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Book Reviews: John Diamond's C and John Bayley's Memoir of Iris Murdoch


John Diamond "C Because cowards get cancer too..." Vermilion London 1998 ISBN 0-09-181665-3 pp256 £6.99

Late in the day, because it seemed too much like work, Bandolier came to John Diamond's C. It is a highly articulate and intelligent account of life with throat cancer. A friend used to tell me that he hated lying interminably on the examination couch while the doctor washed his hands. The doctor wouldn't pronounce on recurrence or not till the hand washing ritual was complete. You alter your practice. This book has similar insights, but above all the importance of good team work in chronic illness was reinforced, so that the adverse effects of treatment are dealt with effectively and don't impinge unnecessarily on remaining time.

Bandolier heartily recommends what John Diamond writes about alternative medicine and the anti-medical lobby. He classifies those who wrote to him as Benign (gentle nudgers) or Malignant (demanders). He then breaks each of these into a further three groups, the religious, the alternative medicine aficionados and "those who admitted to knowing nothing about science but who knew that homeopathy had worked when their husband had cancer in 1987". John Diamond found the latter the toughest to deal with. Quackwatch.com may give the intellectual rebuttal, but that's little help in the clinic. The importance of being able to rebut "known facts" which are completely untrue is the opportunity cost - fine if the alternative makes people feel better with no adverse effects, not fine if they deny themselves effective treatment to pursue the alternative.

John Bayley "Iris A memoir of Iris Murdoch" Abacus London ISBN 0 349 11215 0 pp294 £7.99

Another wonderful book. John Bayley's account of caring for Iris Murdoch is warm and sad. You get a feel of the burden of coping with the repeated question, the following around the house, using daytime television to distract. All this against a backdrop of an unusual alliance, with the shared history lost as the disease takes its course. Gillian Ford at Marie Curie used to talk about the impact of the collapse of informal care, frail carers and demography on our society. Understanding and supporting the carer and spotting the point at which the situation is no longer tenable can be difficult. This memoir has great insight.

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