Africa, September/October 2019, Vol. 84 No. 7

From My Bookshelf: Frank Conlisk reviews

Cancer, A Circle of Seasons

by Anne Alcock

October is breast cancer awareness month. The statistics tell us that 1 in 9 women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime and it can develop at any age. In general, the figures show that a little more than 1 in 3 people will contract cancer in one form or another this year. So this month I’m taking a look at Cancer, A Circle of Seasons by Anne Alcock. 


She writes “How do you go through all the ‘stuff’ that life throws up for you? Do you talk? Do you walk? Do you draw? Do you journal? Do you pray? Do you look for a book?” She did all of these when she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. This book is her attempt to bring it all together in the hope that the lessons learned and the experiences shared might be of use to others who are facing the same challenge. And those lessons apply equally well to any type of cancer or indeed to any kind of life-threatening illness. 


They say there is nothing like the red light in a studio to focus the mind. I suspect there are few things like being told you have cancer to turn your world upside down. With that unwelcome pronouncement, a journey of a different sort begins. And no matter how many family members or friends crowd around – with all kinds of advice, welcomed or otherwise – ultimately it’s a journey you must make alone. Things that were absolutely vital yesterday, suddenly seem trivial. Because now, you are talking about life and death. 


Anne takes us on this journey step by step…from the first “I noticed a lump” moment to “until we know something ‘for sure’ we don’t know anything” to hearing the surgeon say, “Well, it’s cancer.” 


From Spring to the following Spring – like a circle of changing seasons – Alcock tracks the treatment process as it unfolds and her own physical and emotional reactions to it. As a psychotherapist, she had a professional understanding of the response patterns of those facing life-threatening illnesses. Now, her personal experience enriches those insights immeasurably. 

We accompany her through chemo and the after effects – losing her hair, body image issues, good energy days and days when she is just hanging on. Through surgery and radium and “a new normal” this, as anyone who has been there will tell you, is learning like never before about letting go, acceptance, dependence, self-knowledge, patience and, as Anne puts it “inner hospitality” (p44). She describes her visit to the undertakers in an effort to make peace with the reality of death. 


One’s attitude, she concludes, is critical to the process and to the outcome. The initial “yes” – the acceptance of the facts – and the following “yes” to all that the process entails – place one, she suggests, in the best position for healing and recovery. She quotes Viktor Frankl: “There is one freedom. The last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude to whatever circumstance we find ourselves.” 


In my opinion, this book would be a very worthwhile gift to anyone who has cancer or facing any life-threatening illness. It should not be read in one sitting. Rather, it might best be used as a day-by-day companion on the journey to wellness. Each chapter begins with a scripture quote. This is followed by a poem/reflection/prayer piece. The reader is then guided through a personal journaling opportunity, a period of private prayer and finally is encouraged to record any new thoughts or insights. There is a lively awareness that God is present in all of this – as God is present in all of life – even in the experience of illness. 


Alcock acknowledges that for some, the treatment is not successful. They live “a different Life, now” she asserts. Those for whom it is a success and who are cured or are in remission, also live a different kind of life than before… “a deepened life, a more reflective life, a more mindful life. Most of all, a grateful life…” (p181)


Royalties from the sale of this publication are being donated to the Irish Cancer Society, the Kerry Cancer Bus, Breakthrough Cancer Research and Recovery Haven Kerry.

Published by Columba Books, Dublin. €12.99; 


Tel: + 353 (1) 687 4096 

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