Caroline Burch the author of ‘The diary of a Mother, her Son and his Monster’ discussing her writing style and methods of work.
Welcome to my blog, Caroline, on this day 3 of your blog tour.
The book blurb
Caroline Burch experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when her son
Elliot was diagnosed with cancer aged just six months old. To document her
experiences she kept a diary detailing the ups and downs of her son’s
treatment and the emotional anguish of their situation from diagnosis to remission.
Ten years later, and with Elliot happily recovered from the condition that
threatened his life, Caroline looks back at the traumatic months when there
appeared to be no end in sight to the misery.
Caroline’s story is proof that there is life after cancer and this book is a
tribute to the tireless work of the individuals who help parents and their
children emerge from their nightmare.
What is your writing style?
I guess my style of writing is similar to many authors, although with this book it really started with my own scrawling therapy to offload some of my emotional baggage.
One I had started to see my mess of words as a possible book, I then began to plan the book, the chapters and format. I divided my story into four sections, pre-op chemotherapy, the surgical admission, the post-op chemotherapy and then the future. I wrote a plan of each section based upon old diaries and lots of research from the medical notes and put my initial writings into an order based on the four sections. It was only then that I began to date my writings and begin to formulate the diary. Once I had got the diary into some kind of shape I began to write the structure of the 13 Acts which are within the book.
I wrote the Acts after the diary because I wanted them to flow as a separate entity to the book, but be intertwined within it. Once I had written the acts, I then positioned them within the diary in the appropriate sections based on the stage of the cancer or treatment.
How do you work?
I generally write where I feel most comfortable, which is often sitting on the sofa in the lounge, with the laptop on my knee, but I do become easily bored and cannot sit, day in day out, in the same position. I therefore vary my days, moving between the table; my bedroom, or on warm days (which is not too often) in the garden with a notepad on my knee. I find writing by hand to be much more rewarding than typing into a laptop, although using a laptop is much faster!
My day starts soon after my son has gone to school, although the days are often flexible in our house depending on hospital or doctor’s appointments. I try and write three or four days a week for 5 hours, if I can. Sometimes I can write more, other weeks it is much less.
Please visit me at carolineburch.com
You can by a copy of my book from:
Empire Publications at empire-uk.com
Macmillan Cancer support will be receiving £1.00 per book sold. This is more than I, as the author, will receive. My aim is to make £1,000,000 for Macmillan. Please support this campaign; spread the word, treat yourself but also buy as presents for others…it is an amazing cause…
Please enjoy an excerpt from my book…
“Dr Kinam, can you tell me how big the tumour is and what it is like. I need to try and visualise this thing.”
“Of course, in fact, come down here and I’ll show you the x-ray.”
“Thanks.” I followed Alex down the corridor and he slotted the x-ray onto a light box. I looked at the x-ray of my boy’s abdomen. Alex took a pen out of his pocket.
“If you look here,” he said pointing to the top of Elliot’s pelvis. “The tumour spans from the top of his pelvis all the way up here to his ribs and spans the width of the left side of his body.” He slid his pen around the outline of the tumour. This thing was a monster. Absolutely massive, spanning from the bottom of Elliot’s left lung, right down to his hip. It looked about the size of a bag of sugar on the x-ray.
“The tumour is extending from the mid and lower poles of the left kidney and measures 8.2cm x 7.6cm x 5.5cm.” It was much larger than a bag of sugar.
“I can’t believe how big this thing is. Why didn’t I find this?”
“For some reason he has had a massive bleed into the tumour, which has now produced symptoms.”
Alex switched the machine off and we walked back to Elliot’s bed. I was stunned. I sat and listened as Alex explained what would be happening during the next few days. First of all the blood transfusion needed to be completed and Elliot’s iron levels and blood results checked tomorrow. In a day or two, Elliot would have to go to theatre where a small biopsy would be taken from the tumour. Alex explained that during theatre, a Hickman line would be inserted into his body. This line would come out under Elliot’s arm with the tube threaded through his vein, along his collar bone and into his heart. The Hickman line would then provide access for chemotherapy and drugs but would also be used to take blood from him for blood tests.
“Why can’t you use a vein in Elliot’s arm to take blood and give chemotherapy? Putting this line in Elliot’s body sounds harsh and unnecessary.”
“The drugs used during chemotherapy are much too strong to be put through a vein in the arm; they need to be given where the blood is at its highest volume. The drug is then diluted quickly into high volumes of blood before it does immediate damage to the body. The heart has the highest volume of blood and will pump the drugs around the body immediately.”
I could feel the blood throbbing through my veins. I was trying to remember everything, each little detail he was telling me, but I felt that most of the information was falling out of my brain.
Alex explained that no metastatic disease had been found on the ultrasound, which meant that they had not found any secondary cancers, although Elliot needed a CT scan first to confirm this.
Then he needed a biopsy to confirm the staging. He thought that Elliot’s tumour had been growing since before birth, perhaps even when the kidney was developing before birth. He told me that educated guesswork indicated that Elliot had developed a massive bleed into the tumour, causing the tumour to expand and fill with blood and thereby decreasing Elliot’s haemoglobin levels and causing the anaemia. The pressure of the large tumour then caused the difficulty of keeping anything in Elliot’s stomach and was even causing the vomiting of bile.
The plan was for Elliot to have a CT scan of his abdomen the next day. This would give the medical staff more detail with regard to the tumour and allow the doctors to have a look at Elliot’s chest and pelvis. Alex said that Elliot would need to stay in hospital until he was medically stable, had been to theatre and until he’d had one dose of chemotherapy.
As Alex and I were finishing our consultation, I saw my mum enter the ward. She had red sunken eyes and a white, pale face the extremes of colour sharply contrasting with each other. She was obviously in shock and did not know what to say or do. Tears streamed down her face as she approached and immediately held Elliot’s little hand in her fingers. I introduced Alex to my mum and he left, promising to review Elliot before he left for home.
As soon as Alex left my mum and I hugged and we both sobbed.
“Elliot has cancer.” There. It was out. The words I didn’t think I would ever say. My mum sat down, tears streaming down her face.
“Where? What is happening?”
We talked for what felt like a lifetime. I told her everything I could remember. What had happened, the x-ray, the tumour, the chemotherapy, the surgery… I covered it all.
Thanks so much for popping by, Caroline and good luck with the book!