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C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too... - John Diamond

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Genre: Biography / Author: John Diamond / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 256 Pages / Book is published 1999-04-08 by Vermilion

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    5 Reviews
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      17.03.2012 11:33
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      John Diamond - a man who changed society's attitude to cancer in a way he couldn't have imagined

      ~A Diamond Geezer~

      John Diamond was a journalist and broadcaster known for his wit as much as for his marriage to Nigella Lawson and he was by his own admission, a hypochondriac. After decades of seeing every little twinge as a portent of medical doom and waiting almost expectantly for the heart attack for which decades of over-indulgence must surely qualify him, it was as much a self-fulfilling prophesy as a big surprise when a lump in his neck turned out to be more sinister than he'd expected.

      In March 1997 he was given a diagnosis of a cancerous lymph node in his neck and the doctors told him with confidence he had a 92% chance of being fine and dandy in no time at all. Sometimes doctors get things wrong - and 'C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too' is Diamond's best selling account of his experience with cancer, based in part on columns that he published in the Times newspaper's Saturday magazine.

      ~Honest and Moving~

      Diamond starts out in an upbeat way, cracking jokes about his condition, reassuring the readers of his column that he's feeling fine and recounting the tales of strange things that people say and do. He was unsure whether he was just being self-indulgent, whether the editor would pull his column and tell him to go back to wry observations on middle-class life in London, or whether the readers would just be bored. The Times was flooded with letters for Diamond from readers encouraging him, readers thanking him for speaking out, and from readers telling him that he should eschew traditional medicine in favour of whatever particular religious or pseudo-medical clap trap was their flavour of the month. His treatment of the alternative medicine pedlars is particularly scathing and led him to complete a second book 'Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations' in which he rips into the world of miracle cures and the con men and women that promote them. Debunking the myths that nobody ever got cured by medical science is one of his favourite topics.

      As the book progresses things get worse and worse. Diamond reflects on the nasty habit of the medical profession of only telling you as little as they think you can cope with (or they can get away with) at any time. Things that were outside possibilities soon become quite probable and then almost certain as the doctors shave numbers off that original 92% with each operation to shave another slice out of his throat, tonsils or tongue. Easy operations turn out to be more frightening and painful than he could have expected. Radiotherapy pins him to a table for 30 treatments that make him wonder whether 27 or 28 might not be just as effective and can he PLEASE stop.

      The lymphatic cancer turns out to be a secondary but the doctors aren't sure where the primary lies. We accompany Diamond and Nigella on their horrifying journey to greater medical clarity and greater personal fear. An operation on his tongue leaves him unable to breathe or swallow properly, has food popping back up his gullet at unfortunate moments and of course leaves his broadcasting career shattered. His young daughter tells him "Daddy you are going to die" and he can't really deny it.

      It's painfully honest but the thing that endears the book to so many readers is the warmth and wit. He proposes that cancerous lumps come in two classifications - those whose size is likened to fruit, and those whose size is likened to sporting equipment. Thus the lymph lump might be the size of a grape, or a clementine but the tongue cancer must be more serious because it's like a golf-ball. I've never been a fan of Nigella Lawson but reading about what she went through with Diamond makes me see her in a different light, a woman whose family had already been cursed by cancer who drew the short straw of a husband who would die horribly in front of her. 'C' finishes a couple of years before Diamond's death but it's clear to the reader that he has little prospect of a successful outcome.

      ~The cult of celebrity cancer~

      More than eleven years after John Diamond's death, his book remains a best seller and should be compulsive reading for oncologists and medical staff who treat cancer patients. I don't think I'm giving anything away that Diamond didn't make it - I doubt anyone who buys the book is unaware of that. I have no recollection of him as a journalist or broadcaster, only as - sad to say - a celebrity cancer sufferer. I'm absolutely sure that it wasn't a book that only sold to cancer sufferers and I would have to say that if a reader did have the same type of cancer as Diamond, this would be a really scary book. As someone diagnosed and treated for a much less impactful cancer a year and a half ago, I'm really glad that I waited a year before I read this as I would have not slept after reading his story. I too had a lump in my neck - thank God mine was 'just' a thyroid cancer. The bulk of the readers who bought 'C' were probably people who got to know Diamond through his columns and his work on Radio 4 - he was clearly a much loved man and I regret that I don't remember him despite being an avid Radio 4 listener.

