The Columnist

Gill Coleridge

Rogers Coleridge and White Sat July 21 07

Dear Gill,

I haven’t had an answer to my first letter from you yet, probably because I only sent it yesterday, but I had another curious encounter with the oncologist at the hospital yesterday afternoon. After we had run through a few things (attitude and diet, mostly; they are key to cancer survival, he said; with the right attitude and the right diet you can keep going for years) he suddenly said: “So you’re going to be writing a book about cancer, are you?”

“I had thought about it,” I said cautiously.

“I don’t want to be discouraging,” he said, “but it takes years of research and experience to get anywhere near having the authority to write a book on some aspect of cancer. I am not entirely sure you will have enough years left to you to master the subject.”

He has a tiresome way of coming back to my life expectancy.

“Heavens above,” I said, “I am not going to write a text book! Or a medical book! Or anything like that! It’s going to be more like a diary, probably.”

“A diary?”

“A daily content of my ups and downs as a cancer patient. How hope ebbs and flows. The daily annoyances, the little triumphs, the funny moments…”

“And who do you hope will buy this? I can’t see it appealing to the profession.”

“I should hope not!” I said. “It is supposed to appeal to the patients, people who are as scared and confused as I am now but who gradually get it all straightened out. I hope they will turn to my book as a plain person’s guide.’

“It seems a very good idea to me,” said the specialist. Looking happier.

A thought suddenly occurred to me.

“Are you writing a book on cancer?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “I have been for twenty years.”

“I understand your reservations, now.”

“It’s just that… well, I am glad we are not in competition. And it’s a very novel idea.”

“Not that novel, I’m afraid,” I said. “There has already built up quite a sub-genre of cancer diaries. There have been lots by now, but the first one was by John Walsh, I think.”

“Not a name I know,” he said.

Which was quite understandable, I thought later, as I wasn’t thinking about John Walsh at all, but John Diamond, Nigella Lawson’s quondam, who gave us his final year of cancer in book form and on television. But I don’t suppose the oncologist had heard of either of them.

(Mark you, Gill, John Walsh would be the ideal person to do it. He has already written his life in different versions. Once as a film-lover, once as growing up Irish in London and once as something else I can’t remember. Brilliant. I just hope he doesn’t fall ill of anything round about now. It would be quite hard competing with a twinkling Irish boy account of cancer.)



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