So a few months ago I got diagnosed with testicular cancer. I got surgery to remove the affected testicle, but unfortunately the cancer had spread to my lungs at that point and I needed chemotherapy. Chemo does indeed suck just as much as you might think it does, but I’ve been getting through it. I’m one cycle away from finishing this round of treatment and frankly a little bit scared of what happens if it turns out this cycle doesn’t work.
It’s a weird fear. At first it was visceral, adrenal, heart thumping fear… and then it settled into something else, a weight in my stomach that hadn’t been there before. Dread.
That’s not an easy thing to admit.
It had occurred to me before that having to go through cancer was going to give me something interesting to write about when my treatment was over. And I was right about that – even though I’m pretty sure I’m never going to write a book about cancer.
But I know for a fact that the characters I’m going to write about next are going to feel fear. I know they’re going to feel dread, and I know they’re going to be put into a dark place and have to figure out how to see their way through to the other side.
And I know what that’s like.
It doesn’t matter that I am yet to figure out how to blow stuff up with magic (hope springs eternal), or that I’ll never have to face down a demon in another dimension, but there is something that comes with experiencing fear…or anger, or any other dark emotion that comes with something bad happening to you. For example, if you’ve felt terrible fear, you could turn your experience of fear into a truly harrowing description of your protagonists fear.
I am not saying I see my cancer as a blessing. I don’t. Cancer sucks and I wish I didn’t have it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to take something positive from my bad situation. In fact I kind of like the idea that I can spite cancer by getting something good, or at the very least, useful, from it.
I’m not saying that you have to do this by any means. If you’re going through something traumatic you don’t have to do anything. But if you are looking for something to take from your situation then this is an option that’s there for you if you want it.
I’m hardly the first person to come up with this idea. Terry Pratchett called it ‘grist for the black mill’ and I’ve heard it called a dozen different things over the years, but I didn’t really understand it properly until now. So this month if you’re struggling for ideas, or you’re not sure how to handle a particular scene, this is a place you can go if you want to.
The way I’m trying to think of it is this: sometimes life kicks us, and this is one small way we can kick back.