      At the time that Diamond wrote 'C' the 'trend' for celebrity cancer accounts was not even in its infancy - it was still foetal. At the same time he was recording his thoughts, Ruth Picardie was writing about her breast cancer and together the two of them changed the perception of the British public to the issue of washing your cancer linen in public. Today it's hard to remember that this used to be an unusual thing to do. In recent years if we look to the book shelves we've got accounts of Steve Jobs and Patrick Swayze fighting the unwinnable battle with pancreatic cancer, Jade Goodie's very public death from cervical cancer and Lance Armstrong giving the upside to beating testicular cancer. Cancer is no longer a disease that people don't talk about though we're still pretty rubbish at talking about it for sure.

      Every year it seems there are new books which give readers new accounts of celebrity cancer and which sell well, appealing to both those whose lives are touched by cancer and those who merely admire the person whose life is the subject of the book. Diamond was one of the first people to write openly, honestly and with wit and warmth about his illness. People told him he was brave but he pointed out that there's nothing very brave in doing what he always did - writing about his life and his observations. He rejects the suggestion of bravery or heroism at every turn saying there's nothing brave in just trying to stay alive. Bravery, he says, would be having a child with cancer and taking that cancer from them so that they could live. It's more a case of good old fashioned bad luck.

      ~Recommendation~

      If you want a deeply moving but still (in places) funny account of a person's experience with cancer, this is one of the best books on the market. It's un-self-indulgent, writes openly about the fear associated with cancer and looks at some topics that are poorly covered in the media. It also introduced me to a man that I wish I'd 'known' in his heyday and not only after his death. Compared with similar books I found it very readable and very moving. My only recommendation would be that anyone with a head and neck cancer such as John Diamond's or any friends and family of such a person, might want to take advice from others in the same position about whether to read this or not. It might just be too frightening.

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        15.05.2009 14:18
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        Definitely a must-read, tells the journey in life after diagnosis from the first-person perspective

        I was handed this book by the consultant during my medical attachment in the ENT department. And from the first page, John Diamond had kept me flipping the pages to the end. I was so absorbed into his account of his life after the diagnosis, and it just had me wishing 'no, his life is not ending with this book' as I read.


        Publisher's Synopsis of the book
        Shortly before his 44th birthday, John Diamond received a call from the doctor who had removed a lump from his neck. Having been assured for the previous 2 years that this was a benign cyst, Diamond was told that it was cancerous. This is the story of Diamond's life with, and without, a lump.

        My Synopsis of the book
        A compelling story of a self-diagnosed hypochondriac, who had found himself waiting for his next heart attack all his life. Yet when cancer comes knocking on his door, he realises that even the constant suspecting that he is unwell does not mean that when something bad really happens, he's more prepared for it. Throughout the book he gave the readers a blow-by-blow account of his battle with cancer, from the radiotherapy and its good-cells-destroying side effects, to the effect it had on his friends, his wife, and most of all, himself.


        My Opinion on the book
        The author managed to give a first hand perspective on what someone goes through went the C word hits, all in his own style of writing and humor. He did not make it seem like something that can be taken lightly, yet did not make it too dramatic. I find that he had found a perfect balance in between them in his writing.

        It's a book on life after the diagnosis, and tells of the journey beyond that, and even those little things that we have always taken for granted which was being taken away from him. One can see the denial, anger, depression he experienced. Yet he did not make the book all self-indulgent, and more than partly, it showed how his friends, family, children, and especially his wife had dealt with it.

        For one who have never known cancer first or second or third hand, he had really opened up my mind and brings me out of my 'protected' life. As I reach the end of the book, it just wrenched my heart to know that I had only read this book almost a decade after it is written.

        It is relatively short and could be finished in 2 days, therefore I'm recommending everyone to read this book, especially if you have been ignorant like me (yet I'm a medical student) and have never known first hand or second hand of anyone with cancer.


        Information on the book
        Paperback: 256 pages
        Publisher: Vermilion; New Ed edition (8 April 1999)
        Language English
        Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.6 x 2 cm


        > read the book before you read on <



        Background on the author
        John Diamond was a broadcaster and columnist for several papers, notably the Times where he had published his accounts on his life with cancer (some of which appears in the book). He had also made a documentary of his journey with BBC's Inside Story.

