The book is a suspenseful account of the true story of how I endured late-stage colorectal cancer. But it is not just another illness narrative – The Cancer Olympics tells how my community and I took on the government to provide best practice chemotherapy for this disease. Many readers respond warmly to the book’s illustration of the role of social media in bringing about change in a democracy.
But that is not why I get letters and emails.
The Cancer Olympics also relates the horrendous medical care I encountered on my search for diagnosis. My care was so truly terrible that three of the four doctors involved on my diagnosis pathway were disciplined by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. In my case, diagnostic endoscopy that should have taken 60 days took 661 days.
Every day, I get a letter or an email from those harmed by medical negligence and wrongdoing. I get messages from the bereaved and the broken. So many ill and injured people write me - piteous, angry, lost. They write with fury about how certain doctors shrugged at or scorned them when they presented with dangerous symptoms. They relate anguished visits to emergency rooms where they or their loved one were turned away. They tell me of limbs lost, bodies damaged, and children buried.
I am a psychologist as well as a writer. I know that many face such injustice. I know that fallible human beings make mistakes. But what moves me is the loneliness of many of my correspondents – how they found The Cancer Olympics to be a touchstone for their own loss. One woman wrote:
"Your book arrived on Friday last week, so on Sunday night I decided to read a few pages before falling asleep. Ha, so much for that plan! I finally forced myself at 2am to put the book away! I kept saying just one more page, and then another, and another until I ended up past the 100 page mark....Of course by then I was wide awake and my mind was busy reviewing what you had endured and it stirred up my own emotional cyclone of patient harm...As I neared the last chapters of your book I began to experience melancholy in thinking my link to you via the book was ending. I felt so connected with you for various reasons at every page-turning moment. The bond I felt reading your book was a strong one...the reason this email is so long is because I didn't hold myself back, finding a sense of kindred spirit doesn't come along often enough."
For me as a writer, these missives teach me about the responsibility and privilege of sharing our stories of adversity. Readers see their own lives and struggles reflected in our narratives, and it can give them courage. As they read, they find words for their own hurt – and perhaps, through that process, their own healing. I am profoundly humbled by the trust and vulnerability of my readers – as well as deeply grateful that I have lived long enough to correspond with them.
The Cancer Olympics can be ordered online via Amazon and Indigo, but the donation to cancer charity is maximized by ordering online from The Friesenpress Bookstore.