Why I haven’t been writing many book reviews

I’ve not been writing many book posts these last few weeks, I’ve now read four books and not written about them, although I have nearly finished a post about Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety.

Here’s the reason.

This is something I’ve been thinking about writing about for a while now, but now seems the right time. Last August I was diagnosed with a breast cancer. I couldn’t feel a lump, but my breast didn’t look right and I thought it might be a cancer. My GP couldn’t feel a lump either but thought it best to check it out at the local hospital’s breast clinic. It was still a shock to have it confirmed- even more so when the consultant said he thought I needed a mastectomy and he could do it very soon. But when they examined the biopsy it turned out that the type of cancer I had was oestrogen receptive and it was possible it would shrink by taking hormone therapy tablets. I was amazed to say the least. Apparently if you have to have a breast cancer, this type is the best one to have!!!

And so, from August to February I faithfully took the tablets, with practically no side effects – and they worked, shrinking the cancer by about a third. Still, I did need an operation, but a wide local excision, or lumpectomy in everyday language, and not a mastectomy. I had the operation at the beginning of March. It was just day surgery and went well. It was a strange experience, having surgery to correct something that wasn’t causing me any pain or discomfort and coming round from the operation with scars and discomfort – and that was all it was discomfort, soreness, massive bruising and swelling.

But all the cancer has been removed, the bruising has disappeared. It’s still tender and I get darting pains every now and then. Currently I’m having 20 sessions of radiotherapy as a precautionary measure. It’s every weekday, but the sessions are only 10 minutes long, with the actual radiation only taking about two/three minutes. There was a planning appointment where they pinpointed the area to target, and I mean pinpoint as I have at least four (I lost count) minute tattoos that outline the area. For someone who hates the idea of having tattoos, this was quite daunting, but they are such small dots I can hardly see them and it didn’t hurt (much) when they did them.

So far, I’ve had 8 treatments and it has all been painless. I’m told that tiredness kicks in after about a fortnight’s treatment and by the end of the sessions my skin may get red and sore, as though I’d got sunburn. I hope that is as bad as it gets. The most difficult thing so far has been the travelling to Edinburgh for the treatment. It takes 1 hour 20 minutes each way, which is tiring enough on its own. D is driving me and we’re listening to Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves, the fourth in her Shetland series with Detective Jimmy Perez investigating murders on Fair Isle, which is keeping us both guessing who the murderer could be.

I’ve always had a dread of cancer, made more personal when my mother had a mastectomy, when I was in my twenties. She died five years later, after it had spread. My father died of bronchial cancer, after smoking since he was ten years old and four years ago this August my sister died of lung cancer – she’d smoked since she was 15. But, I have to say, that so far it’s not been too bad. I’m a terrible wimp regarding needles and injections and that has been the worst thing for me – the most painful was the injection before the doctor took the ultrasound core biopsies, but it wasn’t much worse than injections I’ve had at the dentist. It’s the fear of the unknown that has been more terrible than the treatment itself.

I am so grateful for the NHS – speedy appointments, kind and caring medical staff, and practically pain free treatment (I won’t mention the nurse who had great difficulty taking blood from me). I’ve had so many tests and scans and thankfully the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else. Even so, the surgeon took a biopsy of my lymph nodes when he did the lumpectomy just to make sure, which confirmed the cancer hasn’t spread .

I like to know as much as possible about what’s happening to me and I asked the breast care nurse if there was anything I could read about breast cancer. She warned me off reading statistics online as these are often out of date and gave me a pack produced by Breast Cancer Care, which is an excellent introduction. What I have found most helpful are the Macmillan Cancer support publications, particularly Understanding Breast Cancer and Understanding Radiotherapy. Books on cancer are rather more problematic, as so many are out of date, or are aimed at the medical profession. There are some written by patients, but I’m a bit wary about them as symptoms and treatments differ from person to person. Treatment in the future looks promising as I’ve seen on the news about progress that’s being made in diagnosing cancers and less invasive ways of treating them.

This may have slowed me down, writing about the books I’ve read, but it certainly hasn’t slowed down my reading. It has brought home to me just how many books there are and that it really is true – ‘so many books, so little time‘. It’s not just books, of course, because no matter how young or old you are, how well or ill you are, life is unpredictable and we should make the most of it whilst we can.

I am optimistic, because as my breast care nurse said ‘the cancer’s away and the prognosis is good.’

31 thoughts on “Why I haven’t been writing many book reviews

  1. I am glad you shared this with us. I am happy that you are in the recovery mode. I pray that soon it becomes a distant memory. I like the way you are so positive about the whole thing.

    Margaret, your blog is one of the first ones that I still have in my radar. I have always been inspired by your diverse reading. At times I have picked up certain books.authors from your blog.

    As we all know, reading is important, reviewing is not. You too know that, I am unable to read for now. It simply is not going away, this reading block of mine.