        He passed away in 2001, 4 years after being diagnosed with cancer, 2 years after the book was published. I hope he and his family had cherished every moment they had together. My deepest condolences to everyone who knew him, and especially his wife, Nigella Lawson.

        And it saddens me that I have missed out on all the articles he had written for his columns.

        NOTE: Similar review written by myself on Ciao.co.uk before this.

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        28.02.2009 00:10
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        Read it, laugh, and weep

        This book is an autobiographical account of a man diagnosed with Cancer. It's not about his 'brave battle' with cancer because if we talk about cancer in those terms we mark those that die as 'losers'.

        Contracting Cancer is not something that only the brave do, there's not that many brave people around, but we often report that those who exist with cancer as undergoing a brave struggle (as if they have a choice).

        Which is why the subtitle of this book is 'Because Cowards Get Cancer Too...'

        It's an autobiographical work by journalist John Diamond and covers approximately a year in his life from when he was diagnosed with Cancer.

        Diamond writes with a balance of wit and intellect. The book not only covers his treatment and experience but shows his research into cancer. Amongst the 256 pages you'll find a potted history of Cancer, descriptions of medical interventions (sometimes graphic enough to make you squirm), passages that will make you laugh and those that will make you cry.

        This isn't always a comfortable book to read but it can be a comfort.

        I've read the book 3 times.

        The first when my aunt & god-mother was diagnosed with bronchial cancer.

        The second when my mother was diagnosed with mouth cancer. Unlike her sister, mums cancer was caught in time.

        The third when my baby daughter was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that puts her in a high risk group for a particular type of stomach cancer (Wilms Tumour).

        Each time I've read it, it's put the fear of God in me (& I'm an athiest) for what I & my loved ones might go through but equally it's given me hope.

        There are a vast amount of experts out there working to find a cure (or to lessen the suffering) and one day they'll find one. Diamond reminds us in his book that being diagnosed with Cancer doesn't have to be a death sentence. "I know the disease is nothing special: people die of it all the time and many more live with, and through, cancer..."

        This isn't the best review of the book & for that I apologise, it's Friday night, the Carling has been flowing & having read other peoples reviews about Cancer earlier in the day it's been on my mind to write this.

        If you know someone with Cancer you may want to read this to gain a little insight into what they may be thinking. Equally, this could be one of the worst books you could read if someone you love has Cancer.

        The blurb on the back cover of the version I own describes it as 'the everyday story of what cancer is, what it does, how it kills, how it can be cured. It is the book Diamond needed the night he was phoned up & told "Look: it's bad news".

        it's also the book I'll be reading agin if / when my daughter gets the diagnosis we've been dreading...

        Apologies that this review has rambled & got maudlin, I'll probably edit it in the cold light of day.

        But, read the book if you can face it - despite the subject matter it's not all doom & gloom & it does end on a note of hope.

        Equally, if you don't want to buy this book why not donate the money to Cancer Research instead.

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          02.07.2001 23:40
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          Well, here I am sitting at my office desk today, COMPLETELY sunburnt to a crisp (80 degree heat yesterday). The reason for my lobsterishness is the fact that I bought John Diamond's biography on Saturday. I was inspired to buy this book after watching the documentary a couple of months back on John Diamond and his fight against cancer. I bought it out of pure interest and curiousity and that was that. For those of you who don't know, the late John Diamond was a broadcaster who blagged his way into journalism and was married to Nigella Lawson and had two young children. It seems particularly cruel that he was struck down by cancer of the tongue when such a large part of his life was spent using his voice. I have to say that I have been completely blown away by this book. Actually I feel as if I am insulting John Diamond by calling this a book, it's not a book, it's a biography. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I started reading it, not really knowing what to expect - of course I knew what it was going to be about but I wasn't quite prepared for the manner in which it was written. I know many people who have been afflicted with/affected by cancer and who have obviously dealt with it in their own individual personal way but this man was remarkable. The only way I can describe the style is that it's very 'matter of fact' as if he knew all along that it was hopeless but you don't really know that until you get to the end. He never accepted anybody calling him brave because, as he quite rightly points out, what choice did he have but to get on with it? He does not winge (although he was perfectly entitled to) about how much pain he was in, neither does he ever at any stage in the book ask 'why me' which he must have asked himself a million times. This book did not, rather surprisingly, make me cry because it was not written in such a way as to tug at your heart strings, although others
          may disagree with me here. I also did not find it depressing, again, others may disagree. He injected humour all the way through which gives the reader permission to laugh at what is a terrifying subject. What I did feel was thoroughly humbled and grateful for what I've got. I sat for a while after finishing the book and just thought about what I had read and I am sure that it really had an impact on me, not something that can be said for a lot of books. After coming in to work today and having countless of numbers of people saying to me 'you've caught the sun' and me having explained why i.e. having bought John Diamond's biography, the response I've been getting is 'oh god, how depressing'. You may also think this about a book on Cancer but it is a truely eye-opening, honest and touching account of a man with Cancer with no frills and no self-pity. Buy it and sit and read it but please don't get sunburnt in process.

