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 and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life