The first time I got an email from someone who thought that, in the Bah! book, I was being disrespectful to them as a person with stage 4 cancer, I felt sad, and a bit upset.
But I reminded myself that:
- I’d always known that not everyone would like it.
- I know that cancer is a sensitive subject and I know that my particular approach – especially the jokes – might not go down well with everyone.
- I wrote it with a good heart and a true desire to be of some small help to others dancing with cancer, and I trusted that.
- A lot of people read the book before it was published: people with cancer, people without it, kind strangers, friends, professional booky people. They gave honest feedback about what needed to change, and they supported the the book, and I trusted them too.
- I’d had more – lots more – emails from people who told me how much they liked the book; how much it had done for them; how my jokes made them laugh and laugh because someone was saying the unsayable.
Since then, there have been other emails, mostly from people with Stage 4 cancer who take particular objection to my ‘stage-4-means-don’t-buy-anything-with-durable-in-it’ joke. There have been reviews that make upsetting reading. And although it’s tempting to dismiss these, they have made me think.
This is what I think. Some thoughts conflict with others.
- I was never going to please all of the people all of the time.
- I wrote the Bah! book with people like me – the lucky ones, the ones who have had the disease caught early – in mind, so I can understand that it’s a disappointing/irrelevant read for those with more advanced, or more complex, cancers.
- If you are already having a crappy time, reading something that upsets you further is not good. It makes me think about this experience of mine.
- If you are upset enough that you can be bothered to email the author of the book and/or post a review, then that’s properly upset.
- I’m prepared to stick to my guns when it’s necessary. (See most blog posts about conversations with my oncologist.)
- I dislike intensely the idea that I could be making a bad time worse.
- I am afraid that the strongly-voiced views of the few will eclipse the many quieter thank-yous that Bah! has received, and that people who might genuinely benefit from the book will be put off reading it.
- Humour is tricky.
- I do find it difficult to believe that anyone who reads the Bah! book with an open heart and mind could genuinely think that I am trying to be malicious, offensive or hurtful, but I haven’t walked a mile in their shoes.
The upshot of all of this thinking is that I have emailed my editor at Hay House and asked if we can make a change in future editions of the book, and she has said yes. I will be taking out the ‘stage-4-means-don’t-buy-anything-with-durable-in-it’ joke and replacing it with something less jokey.
I think this is the right thing to do, because a small thing seems to be getting in the way in a big way, and that doesn’t make sense. If I was getting emails from people who objected to me talking about dancing with cancer, or using visualisations, then I would shrug and say, well, we are never going to agree. If I’d written a joke about cupcakes that people didn’t like, I’d do a bigger shrug and say, honey, if your existence is so stress-free that there’s space for a cupcake joke to upset you, I think you have a blessed life, and you might want to think about appreciating it a bit more.
But it’s a one-liner, and it’s cancer. So it feels like a change worth making.
(I am a little bit wobbly about all this. I am wobbly, even, about going public about it, but I figure that as I have happily shared all of the joyful bits of Bah!, I should be ‘fessing up to the more difficult parts too.)