Cancer is no respecter of boundaries or borders. Wherever you are in the world, whoever you are, the Big C will have touched your life at some point. You will know someone who has it. It might be a close member of your family. It might be a friend, or the parent or relative of a friend. Even if it’s just taken a celebrity you’ve liked since childhood – it will be there, somewhere in your life, because none of is immune to its tentacles. Years ago, when I was a kid, the word cancer didn’t get said out loud, it was a frightening secret that, if it was talked about at all, got mentioned by the adults in fearful whispers, to save us kids from knowing about it. Back then, it was a death sentence, a killer in almost all cases. Now, it still can be, but treatments have progressed, and new ones are being discovered all the time. Many of my friends, my neighbours, are still walking around because of radio and chemotherapy. Some went through horrendous operations and had bad reactions to treatments, but they are still here. My half-sister wasn’t so fortunate. She had one sort of cancer and beat it, but then, five years later, it came back in another form and didn’t leave, invading her whole body like some alien second skin, which left her physical self unrecognisable, but her brain mostly intact. It may seem strange, but because of difficult family circumstances, I hardly knew her. In those three months between diagnosis and her death, we talked – a lot – about everything, and got to know each other. Her cancer brought us together – brought me closer to a family I thought I’d lost out on forever. It tore down barriers and built bridges, because, in the face of it, the sins of our father just weren’t important any more. It was a horrific time, but it was also a healing one, because for us, in the face of cancer, truth and love were the only things that mattered by the end. At least it gave us that.
In some ways, cancer allows us to be brave, but make no mistake…when it comes, it devastates. You may wonder why I’m writing about cancer on a blog which is dedicated to children’s books and writing. I’ll tell you, in case you missed the posts earlier this year by Nicola Morgan and John Dougherty. It’s because of our fellow writer, Tommy Donbavand -- author of the popular 13-book Scream Street series for 7 to 10 year olds, published by Walker Books in the UK and Candlewick Press in the US, and lots of other books including Zombie!, Wolf and Uniform (winner of the Hackney Short Novel Award) for Barrington Stoke, Boredom Busters and Quick Fixes For Kids’ Parties (How To Books), and Making A Drama Out Of A Crisis (Network Continuum). Tommy has cancer. It’s definitely been devastating for him and his family, not just from a health perspective, but also from a financial one. Tommy has had to cancel all his school visits (a main part of his income), and of course, it’s badly affected his writing commitments too. The way he has chosen to deal with it is extraordinary (in the proper sense of the word). Tommy is a writer in every fibre of his body – and his way of coping has been to share with grim humour and uncompromising honesty every detail, good, bad, uncomfortable, agonising, about what was happening to him in a daily account which has now been and continues to be read by many thousands. For me, it reminded me what brave really is (feeling the fear but carrying on anyway), and also helped me negotiate a rocky road of a different sort (if Tommy could do it, I, with my lesser troubles, could too). If you want to know what cancer looks like from the inside, read his blog for yourself, and afterwards if you can make a pledge (even if only a tiny one) to help Tommy and his family through this by visiting his Patreon page and either signing up or clicking on the Paypal link, I know that any amount you feel you could give, however small, would be hugely appreciated. As I write, Tommy is out of critical care, but still in hospital, recovering from the effects of his last bout of chemo. I really hope he will be home with his beloved Teressa, Arran and Sam soon, recovering and, in time, writing again.
As part of this #tommyvcancer blog tour, we’ve all been asked to review one of Tommy’s books. Now, I have to come clean here, and say that I’d never read any of his stuff before. Wow! Have I missed out, or what? I’ve just finished the first of his Scream Street books – FANG OF THE VAMPIRE – and it’s bloomin’ brilliant. Luke, the unwilling werewolf, and his friends Resus Negative and Cleo Farr are a genius trio of mismatched mates, and the whole thing made me laugh out loud. It also kept me turning pages – so much so, that I’ve got the next in the series, BLOOD OF THE WITCH all lined up and ready to go, because, frankly, I’m hooked. The ‘quest for magical objects’ series is a tried and tested formula, but Tommy infuses it with wit, charm and great storytelling skills. Honestly, if you’ve got, or know of, kids who need a new series to get stuck into, do consider this one. I can pretty much guarantee they’ll thank you and demand more!
You can read more Tommy blogs on the tour (with fab giveaways from publishers), and more great reviews by visiting any of the sites listed below. If you'd like to know more about Tommy's books, plays and much more, his website is at http//tommydonbavand.com and if you are on Twitter, there's a twitchat on 30th June between 8-9pm BST, hashtag #tommyvcancer, so do come and join in.
OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen (Orchard, March 10th) and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out: Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review