I was reading an article earlier today about the Northern Territory government setting up a ‘one stop web site’ for cancer sufferers. Great idea, but I was particularly caught by the language. Is ‘sufferer’ really the best word we can use? I guess it’s better than ‘victim’ … ‘Patient’ would be an option.
Lots of people also talk about their ‘battle with cancer’, but some of the people I interviewed for Positive said that they disliked the war analogy. For starters, it means that you win or you lose. Tess Berthelson saw it not as a battle but as a dance: “sometimes I’m twirling fast, sometimes I’m collapsed on the side, other times I’m engaged with everybody, other times I’m just on my own, moving to music.” (Tess finished her dance before Positive was published, overtaken by ovarian cancer.)
Does our language matter? What do you think?

Someone asked me the other day, ‘how is Positive different from all the other cancer books out there?’ There’s been plenty written about fighting cancer through diet, lifestyle etc, but relatively little about how our hearts, spirits and minds fare in the midst of cancer. Positive is not just me (the author) speaking; it is a collection of voices, people speaking about their experience – the good and the bad. I felt that it was important to give people that voice in the form of a book that would benefit other people going through similar struggles. I also felt that it was important to be ‘real’ about it – not pretend that having a positive attitude meant that no one would ever die from cancer again, but to reflect on the amazing circumstance that something as devastating as cancer could still leave traces of good in people’s lives. I’m still amazed and humbled by that …

It all started back in 2006, when I read an article which said that nearly two out of three cancer survivors and their families consider that something good has come out of their experience. I was a bit blown away by that; my mother died from lung cancer in 2001, and I couldn’t honestly say that I could see anything good coming out of that. So this article got me thinking; at first it was on an abstract level, that it would be a good idea to interview people who had experienced cancer – either directly or through someone they loved – about the good that had come out of it. It wasn’t til I had actually written a proposal for the book and was just about to sent it to HarperCollins Publishers that I even connected that this concept was very deeply personal for me … Denial, it’s a great place to live :) As for the title – it kind of came with the concept and I could never imagine the book being called anything else. I’m glad the publishers agreed.

“God is in the flutter of the butterfly and the sweet aroma of the honeysuckle, in the steam rising from the pot of potatoes on the stove and in the smells and sounds and passing light in every room of the house. God is also in the negative, horrific sensations — in the explosion of the bomb and the firing of the pistol. All these sensations are there to be read theologically if we have the holy imagination to recognize them. Otherwise they are mere impressions lost to consciousness and reflection.
“The holy person is the one whose senses are at their peak and whose imagination is ever ready to notice the slightest sign of the divine presence revealed momentarily in the most mundane of sensations.”
[Thomas Moore, The Soul’s Religion]
I am happy to see God in potato steam and a butterfly’s wings. But a pistol? Or a bushfire? That’s tough. Especially when the flames are still blazing. Even so, I want to have that ‘holy imagination’ that sees God in everything, not just the places I would prefer Him to dwell.

What must it be like to see your town, your house and your belongings reduced to a scatter of ashes? Any other worries seem insignificant when you weigh them against whole communities being annihilated. And in such a violent, terrifying way, too.
People talk about the ‘fury’ of the fires and their indiscriminate attack on children, the elderly, those fleeing and those standing their ground. In yesterday’s Australian newspaper, a CFA volunteer in Flowerdale was quoted: ‘I just get so angry. The fire has a mind of its own. It just doesn’t care nothing about wrecking your life, or your kids’ life either’. Rationally, of course, there is no reason to think that fire should care – or on the flip side, to think that it has a mind of its own. But for anyone in Australia and the Western world more generally, we have such a sense of control over our own lives that something as unstoppable as a mighty fire simply does not fit with our understanding of the world. We expect good to happen, and we are wrongfooted when a disaster like this comes from nowhere.
Should we spend our lives expecting bad things to happen? That would be like a living death. I don’t have a neat answer, but there are some things that help me when the roof of my world caves in. To know that the present is all, and that to live in the expectation of either good or bad is just a distraction. To know that in the context of eternity, the things we own and even the lives we build are never permanent: jobs, houses, even our bodies are only ever temporary. And the pain we have now will pass. It will always pass.

Yesterday I held it in my hands for the very first time. I gazed adoringly at it. Yes, it’s an advance copy of my new book, Positive! I hope the world loves it and treats it kindly … Now the hard work begins of making sure everyone in Australia (nah, the world!) knows about it and feels compelled to buy a copy. Or ten.
Check out the HarperCollins blurb at http://www.harpercollins.com.au/books/9780732287191/Positive/index.aspx