Helping Children Cope with Cancer: The Best Medicine by Christine Hamill

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult
the best medicine

By Christine Hamill

On the day I was diagnosed with cancer my first thought was, ‘Oh, my son.’ Then I thought, ‘Oh, my poor mother.’ My third thought was, ‘I can’t have cancer, I haven’t written that book yet.’

I’d wanted to write books since I was eight years old but had not found a way to let myself do it. I thought people might mock me if I tried.Cancer changed that. The clock was ticking and I was desperate. Before my treatment ended I’d finished my first (non-fiction) book, B is for Breast Cancer – a sometimes humorous ‘beginner’sguide’ to cancer.  By the time I had recovered from my reconstructive surgery a year later, I’d written my second book – a comic novel for children/early teens about a boy coping with, among other things, his mother’s cancer.  Both books are funny and fun. I worried about that. That people would say I shouldn’t laugh in the face of something so grim. But now I know better. I have had so many people approach me and tell how much it helped them to laugh. Anyway, I wasn’t laughing at cancer; I was laughing through it. Life doesn’t stop being funny just because you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.Of course cancer is scary and deadly serious but funny things keep happening even when you are scared and miserable.

The idea for the first book – an A – Z of the emotional and physical impact of cancer covering everything from Anxiety to Zeds (as in getting some sleep)–came to me the day after I was diagnosed. I was standing in Boots the chemist, blinking back tears thinkingnow what does a breast cancer patient need? Knowing my make-up would be running down my face, all I could come up with was waterproof mascara.  I put some in my basket and thought someone should write an alternative guide to cancer: Step One – buy waterproof mascara.  You’re going to need it.

So I wrote the guide myself.  It was a kind daily pep talk to myself.  It gave help and hope.  I wrote it on a laptop in bed, in between hospital appointments, and now I find I can only write in bed.  I never thought of myself as someone who would write funny books.  I fancied I’d be an Irish Anita Brooker or Helen Dunmore – nice and literary and a bit lyrical. Writing comedy has come as a surprise. I was also surprised to find myself writing in the first person in both books.  In the first one, it was inevitable but I could easily have written the children’s novel in the third person.  In the end I decided to write from the point of view of a twelve-year-old boy and let his voice be heard.  I wanted it to be his story.  I wanted him to tell it his way.

 The Best Medicine tells the story of 12-year-old Philip, a budding comedian, and his hilarious and touching attempts to cope with his mother’s embarrassing breast cancer diagnosis. He can’t bear that thought that everyone will be talking about his mother’s boobs all the time.Through it all, Philip is writing letters to his hero, the comedian Harry Hill, looking for advice. The hardest part of my diagnosis was telling my son about the cancer; it took me all of four months to pluck up the courage.  In the novel much of the comedy comes from the mother’s failed attempts to tell her son about her diagnosis and all the misunderstandings that ensue.  And because Mum is understandably emotional and upset, Philip thinks she might be going a bit barmy.

The novel isn’t just about the boy coping with his mother’s cancer. It is about the boy coping with life – the school bully The Yeti, the teacher who is on his case, his best friend Ang, Mrs Chihuahua next door and her annoying mutt, and last but not least, The (gorgeous) Goddess, the love of his life.  Young people have so much to contend with in their lives and I wanted to show that.  And I especially wanted to write about it from a boy’s perspective.  I think sometimes boys aren’t encouraged to explore their emotions and I wanted to do that, but in a funny way that both boys and girls could relate to.

It was very important to me to make this book funny. On the day I was diagnosed with cancer, I saw that my life stood still but I also saw that my son’s didn’t. Some people might think you shouldn’t laugh where serious illness is concerned, but life goes on for the child even as it stands still for the sick parent. Children can feel guilty for getting on with their lives and having fun at a time like that. But of course they shouldn’t.  The Best Medicine is my way of saying so. The book is permission to keep on living and keep on laughing.

(c) Christine Hamill

About The Best Medicine

Philip is twelve years old and life is pretty good. He gets on with his mum and gets by pretty well at school – in spite of girl problems, teacher problems, bully problems and – er – poetry problems. Philip’s happy-go-lucky life is disrupted when his mother gets breast cancer. Bad enough that your mother is seriously ill – but could she not have developed a less embarrassing kind of cancer – toe cancer, maybe, or ear cancer? Philip’s attempts to cope with his situation are both hilarious and touching. Through it all, he’s writing letters to his hero, the comedian Harry Hill, looking for advice. A hilarious take on the unfunny subject of cancer; this book brings one of modern life’s most prevalent illnesses into the light and gives it a human face

The Best Medicine is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!

B is for Breast Cancer 2014 Little, Brown Piatkus; The Best Medicine 2016 Little Island

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