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Book Review. Might Make You Smile, by Brenda Burling

It’s unusual for the terms ‘cancer’ and ‘light hearted’ to be connected, but as Might Make You Smile – a heart-warming new collection of true-life stories – shows, even the Big C benefits from a healthy dose of humour.   Written by author Brenda Burling and based on genuine anecdotes from people living with or recovering from cancer, Might Make You Smile is a far cry from the typical books about the disease, not only in its subject matter but also its focus.   As far as this reviewer is aware, it is the first title to cover the lighter side of cancer. It’s an excellent angle to explore as it gives the disease a human face by concentrating on real experiences.   Importantly, it also sends out a clear message that being diagnosed with cancer does not mean the end of the world.   The Essex-based author says she was inspired to write the book after listening to her friends’ own accounts of dealing with cancer.   Attending a local support group, Brafternoon, from among whose members many of the stories were sourced, she saw first-hand how beneficial it was for people to be able to share their experiences with others going through a similar situation.   Her hope in writing Might Make You Smile is that it will help others whose lives have been touched in one way or another by the disease, connecting them to a wider support network while putting a big grin on their faces in the process.   As Burling says herself of the positive impact of funny stories, “humour can be a weapon against disease” and, therefore, “shared humour is twice as strong”   The collection features nearly 50 true tales across 170 pages that inspire and amuse in equal proportion, ranging from embarrassing wig slips and make-up disasters, to errant nipples and even a stray prosthetic that results in a shark alert.   Each story is self-contained and is attributed, with only the subject’s first name given to spare additional blushes.   The first story - Nerf Attack – gets things started with a wincingly funny tale of a long-awaited, painstakingly-applied prosthetic nipple and a young boy with a rubber darts gun and a nifty aim. No spoilers, but the story ends with a very bemused surgeon.   The wry, sideways look at cancer and the more surprising potential side-effects of treatment and recovery continue throughout the book.   Some personal highlights include ‘A Night Out With Kylie’ - one of several stories about wig mishaps, with this one involving a particularly glam faux-thatch, nicknamed Kylie, ending up tangled in a friend’s bracelet; and ‘Green With Envy, Not So Much’, in which one particular lady accidentally goes out after painting on eyebrows using a shiny green eye-liner instead of the usual brown shade.   Another favourite is ‘Sherry, Love, Sherry’, about an attempt to soften the blow of a cancer diagnosis with a glass of Tio Pepe, thwarted by a barmaid’s lack of familiarity with fortified wines, while ‘Help, Shark!’ wouldn’t be out of place in a TV sitcom, with a woman going to extreme measures to cover up the fact that one of her prosthetic breast implants had freed itself from her swimwear while she was enjoying a seaside dip.   I must also mention ‘Pammies’, which brought a warm smile of shared joy with the grandmother who was keen to show off brand new prosthetics, aka ‘Pammies’, in a Baywatch-style red swimsuit. Having seen close friends affected by cancer, the disease is a subject close to author Brenda Burling’s heart, and 10 per cent of net sales from the book will be donated by publisher Matthew James Publishing Ltd to the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity.   Might Make You Smile certainly delivers and would make a perfect gift for anyone who’s encountered the Big C or is looking for a little light relief in their life.   It’s the sort of book that you will dip in and out of for years to come, packed with lots of laugh-out-loud and feel-good moments, and it is positively crying out for a sequel.   Might Make You Smile by Brenda Burling (Matthew James Publishing Ltd) is out now, priced £7.99 in paperback.

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