The C-Word by Lisa Lynch

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The C-Word by Lisa Lynch

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: First a blog, now a book, this is a highly personal yet highly readable and highly entertaining account of life with a highly inconvenient disease.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0099547549

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In the beginning was the word, closely followed by the internet. The two combined to form the wonder that is blogging, and when that took off and people wanted a more concrete and permanent record, books quickly followed. Perhaps that's not exactly how the quote goes, but it's close enough. Breast cancer at twenty-eight is not just scary and unusual. For journalist Lisa, it's downright inconvenient. But, when a stage three tumour bulges out of her boob, she decides to document her subsequent fight against the big C (or, as she affectionately calls it, The Bullshit) online for all to see. The blog was a success, it garnered some famous fans (Stephen Fry, among others) and a book offer followed. This is the result.

My previous experience of columns to books, or blogs to books, has been from the likes of Bill Bryson where the end product is often literally just a compilation of previously published articles, with no new material. The C-Word is a little different because while each chapter does start with a previously published blog entry, what follows is a new narrative written exclusively for this book, so there's a lot of fresh stuff even for those who have been following Lisa's story for some time.

Lisa was a happily married journalist before The Bullshit took over her life. We find out about her previous life bit by bit and by a few chapters in I'd taken a real shine to her, and was imagining we could easily be friends should we ever meet in normal circumstances. Breast Cancer, as she quickly discovers, is mainly an older woman's disease, so in addition to the sympathy that comes automatically with her diagnosis, she also gets more than a few double-takes, even from those healthcare workers who really should know better.

The book follows Lisa as she battles the disease from initial diagnosis through to treatment and beyond. It is a highly personal account of her individual experiences but, as she says, The Bullshit affects everyone differently. Since all those 'How to deal with Cancer' books can be a bit generic and nonsense, she goes to the opposite extreme and writes about her story and her story only. This might make it more of a biography than a self-help guide, but it's still a rather good read.

I was quick to build up a picture of Lisa in my mind. The funny thing is, although we know she is a journalist, she never mentions the title of where she works. In my head, I had her down as a Cosmo or Glamour girl, or perhaps even on a teen publication, but her website tells me she's more of an Interiors kinda gal. Either way, Lisa clearly has a way with words, and the book is a very slick read that flows smoothly as the months pass by. What's more, it's funny, appealing, heart-warming and inspiring, but most of all it's super interesting. Not having had first-hand experience of breast cancer, or in fact any cancer, I learnt a lot from the book. It was like a really interesting, personalised textbook, and the sort of thing you can imagine junior oncologists could learn a lot from if they had time to squeeze it in among all their more traditional tomes.

I did think it was amusing – even verging on hilarious at times – and some of Lisa's reactions were things you just couldn't have made up:

13 years on, and I still silently blame this episode for my right boob being my least favourite. … I'd like to apologise to my right boob for always preferring the left, when that's the one that's gone and got cancer. Is it too late to switch sides?

This is a slightly indulgent book, in that it's a very personal tale from Lisa's perspective that doesn't really take into account the experiences of others. But, although you can imagine it will have been a hit with her friends and family, it's still an intriguing read for those of us who have never met her. At the same time, it's probably not the most helpful gift for someone newly diagnosed with the disease, as it is so individual and may bear no resemblance to their subsequent experiences.

The winner for me with this book was that Lisa is pretty much any girl next door. The front cover shouts, Just your average 28-year-old. Friends, family, Facebook, cancer and although I'd admonish them for sticking Facebook on the cover just to get more interest (inside, she barely mentions the site) apart from that it's spot on. A recommended read, this really does do the unthinkable and bring out the funny side of cancer.

Many thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

It might not be a true tale like Lisa's but when Adrian Mole got cancer, a similarly witty book ensued. We also gained a lot from Chernobyl Strawberries by Vesna Goldsworthy.

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