Janine Booth has written about her experience in her new book The Big J vs The Big C: Issues, Experiences and Poems in the Battle Against Breast Cancer, charting her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.
One in two people will develop cancer during their lives. The increasing incidence is mainly a result of more people living longer.
Cancer was something that people were ashamed to mention, endured by a silent minority in private, but now is more openly talked about.
There are many different cancers, some eminently survivable, taking different treatments to cure them or keep them at bay. Yet some cancers are untreatable, some incurable. I was diagnosed five years ago with an “indolent” (slow-growing) lymphoma, a type of blood cancer (indolent? It can take as long as it sodding well likes as far as I’m concerned).
It’s incurable, but chemo can put it back in its box when it gets too lively. Until chemo doesn’t work any more... Still, as cancers go, I got lucky with mine. Not like the poor bastard working in the local shop, who got diagnosed with throat cancer in February and was dead by April. Yes, it does make you shudder.
Whatever cancer you might get, however lucky or unlucky you are, you cannot evade the stress and sadness involved in a diagnosis.
And any treatment is gruelling, and fraught with the possibility of complications and side effects.
Janine tells her story through fast-paced narrative, puns (lots of puns), poems, and informative, highly relevant digressions on topics such as the workplace rights of the cancer patient and the unwelcome roles played by private medicine and Big Pharma.
You will laugh and cheer as Janine successfully confronts and overcomes each obstacle in the way of being cured (to be honest, it’s a wonder she’s still standing). You probably won’t cry because, well, it’s just not that kind of book, although you can tell that Janine probably did at points on her journey, not least when she remembers friends and comrades whom cancer did take.
Whatever cancer you or your loved ones face, you will doubtless come to appreciate the NHS more than you ever did before, at the same time as not being able to overlook the strain it is under: stressed nurses, delayed appointments, lost blood tests, etc. Janine Booth’s tour to promote her book is, rightly, titled “The Big J (and the NHS) vs The Big C”.
Also deserving an explicit hat-tip is science per se – Janine has scathing passages on its enemies: quackery and religion. Another to civil society in the form of the innumerable charities, support groups, etc, that work in tandem with the NHS to humanise the medical experience of cancer and empower the patient and their families and friends.
Interwoven throughout her book, Janine describes the most important fronts in the fight against cancer:
• Prevention, through ending poverty, improving education including around self-care, extending checks and scans.
• Nationalising the pharmaceutical industry, rebuilding the NHS, including primary care.
• Strengthening trade unions, to ensure workers can exercise their rights, and uphold health and safety at work.
Janine relegates fund-raising charity fun runs and the like to a minor, supporting role, even though they are probably the first thing people think of in the war on cancer.
One in four people survived cancer in the 1970s, two in four survive today, current projections say three in four will survive by 2034. As socialists we aim to liberate human society and inventiveness to prevent and cure more illness, distress and disease. Let’s aim to decrease the incidence of cancer, and improve that survival rate for those who are unlucky enough to get it.
The ideas in Janine’s book can provide a great basis and inspiration for our campaign.