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!)

1 of 100 Stories

Last February I responded to a tweet from Helena Traill asking people who have cancer experience if they would be interested in contributing to a book for her degree dissertation. Helena’s project really piqued my interest and I love to encourage and support others, especially young people

I participated by email. Helena asked me to send a portrait/picture of myself so she could create a pixelated portrait and asked me to share some of my cancer story and the role social media has played.

I shared information about the project on social media and was delighted when I heard Helena had accomplished her goal to create 100 portraits and gather 100 stories of cancer. I wasn’t able to go to the Central Saint Martins Degree Show in June but saw the photos on social media and it looked great.

I didn’t think much more about the project until an email from Helena dropped into my inbox in September. I was delighted to read that she’d been rewarded for all her hard work with a First in Graphic Communication Design (Well done Helena!). She shared her plans to self-publish the 100 Stories book by crowdfunding for the project on Kickstarter. Helena asked whether I’d like to be in the book. I thought about it for all of two seconds…

Helena launched the Kickstarter in October on social media and in the press and soon raised more than the £8,400 needed to cover printing, postage and packing. That’s when the work started to get it printed. I received my book (beautifully packaged) in mid-December before Christmas and attended the official book launch in early January (I will include a bit about this in a future blog). I guess I’m biased but this is a great book. I haven’t read all the stories yet, preferring to read a few at a time but what has struck me is that although we are different, with different backgrounds, cancers, circumstances, gender and so on, there are many similar threads running though our stories including loss and resilience.

To create and print this book in such a short time is a great achievement and I feel honoured to have my story included. The pixelated portraits that pair each of the 100 stories use the Cancer on Board symbol. Inspired by the Transport for London Baby on Board badges James McNaught, who supported the project and whose story is included in the book, came up with the idea to start a charity providing Cancer on Board badges for people to use on public transport to help them get a seat. The badges also enable conversations about cancer. Other supporters included The Brain Tumour Charity (a charity close to my heart) and Maggies Centres.

Helena’s own motivation for this project was based on personal experience. Her father was diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was a young child and her grandmother has had a breast cancer diagnosis. As a graphic designer and visual storyteller Helena wished to explore the concept of narrative structure in her work and increase the emotional engagement of the audience/reader.

I am also interested personal narratives having studied and sought them out in my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. The personal narrative approach recognises that people are experts of their own lives. I suggest this book is a great resource for healthcare students and all those working with cancer patients as well as those personally affected by cancer to help them to empathise with and support cancer patients.

Bearing in mind that ‘1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime’ (Cancer Research UK (1) this is a timely book.

100 Stories can be bought from Amazon here

(1) https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics-for-the-uk#heading-Three (Accessed 24/01/2020).