Book review: The Cancer Ladies’ Running Club by Josie Lloyd

I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this book. My own visit to Cancer World still looms in my memory and I had no wish to return, even in fictional form. Neither did I want to feel bad about not wanting to run a marathon. On the other hand, although this is fiction I knew the author was writing from experience and the book was being described as inspirational and positive, which definitely appealed.

Description

Sometimes we need our friends to help us find our feet…

When Keira first receives her breast cancer diagnosis, she never expects to end up joining a running group with three women she’s only just met. Totally blind-sided, all she can think about is how she doesn’t want to tell her family or step back from work. Nor does she want to be part of a group of fellow cancer patients. Cancer is not her club.

And yet it’s running – hot, sweaty, lycra-clad running in the company of brilliant, funny women all going through treatment – that unexpectedly gives Keira the hope she so urgently needs.

For Keira will not be defined by the C-word. And now, with the Cancer Ladies’ Running Club cheering her on, she is going to reclaim everything: her family, her identity, her life.

One step at a time.

Moving, uplifting and full of hope, this is a novel about love, family and the power of finding your tribe.

My review

I opened the book with some trepidation. Once I started reading, however, I found it hard to put down.

At 47, Keira’s happy with her family, friends, her shop, and the life choices she’s made. She feels great and fully expects to be marching up mountains when she’s ninety – so the diagnosis after a routine screening hits like a bombshell.

“It’s like I’m experiencing everything through a weird Instagram filter. Everything is different. there is a before this morning and an after.”

The author captures brilliantly the isolating nature of her diagnosis. As Keira tells people her news “the words fall between us like a guillotine” and she feels “like a helium balloon floating away from them.”

She’s angry with her body for betraying her and feels labelled and judged as though people see her as faulty, different, less capable than she was the previous day before she got this label. It’s exhausting dealing with other people’s reaction to her news.

She can’t stop researching about this new world she’s found herself in. “Cancer World. Kind of like Disneyland Paris, only with a lot less people volunteering to queue up for the rides.” A place where you have to master the art of waiting because “clearly the queues are very long.”

This is a frank, emotional but very engaging story not just about living with cancer, but about female friendship, and hope. There is warmth and humour, and the running club storyline is inspiring. Alongside this storyline is a cozy crime element as certain characters use Keira’s situation as an opportunity to further their own interests.

Would I buy this book for someone who’s been diagnosed? Honestly, I think it would be better for them to make their own decision to buy. Keira’s surgery and treatment are quite graphically detailed and may be different from theirs so they might find it unnecessarily upsetting. If it was me, I’d also want to know beforehand if it had a happy ending. (It does, mostly.)

On the other hand, I identified with a lot of Keira’s feelings and recognised some of the unhelpful responses she gets from other people – including the bizarre compulsion to regale tragic stories, as though it will somehow be reassuring for her to hear about other people dying. And then there’s the unqualified advice, out of date wisdom and criticism about her lifestyle, which feels a lot like blame.

So, if you’re supporting someone else with a diagnosis, especially if you’re struggling over what (not) to say, I would absolutely recommend it.

The Cancer Ladies’ Running Club is published today by HQ and available here.

Thanks to the publisher for inviting me to read an advance copy via NetGalley.


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