A Story about Cancer (with a Happy Ending)
India Desjardins and Marianne Ferrer (trans. Solange Ouellet)
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
The story opens with the 15-year-old narrator telling us, as she and her parents walk down the hospital corridor, “In just a few minutes, they’re going to tell me how much time I have left to live.”
It’s five years since she was diagnosed with leukaemia and as she awaits her prognosis she shares with readers her years of treatment with the threat of death hanging over her. We hear of the sadness she feels over the death of her best friend Maxine which was “definitely not because she wasn’t strong enough or didn’t fight hard enough”; and are shown how her grief renders her temporarily limp limbed.
She talks of the hospital sounds, smells and colour scheme, how her parents react to her illness – her father’s jokes;
her mother’s insistence “that she had so much confidence in me, and she knew I’d get well …’ in contrast to her own it isn’t ‘ a battle…because there was nothing I could do to fight it. All I could do was let everything happen to me and try not to complain too much.”
There are high points too: she goes to a party, meets Victor and experiences her first love.
And finally, as we know from the title, the news the doctor gives is good; the narrator is going to live.
This no-holds-barred story is a real emotional roller coaster but the first person telling serves to bring a sense of calm to the whole sequence of events, be they dark or bright. Ferrer’s almost dreamlike, at times, surreal visuals, highlight the intensity of feeling, moving from predominantly grey to plum and claret when ardour prevails.
The author was asked by a ten year old cancer patient she met on a hospital visit to write a cancer story that ends happily. This is the result and serves to remind readers that 8 out of 10 children diagnosed with cancer are cured, and to give hope to any child who has cancer.