Iain Banks and finding the right words after cancer diagnosis

Author Iain Banks revealed his terminal diagnosis on his website. Others are using social networks to reveal details of their condition. Is sharing online one of the best ways to deal with a serious illness? Simon Usborne finds out

It used to be that you needed a newspaper column or book deal to log your journey through illness outside your social circle or the pages of your own diary. But the announcement by Iain Banks that he has months to live after being diagnosed with cancer shows the extent to which audiences have grown for those to whom sharing can be a form of treatment.

The writer said he was setting up a website at which friends, family and fans could follow his progress. It’s not clear how detailed posts at iain-banks.net will be, but its key feature is its very ordinariness. Social media and blogs have made potential publishers of us all, with immediate audiences.

Matilda Tristram is a children’s writer and lecturer who was diagnosed with colon cancer in February. “At first I didn’t really want anyone to know,” she says. “I was worried about people I worked for finding out and thought I wouldn’t be able to write about it anyway because it would be too painful and traumatic.” That changed, she says, about a month ago, when, “it started to feel like it helped to write it down.”

Tristram, 31, is pregnant, which complicates her chemotherapy. She wants doctors to learn from her rare case so set up a secondary Twitter feed, @colonoclast, through which she shares thoughts and links to her comic strips.

Like Banks, who said “ghoulish humour” helped him and his partner, Tristram finds solace in laughter. Her Twitter profile reads: “Replacing Sharon Osbourne as the glamourous young face of colon cancer.”

“It would be great if I can help other people but if I can also find ways to make jokes about this stuff happening, it makes me feel better,” she says. As it happens, Tristram has received dozens of supportive messages, including one from a lecturer in medicine who had shown Tristram’s work to students.

“That makes me want to carry on,” she says.

Sometimes humour can create new shades of black. Kate Granger, a doctor with terminal cancer, shocked audiences on BBC Radio 5 Live this week when she revealed plans to broadcast her death on Twitter feed using the hashtag, #deathbedlive. Tweets would be humorous, she said.

But, she explained: “it’s my coping mechanism and I’m living this journey with a smile on my face. I’ve witnessed in my professional life that people who are positive about illness tend to survive longer with less symptoms.”

Banks, Tristram and Granger follow the example set in the 1990s by writers with cancer such as John Diamond, Martyn Harris and Ruth Picardie, all of whom died of their illnesses.

Diamond, who was married to the writer and cook Nigella Lawson, nicknamed himself Mr Celebrity Cancer and, in one of his columns, said this about sharing: “I’m not suggesting that writing about mortality forces me to confront it any more honestly, but it certainly helps me deal with what’s happening.

“It’s as valid and useful for me to do this as it would be to go into complete denial or to spend my days at some centre for positive thinking. Trust me on this, will you?”

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players