    But I am digressing. I look forward to your blog posts. I read them in my google reader. ALWAYS.


  2. Oh Margaret, I’m so glad you chose to share this with us. I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through but so happy that your treatments have not been too arduous and that the prognosis is good. What a scary thing. You mentioned something a few days ago in a comment on my blog about a medical procedure, but didn’t elaborate and I’ve wondered and almost emailed you. Glad to know now. My very, very best wishes for your continued progress. I hope the radiation doesn’t sap your energy too severely, but it sounds like you have a wonderful driver in your husband and listening to a good book is a great way to pass the time. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers and sending big hugs across the waters. Reviews are nice, but totally unnecessary in my thinking. Do as you feel you’d like to and can. And take care.


  3. Glad to hear the treatment went well, and hope you’re soon fully recovered. And the great thing about being a reader is that books can provide a nice escape for while!


  4. I am so sorry to hear about this. I wish you all the best for your recovery. I have been reading your blog for a long time now and wondered about why it didn’t seem the same. I how your nurse is right and wish you a speedy recovery.


  5. Thank you for sharing Margaret – as an avid and lifetime reader (especially crime) I enjoy your blog very much. My Mother was treated for breast cancer 7 years ago in a very similar way and remains well. I had my own ‘scare’ when 1st mammogram at 50 showed abnormalities – a biopsy and a short (10 day) wait confirmed that everything was OK that time but I now check regularly


  6. Thanks for sharing this Margaret. My mom went through this five years ago so I have an inkling of what you experienced. I know you must have been very scary. I am glad you are doing well and your prognosis is good. Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery!


  7. Thank you very much for your lucid, factual and comprehensive description of your cancer treatment. It was a sheer joy to read for its lack of ambiguity and utter clarity. My wife died from breast cancer 7 years ago, but her cancer was not curable, and her treatment was very painful and unsuccessful. God bless you for all that you have been and are doing for books. Lawrence.


  8. Sending you strength and caring! We’re all so happy to hear that your procedures and treatments are working. Cancer is a life-changing experience and you are handling it with such dignity. READ ON!
    Beth 🙂


  9. I’ve worried occasionally about sharing personal matters but you know we are all your friends, albeit virtual friends, and we do care. I’m glad to hear your cancer treatment turned out so well, and that it’s only reviewing that you had to skimp on for a while. Reading, as we all know, is one of the best things in life and at a time when things seem out of our control, at least we can read and escape to a fictional or historical setting for a bit. I hope you will continue to get stronger and feeling better.


  10. Oh, Margaret. So very scary for you. I’m grateful things are going so well. Many of us have that horrific fear of cancer, especially if our parents or family members died of it, but there are very many people alive now who have had it. My heart goes out to you with all you’ve been through. And again, am so very happy the outcome was such a good one. Thank you for sharing this most personal ordeal with your readers who, though haven’t met you, still care for you.


  11. So glad to hear everything turned out so well for you! It’s also nice to hear about the NHS and a good report. We here in the States always hear how horrible it is. Looking forward to your reviews!


  12. Thank you for sharing something so personal. I am sure it has given comfort to many without even realising it.

    My thoughts are with you, and I hope that the remaining treatments are not as tiring as they could be. I hope the reading and listening of books gives your comfort and joy when you need it.



  13. I’m so happy that your future is looking good and that the treatment hasn’t been too awful. The NHS is really great when there is something seriously wrong with you, I’m glad that you took the time to let people know about it. My family has a similar history with cancer, my father died of it when he was only 55, he was a very heavy smoker.


  14. Margaret – so sorry to hear about your health troubles, and I’m so glad that the prognosis looks good and thank you for being able to talk about it to us. Very best wishes. xx


  15. Thanks for your good wishes and thoughts – I do appreciate them. I’ve now had 5 more sessions and am feeling rather tired and looking forward to the final session – 7 more to go.


  16. Margaret, very sorry to hear you’ve been going through this – I hope the remaining sessions aren’t too grim and that you will be feeling much better before long. Will be thinking of you.


  17. I feel quite upset to have missed this post and only know of it now because you posted your Saturday snapshot photo and I followed the link. I’m so sorry to hear about this diagnosis, Margaret, but relieved beyond measure that it seems it has been very treatable and that you will be all right. It’s a story to give everyone hope and thank you for posting about it. I wish you all the luck in the world with the rest of your treatment.


  18. Margaret – I haven’t been a very faithful blogger so I was shocked to read this yet so pleased to know you are OK. Just goes to show there is hope – thank you so much for sharing this – what a woman! ((((HUGS))))


  19. I’m so sorry I didn’t read this post sooner–my thoughts and prayers are with you, and I’m so pleased that the prognosis is good. I admire your postive attitude and forbearance. I’ve often wondered how I would deal with such a situation, and I hope that, should I ever be faced with such an illness, I will have your grace and determination.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery, and thank goodness for our precious books that provide solace, escape, and enrichment.


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