Monday, 28 July 2008

The Net as medicine

The Internet receives, I suppose, as many brickbats for what it does as it gets favourable mention for the opportunities it presents. Access cannot be denied and any attempt at censorship or exclusion will fail if the poster is sufficiently determined. This has to be set against the freedom of self-expression that comes through a simple connection and a word processing ability.

The area I see as having the most potential for good is where an individual can deposit their dreams and fears, their hopes and secret wishes. Staying in that classification, one finds diaries of those facing situations that are too awful to contemplate by the uninvolved. In amongst these, cancer sufferers are prevalent. One cancer blog alone has more than 350,000 readers.

The attraction to write such a living document about dying must be obvious. The sufferer is surrounded by positive thinkers all trying to see the bright side of the slightest new discovery or most brief remission. It may be during the dark night - of the soul as well as the actual sleepless night - that there is a need to open up the fears or explore the practicalities of one's condition.

This desire to record things is typified by the writings of the newspaper journalist John Diamond - before the widespread use of the 'net. In 1997, Diamond was diagnosed with throat cancer. He wrote about his experiences with cancer in his newspaper column, for which he won the prestigious What The Papers Say award. In 1999 he was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for his book C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too.... A BBC documentary was filmed for Inside Story which followed him through various treatments, and showed his frustration with his speech difficulties following throat, and later tongue, surgery.

Because Cowards Get Cancer Too... was adapted into a play by Victoria Coren called A Lump In My Throat, which was itself later adapted for television. Diamond's second book, Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, was edited by his brother-in-law Dominic Lawson, editor of the Sunday Telegraph, and published posthumously. It contained the six chapters of his "uncomplimentary look at the world of complementary medicine" which he had completed before his death, and some of his columns from The Times and the Jewish Chronicle.

And all this whilst married to the Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson! 

Diamond wrote "That's what everyone says. I phone up friends and say, "Look, you remember that lump on my neck? Well they're cutting it out and the doctor says he wants to take a look around, just to see what's in there," rather like a police diver uses the phrase just before he goes over the edge of the dinghy into the murky and body-ridden lake. And my friends say, "Hey, don't worry. It'll be fine. I know it'll be fine," which is what we all say when we're not quite sure what the right thing to say is.It would be reassuring if my friends were surgeons, or nurses, or even pharmacists, but they're journalists and radio producers and magazine editors, and what they don't know about surgery would fill two or three large medical libraries. 

How do they know it will be fine, that the lump is just one of those lumps you get from time to time? Not even the surgeon knows that. I can't even put it down to my normal hypochondria. Hypochondria normally comes in two varieties. The chronic version, which turns every twinge into a cardiac event, every spot into a melanoma, every cold into pneumonia, is the worst because of the not knowing. By comparison, the acute version, in which a doctor with a real medical degree tells you that you do have some actual minor illness and that you can look ill when you tell people about it in the pub, is, in its way, rather cheering. But this is beyond those conditions. Nobody can tell me that the fear of being put under for an hour or so while they cut your neck open is an irrational one" He was diagnosed as having cancer following this operation. He underwent a long passage of treatments and seemed to gain no relief from any.

I have been following a couple of cancer-themed blogs. I wonder at the courage of those who fight back. A dear and close friend lost his battle a few months ago. The fascination - for I must admit it is that - is how do they do it?  My own attitude to anything termed terminal is to abandon any resistance and seek assurance that my end would be as painless as science can provide. No surrendering to repeated operations, no intrusion from procedures, no long faces swiftly hidden as I appear. One of the blogs is by a guy who calls himself Baldy. His outlook was always buoyant and realistic. Until this latest. It has got him. I reckon that if the Man wants you, far better to go when He calls and not anger him by delaying things.

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Baldy's latest post to his blog

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