How Stephanie Said Bah! To Cancer
Today, I interview Stephanie Butland, author of the recently published How I Said Bah! To Cancer.
JBBC: Congratulations on the recent publication of your book ‘How I Said Bah! To Cancer’. Tell us a little about the meaning behind the quirky title and what led you to write this book.
Stephanie: Well, the title is based on my blog, which is called ‘Bah! to cancer’, and that name in turn came from my friend Jude who used the phrase in a card she sent to me after surgery. For me, it sums up my attitude to getting a cancer perfectly: annoyance, but something transitory. Because you say ‘Bah!’ when you do something like drop a book on your foot or forget your train ticket. ‘Bah!’ isn’t the end of the world. And I was never going to let cancer be the end of mine.
JBBC: On your website, you write about your approach to cancer, can you tell us some more about the Bah approach to cancer
Stephanie: The Bah! approach is all about thinking differently. Away from writing I’m a trainer specialising in the de Bono methods of thinking more productively and creatively, so I understood before my dance with cancer began that controlling the way that you think can have a huge impact on the quality of your life.
I think very carefully about the language that I use: I don’t ‘fight’ cancer, I dance with it, because as someone who’s never been in a battle, I don’t know how to fight, but I do know how to dance. And I also know no-one dies of dancing.
I think carefully about the treatments I have: have I learned as much as I possibly can before I go ahead? What will this treatment do to my body? How will it help with my chances of survival?
I think carefully about where I put my energy and where I spend my time. Shortly after I was diagnosed I closed down my cake business and stopped doing my second degree, because I realised I wasn’t getting enough from them to make them worth the candle. I try to spend time doing what I love.
I have realistic expectations of myself in the world, and I take better care of myself than I used to.
JBBC: I share your passion for blogging Stephanie and am curious to know what writing your blog has meant to you personally?
Stephanie: The blog began as a good way to keep my friends and family informed about what I was doing and how treatment was going. But I soon realised it was much more than that. Firstly, I don’t think you can write well about your experience unless you’ve processed and made at least a little bit of peace with it, so the act of writing a blog post becomes the daily act of making peace with your life. And secondly, blogging reminded me that I am a writer at heart – I’d forgotten that, somewhere along the line. The best thing of all, though, is when someone emails or leaves a comment to say that something I’ve blogged about has helped them, either with a practical aspect of the cancer that they have, or by making them laugh, or by helping them to understand what a loved one is going through. It’s so good to feel that my dance with cancer has some sort of use.
JBBC: What do you think the growth in social networking sites has done for cancer patients?
Stephanie: It’s meant that we don’t have to feel alone. When cancer treatment is long-term, when you don’t feel up to much, your world can get very small, very fast. A social network gives you a lot of people who are in the same boat as you to talk to. And you get to connect with people who are a little bit further down the road to you – more hair, more strength – and that’s so encouraging.
JBBC: Earlier this year you took part in a radio debate on maintain a ‘positive mental attitude’ when faced with cancer. I know this is a debate which divides a lot of people. What are your thoughts on the subject?
Stephanie: I do get a bit twitchy with the ‘positive thinking’ label, because there’s a danger that you become the person who says ‘I’m getting slimmer’ while making their way through a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts after every meal. A positive mental attitude only works when it translates to positive action: picking up the phone to a friend when you’re miserable, going to bed early when you’re tired, calling your oncologist when you’re struggling with side effects, keeping appointments even though you’d rather not have another blood test. And I reject absolutely the idea that people who die from cancer have somehow ‘not fought hard enough’.
JBBC: It seems we are seeing an increase in the number of cancer memoirs to hit our book shelves, but I imagine the process of writing and finding a publisher for your book is no easy task. How did you find this process and what advice would you offer to anyone who has a burning desire to see their own book in print?
Stephanie: The process isn’t easy. I sought, and took, advice at every stage: I talked to friends-of-friends in publishing, I had my manuscript professionally assessed, but most of all, i kept writing and rewriting until the book was the best I could possibly make it. So my advice is: ask people what they think, and listen to what they tell you, and be prepared to spend more time than you ever would have thought possible on getting it exactly right.
JBBC: Finally, if I asked you to finish this sentence “having cancer taught me…” how would you finish it?
Stephanie: Having a cancer taught me that my life is good. I’m not sure I’d bothered to notice before.
Visit Stephanie’s website at http://bahtocancer.com/
Today’s interview marks the first stop on Stephanie’s virtual book tour this week. Full details of her blog tour dates can be found on the Virtual Book Tour.
If you would like to win a copy of Stephanie’s book, then please leave a comment below and tell us about your own particular approach to cancer. Maybe it was similar to Stephanie’s Bah! attitude, or maybe it was something very different – whichever approach you took we would love to hear about it.
Remember, you can double your chances of winning, by leaving a comment on our Facebook page too.