I was emotionally hit twice this month; firstly by my other half who proved that you can hurry love, especially if it’s making a dash for the “Last train to Clarksville“, leaving me on my own in the left luggage office. Secondly was when I read this month’s book, In Your Face by Lia Mills.
Lia is a Dublin author whose previous two books were Another Alice and Nothing Simple. Two years ago she went to her dentist with a problematic wisdom tooth, which had been rubbing against her cheek; it was subsequently removed but a short time later her cheek became sore again. When she went back to the dentist they found a small lump. Results of a biopsy discovered she had an invasive non-differentiated squamous cell carcinoma, a tumour in her cheek.
The book is a diary of her 21 month journey from the discovery of the “Crab” as she refers to it; through the surgery which resulted in the loss of half her face and reconstruction using skin and bone grafts; to the traumatic and almost life sapping chemo.
This is not a book for the faint hearted, there were times when I found myself holding my neck and cheek, others when I was close to tears and occasions when I laughed uncontrollably at her wit in the face of adversity or the antics of the people she came across. As diaries go this is definitely up there with Anne Frank and reminded me of the last book on the subject I read, “Champion’s Story” which chronicled Bob Champion’s triumph over cancer and his subsequent Grand National win. As was then, this is pure no punches pulled story telling, where we experience first hand her highs and lows. I was reminded that Lia and people like her are the reason I run the Dublin Women’s Mini Marathon each year in drag for a cancer support group in Bray.
She also re-affirms the shambles that our health service is in, especially when months after the operation she discovers the leg that was used for the bone graft, and which she’d been advised to walk on was broken in the operation and has set badly, hence back again for another operation to reset it.
What makes the book heart warming is the sterling work of the multi-cultural nursing staff, and the staunch unyielding support of her friends and family. While the real characters are the other bewildered patients whom she shares wards and a bed with at one stage and their hilarious antics, at times I had to remind myself I was reading a work of non-fiction and not an Irish parody of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest .
As we run full tilt towards the season of excess, I can
certainly recommend this as a sobering replacement to the over televised It’s A Wonderful Life. One thing that you take from this book is, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Me, I’ll try to remember that when love high-tails it out of my life again.
(Originally Reviewed December 2007)
(published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2009