He’s been poisoned, blasted, had bits lopped off him, been in remission, felt lumps grow again, been given shreds of hope, had hope removed.
— Nicci Gerrard, Sunday Observer, May 14, 2001
Many thousands of people were touched by John Diamond’s regular Times newspaper column, giving stark and brutal insight into living with throat cancer. In a witty and very down-to-earth manner, John’s remarkable column explored numerous life-with-cancer issues, including the ups and considerably more downs in body and mind during radiation treatment, the effects of his illness upon the wider family, the rediscovery of everyday wonders previously taken for granted and his distaste for numerous cancer clichés such as “brave John” and “staying positive.”
“I am not brave. I did not choose cancer. I am just me, dealing with it,” Diamond said. “Whenever somebody told me how good a positive attitude would be for me, what they really meant was how much easier a positive attitude would make it for them.”
He was also well-known for his castigation of almost all non-orthodox treatments and for his willingness to submit to all that the medical orthodoxy had to offer — a service that even he, a conventional advocate, had variously described as “pay-as-you-bleed” and “surgical muggings.”
For me, the most memorable images of John were captured in the BBC’s Inside Story – a television program that followed John during a year of treatment, showing him clearly suffering. An operation on John’s throat caused him to lose his voice, which as a popular broadcaster was a serious blow. Later, through surgery and radiation treatment, he would lose most of his tongue and with it, all sense of taste and the ability to eat properly — a double whammy, given that he was married to TV supercook Nigella Lawson.
In his extraordinary book C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too (which I could not put down) he wrote: “He who didn’t realize what a boon an unimpaired voice was, who ate his food without stopping to think about its remarkable flavour, who was criminally profligate with words, who took his wife and children and friends for granted — in short, he who didn’t know he was living.”
John died in March 2001, aged 47, after having suffered dreadfully for four years, In his death, he joined sports presenter Helen Rollason, Bill “Compo” Owen, Ian Dury, Roy Castle, Cardinal Basil Hume, Linda McCartney and, most recently, ex-Beatle George Harrison, plus 152,500 others in the U.K. who succumb annually to the cancer ordeal.
Kate Law of the Cancer Research Campaign said that John’s story helped to bring cancer out of the closet in Britain. John’s writings certainly brought home the ugliness of conventional treatment. But the more informed in the cancer debate who have read John’s columns and book will have recognized that John’s writings, brilliant though they were, did not bring out the full story of cancer at all.
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