I have read two books by Irish authors recently: Kevin Maher’s The Fields and Roddy Doyle’s Guts.
In Doyle’s book, there is an overt cancer theme throughout. For Maher, it is more of a subplot.
What struck me about both, was how the authors used humour.
I laughed out loud, which is very unusual for me, when reading most of Guts. I wondered afterwards how Doyle worked humour around such a serious topic – bowel cancer, unsurprisingly. Humour is not a flippant or reductionist tool in Doyle’s hands. Rather, it invites you in, seduces you into joining the ‘party’, and you feel welcome and involved. The banter and asides, which are all-pervasive throughout, facilitate an expression and a sharing of stuff that might otherwise be unbearable.
Jimmy, who has just been diagnosed, tells his father the news in the pub:
‘— Are yeh havin’ another?
— No, said Jimmy. I’m drivin’.
— Fair enough.
— I have cancer.
— Good man.
— I’m bein’ serious, Da.
— I know.

— Jesus, son.
— Yeah.
— Wha’ kind?
— Bowel.
— Bad.
— Could be worse.
— Could it?
— So they say, said Jimmy.
— They?
— The doctors an’ tha’. The specialists. The team.
— The team?
— Yep.
— What colour are their jerseys?’

In The Fields, the protagonist’s dad has a lymphoma:
‘And Dad, fair dues to him, plays down the whole cancer thing like it’s a very very long and serious life-threatening cold. He doesn’t even use the word ‘cancer’. Ingeniously, he calls it, ‘my neck thing’…
…They don’t know where it came from, but Dad suspects it might be because of the new microwave…
When he walks through the kitchen after that he kind of ducks when he passes the microwave. Just in case it’s still spewing out cancer-causing rays that might start cooking his few remaining healthy cells.’

Both books are works of fiction, and although they deal with very serious topics, these very believable stories of interconnected lives that have been interrupted by illness and impending mortality leave you feeling uplifted and hopeful.
The magic of Irish humour, really…