Milk­shakes And Mor­phine

Genevieve Fox Square Peg £14.99

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - BOOKS - Rosie Wilby

‘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.

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