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            12.01.2001 22:36
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            Writer and broadcaster John Diamond has cancer. For a broadcaster, he has a particularly cruel type of tumour, one which has (hopefully temporarily) robbed him of his voice. Luckily though, it has not taken his writing skills, nor completely eradicated his ascerbic sense of humour - although it is easy to imagine the latter becoming a bit 'dented' on bad days. Since diagnosis, he has written frank accounts of the progression of his disease and the treatment he has received in his regular newspaper columns, prompting hundreds of letters from readers wishing he had been writing when they had been diagnosed.In doing so, he shattered many of the taboos associated with this illness, one that is discussed in hushed tones,(if at all) referred to with euphemisms and generally avoided for fear of inciting the wrath of the 'Cancer Gods' who might seek revenge.John Diamond has written "the book which he himself was looking for" on the night he received his bad news. At that point,Diamond wanted to know what it was like to be a person with cancer, having to deal with the pain, anger and fear. This book is, as he points out, a book about HIS cancer...it is not a book about a personal battle, since he despises the warlike metaphors applied to the disease. It is not a book of 'alternative' cures, or of positive messages. The bottom line is that this is an account of the bare bones of Diamond's illness, with symptoms and treatments described in alarming detail - as the author says on one occasion " I know: gross. What were you expecting when you bought a book on cancer?" Well, sadly, the depth of detail involved was NOT what I was expecting when I bought this particular book and I found myself constantly asking as I read it "Did we really need to know THAT?". Yet, at the same time, I was also not expecting to laugh out loud, as I did on several occasions while reading the book. John Diam
            ond freely admits to being a hypochondriac and describes two distinct types of hypochondria. Chronic hypochondriacs turn every twinge, pimple and sniffle into a life threatening medical crisis. On the other hand, acute hypochondriacs just want a doctor to acknowledge that they have a minor illness, something which makes them look ill and can be discussed at the pub. The author doesn't seem to consider for a moment that there may be a third type - people who might find his writing terrifying. Those who, having received their diagnosis, might read his book with mounting panic at the thought of what they might have to face in their own future. It is for this reason alone that I wouldn't reccommend this book to a friend, particularly one who had friends or family diagnosed with cancer - or been diagnosed themself. Which is a shame, as Diamond writes beautifully... just a little too honestly. And, whereas I applaud his personal courage and his decision to bring the subject of cancer out into the open, to shatter some of the myths behind it, I can't help feeling that some of these myths might have been best left unshattered. Had the book focused more on the emotional effects of cancer than the physical, I believe it would have served it's purpose in being the kind of book that would be of great use to the many people who receive that diagnosis every day. It is witty, brutally honest and intensely personal, totally devoid of jargon and described on the cover as 'inspirational'. For those who are fans of his writing, it is undoubtedly Diamond's best... at the same time, it is also his worst. Graphic throughout, it is not for the medically squeamish and, if I were unlucky enough to be suffering from cancer - as one in three of us will at some stage of our life - it is definitely NOT the sort of book I would want to read. It all boils down to one question - what sort of hypochondriac are you?

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          • Product Details

            One man's story of cancer - what it is, what it does,how it kills and how it can be cured.