Milkshakes And Morphine
Genevieve Fox Square Peg £14.99
‘It doesn’t hurt, but I know it is there and I know it shouldn’t be.’ This is how journalist Genevieve Fox first describes her ‘interloper’, the bright red lump in her neck that appears in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2013. What follows is an honest and accessible account of navigating the unfamiliar terrain of ‘Planet Cancer’.
Noting the ‘disconnect between what I say and the tinnitus of fear in my head’, a dark sense of humour guides her through diagnosis and treatment. She nicknames her handsome Greek oncologist ‘Doctor Dish’, muses on the gap in the market for a cancer etiquette handbook and wonders whether to ask a particularly skilled party host to do the catering at her wake.
This is all interwoven with memories of an unusual, nomadic childhood that
illuminate just why illness holds such dread. She lost both of her parents by the age of nine and can’t bear the thought of her sons, Reuben and Bassy (Sebastian), both in their early teens, ‘learning resilience the way I’ve learnt it’.
Although her colourful adventures with her older brother and sister, ‘inconvenient orphans’ whom nobody knows quite what to do with, involve nuns, eccentric spinsters, country houses and sleeping on airport runways, they never quite match the urgency and jeopardy of the present-day narrative.
Fox writes with such directness about being zapped in the radiotherapy machine by what she imagines as ‘blue beams from Star Wars lightsabers’, and the challenges of eating without saliva, that it’s impossible not to root for her.
The scenes where she tells her boys what lies ahead and recalls husband Richard uncharacteristically holding her hand in the street feel very real and touching. This is a memoir about human vulnerability that stays the right side of bleak.