I had got to know her a little. I had been impressed by her lists but I didn’t know much about her story. I had noticed her caring, considered, encouraging and honest approach and I anticipated a good read. I wasn’t disappointed. Ticking Off Breast Cancer is one of the best books I have read about breast cancer.

First things first, when the book arrived, I fell in love with the front cover. The colours, the fonts, the image … I wanted to open it and read it straight away but life had just thrown us another curveball so I didn’t have time to read and I put the book to one side.

I’ll admit I was a little apprehensive because I was worried that reading the book might trigger traumatic memories of my own breast cancer diagnosis and treatments. I chose to read the book on a day I had a hospital appointment at the breast clinic; my mind was already focussed on all things breast cancer on that day. Surprisingly, although it reminded me of some of the side effects of treatment I’d forgotten about, I also found it comforting because it reminded me I am not alone with these experiences, feelings and thoughts and validated them. I even read out a short excerpt to the consultant I saw to explain where I’m at

“Sometimes I feel like I’m on one of those long elasticated ropes at fairs that are tied around the waist and then you have to run as far and as fast as you can before the rope suddenly yanks you back to the starting point. I’m really trying to run away, against the resistance of cancer, but it has a hold on me and every now and again it yanks the rope and pulls me backwards”.

During my breast cancer treatments I lost the ability to concentrate enough to read, an activity I have enjoyed most of my life and have previously found easy. Even now, over two years since the end of active treatment it still takes me much longer to read than it did before so the fact that I read Ticking Off Breast Cancer in one day in between coffee and lunch dates and a hospital appointment speaks volumes.

I like the way the book is laid out, the pattern it follows, the structure with the quote at the beginning and the checklists at the end of each chapter. Sara shares her story using a chronological approach which is easy to follow. She skilfully draws on her story to provide helpful and practical lists and suggestions. There are lists covering almost everything from before diagnosis through to moving on at the end of treatments. When I was diagnosed I scoured the cancer forums on the internet for lists like these!

‘Everyone who goes through cancer has their own story to tell’ While Sara’s book is about her and her experiences of breast cancer when I read it I realised it is also, to some extent, about me and mine and possibly if you have had breast cancer treatments, you and yours. There are some similarities between Sara and my stories; we were both diagnosed in the same year, we were both in our 40s although Sarah is six years younger than me. We are both women who like so many women are used to keeping a lot of plates spinning and wearing many hats. There are also differences including being at different stages of parenting and in our work lives. As Sara points out at the beginning of the book

“Always remember that everyone is different. We have different diagnoses; different treatment plans and we react differently to treatment”.

Nevertheless, so many aspects of Sara’s story and the emotions and thought processes she describes so eloquently resonate with me. To name just a few, the dawning awareness and understanding that breast cancer is far more complex than we had previously thought; the loneliness and strangeness of living in a parallel world; the pain and subsequent soul searching over a friend who doesn’t get in touch during months and months of treatment.

Sara does not shy away from sharing about experiences during cancer treatments which may seem peripheral to outsiders but, if discussions with other people are anything to go by, are important to us who have lived experience. Our experiences change us and shape us. In the last chapter of the book Sara shares all she has learnt through her experiences of breast cancer. It was a list I could have written myself.

In the Appendix Sara helpfully lists reliable and trustworthy sources of information, so important as there are so many unreliable and untrustworthy sources out there. Last but not least, the book ends with a list of acknowledgments including a shout out to the wonderful online community of cancer patients.

As someone who has already gone through treatment for primary breast cancer it is the relatability of Sara’s words that stands out for me but I recommend this book to everyone, especially those who have had a cancer diagnosis, their families and friends as well as professionals and volunteers working with people affected by cancer. I would have found it useful when supporting others in the past and I know I will find useful in the future.

Thank you for writing this book Sara!