I’m sure someone’s going to ask me if I think that authors just shouldn’t write about teenagers dying of cancer or suffering through treatment thereof, but as always, I find that question boring. No, I don’t advocate censorship. Anyone should be able to write (almost) whatever they want. Free speech. Next.

A question I find more interesting is: Do authors who write for young people have a responsibility to try to write in a way that makes their lives suck less rather than more? I think the answer is yes. And as a young cancer patient—so, exactly the person that these books are supposedly for—I can tell you that irresponsibly-written cancer narratives contributed to making my life an unbelievable living hell when I was first diagnosed. I was having flashbacks to stuff that never happened to me or to anyone else. I still do, sometimes.

So much of the pain and misery that comes with a cancer diagnosis is unavoidable. This was completely avoidable.

Miri on fictional cancer.

While it’s not quite comparable to the experience of actually having cancer, I have been told that, when I was little, I was so traumatized by government anti-smoking ads that, upon learning Dad used to smoke before I was born, I immediately burst into tears screaming that I didn’t want him to die (because “smoking = cancer = death” was the message I’d internalized). On the other hand, I’ve never smoked,1 but… still.

On the other other hand, I do have certain types of cancer running in my family and I’ve always had that “culturally absorbed trauma” about chemo that Miri describes. So to hear that the actual chemo itself (as opposed to the side-effects) is actually not supposed to be that bad, is… reassuring.

  1. Although, weirdly enough, I frequently have quite detailed, lengthy dreams that I do. Brains are strange. []