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Blog Book Review: Be With Me, It’s C  by Avril Chester

By peter on 3rd May 2017

Inspiring, touching and innovative, this collection of poetry by breast cancer survivor Avril Chester sees the author express her hopes and fears through the written word, and encourages others to do the same. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, aged 37, Avril found herself faced with many new things to process: perplexing medical terms, yo-yoing emotions and physical changes.   It’s no surprise then, as she herself admits, that she struggled to open up to others about her emotions and experiences during diagnosis and treatment. Unexpectedly, however, she found solace in writing, working  through the floods of thoughts and feelings in the form of short poems instead.   Avril says she noted down some of the poems during anxious daytime moments, others during long sleepless  nights, and found the act of writing to be a hugely calming activity, helping her to focus her mind, communicate with her friends and family when she didn’t feel like talking, and to keep a record of how far she’d come.   Here she has gathered them together in a short volume that tugs at the heartstrings even as it reminds readers of their own inner strength in fighting the ‘Big C’.   A key element to Be With Me, It’s C is that it is designed to help others ‘write out’ their own thoughts, fears, feelings and hopes, whether in the form of poetry, prose or just simple scribblings. To this end, each left-hand page is blank, and the paper has been tested to ensure it won’t blot or smudge when closed.   This is a short collection, running to just 44 pages, but it covers a lot of territory, with the poems dealing with every aspect of coping with the disease, which as the author notes has a mental as well as physical impact.   From the initial panic of finding a suspicious lump  to struggling to feel feminine and attractive when losing one’s hair, all these experiences are used as grist  for the literary mill.   The author’s bravery in dealing with her predicament is evident in each word and on every page. While some of the works are entirely original poems, others are pointed pastiches of famous pieces of poetry and music.   For example, The Night Before Christmas has been reworked to reflect the dichotomy between festive cheer and a looming mastectomy, which actually happened for the author in December of 2015, while Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise is cleverly adapted and inspires with the fighting words ‘I will not be broken, I will live to soldier on’.   Other iconic wordsmiths who receive this treatment, to excellent effect, include William Wordsworth and Shakespeare.   It’s inspirational stuff, and the poems are clearly deeply biographical and heartfelt, reflecting the deepest thoughts and emotions of a woman who has been through extremely challenging times but has emerged triumphant.   Be With Me, It’s C would be a thoughtful gift for anybody facing a similar situation, or for those around them, who will of course have their own anxieties and questions about what their loved ones are going through.   Buying the book will also help benefit research into the disease, with at least 10 per cent of the money made from the sale of each book going  to Breast Cancer Care.   The most important thing about this collection, however, is how it demonstrates clearly the cathartic power of the written word, and provides encouragement for others to do as Avril did, whether it is for public consumption or kept strictly private. Be With Me, It’s C by Avril Chester (Gibson Publishing) is out now, RRP £6.99 in paperback. 

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