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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

How Cancer Brought About A Smile: By Brenda Burling

Written by Brenda Burling on 
16th November, 2017
Updated: 30th January, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

When asked to write for Cancer Care Parcel’s “Talking About Cancer Pages” it was only then I paused and reflected on the last couple of years.

Having had family members and friends affected by cancer in its various forms I had seen the effects it had on all it touched. It was only when a particularly close friend was diagnosed and I accompanied her on some appointments for treatments and check-ups that I became actively involved in the lives of many people with cancer and subsequently wrote Might Make You Smile

What stuck out almost immediately when talking to people is that although ill, every single one of them was ready to smile, laugh and very often poke fun at themselves. I was also very much aware that sharing this mindset benefitted all. To be able to laugh in our darkest times is a human asset, an often underestimated one but yet a very reoccurring one.

My friend in particular, prior to her illness was someone who ‘things’ just happened to, her regaling her mishaps, adventures and day to day life was always enjoyed and this never changed during her diagnosis or treatment. I actually came up with the idea for Might Make You Smile on one particular visit to Addenbrooke’s Hospital with the aforementioned friend.

We were sitting in a corridor, one of those artificially lit places, zero natural daylight, hard plastic chairs in the middle of what I think might have been a basement area. There were probably about ten people in the waiting area, all ages, both sexes and all very much there for the same reason. Each had an appointment with an oncologist consultant. Whilst we were waiting a very lovely nurse came round with bright purple carrier bags and handed one each to everyone sitting in the waiting area. Apparently, these were complimentary ‘goodie bags’ that had been donated by various companies, a lovely thought it was agreed by all. Everyone delved in and examined the contents.  I listened to their reactions to each of the items produced from the bags:-

Small bottle of water – excellent, being thirsty or at least having a dry mouth was a common complaint and if you were unfortunate to suffer with mouth ulcers (which one particular gentleman had been only telling us about minutes before) a regular sip of water can help keep the mouth at least lubricated.

Lip Slaves – Unanimous agreement, a great thing to always have to hand. Dry lips become cracked and sore very quickly, various treatments brought about this condition. One lady even mentioned she had used her lip salve on her hands to help with dry skin. Trying to keep skin supple and moisturized was again a common problem.

Hard boiled sweets and chewing gum – A mixed reaction, dependent on how sore your mouth and throat were.

A small comb – this brought about a lot of laughter as it was agreed if you were fortunate enough to keep your hair you might want to comb it but very, very carefully. A baby brush was suggested as an alternative as it is softer bristled.

A snack packet of biscuits – again a nice idea if you were able to eat them.

Small Suduko puzzle book – It was this that brought about a very animated conversation which included a few of the patients in the waiting room. You either loved or you hated it but it was the fact that there was nothing to read in that particular waiting room that caught my eye when we arrived. Therefore, if you loathed Suduko you were left with nothing. One gentleman mentioned wouldn’t it be good if there was some light reading included, a small book that wasn’t a mind-blowing novel but something you could pick up and put down as and when. He also mentioned, if sitting in an oncologist’s waiting room wasn’t one of the best places to have something that was amusing, light and uplifting to read.

When I decided to write

I listened to all the chatter going on and it was then I noticed a gentleman sitting on his own a little way from the others. He had said nothing and clearly was in his own thoughts. It was him that made me decide to write a book that was just that,  a light, uplifting read that could connect people who were in similar situations, experienced similar effects but that had a humorous edge. The hope was the book would touch even those they may not want to chat or talk (there is no right and wrong way to deal with cancer after all) and allow them to feel less isolated, connected and hopefully bring about a smile.

I had spoken to a few other people I knew about their cancer experiences and each had an amusing tale to tell. Unfortunate incidences with hairpieces, makeup and a variety of prosthetic mishaps, to disastrous Nerf gun attacks by children and bemused medical staff to name but a very few.  I knew of a local support group that I could take my friend along to and it was there that I asked the ladies attending what they thought of my idea. I was amazed at the response. I suggested people drop me a line, I could meet for a chat or simply scribble down something on a scrap of paper there and then. Each option was taken and from what I was told I created a small story around the person’s experience. Some gave me pages to work with and others as little as a sentence, it didn’t matter. I am an author not a journalist, therefore I take the essence of what I am told, and create around it.

That was almost two years ago, Might Make You Smile was published in April 2017, Helen Rollason Cancer Charity are the benefactors. I am now working on a male orientated sequel with a male cancer charity to benefit. If you are or know of anyone who would like to contribute then please feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] Let’s continue to share the humour. Humour can be a weapon, shared humour is twice a strong. The more we talk, share positivity and awareness we take away the power from cancer.

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