Review of All in My Head by Jessica Morris – A candid and defiant memoir about cancer

“I Didn’t choose cancer. cancer chose me.” None of us know what we will do when we are sentenced to death. For Jessica Morris, the sentence came too quickly, when she was strong and vigorous, in her early 50s, three of her own Kids not yet adults, her future seemed clear and unimpeded to her. And it came out of the blue: Hiking with friends in the Catskills in Upstate New York in 2016, she began to breathe strangely and “inexplicably” Weird… Strange still… was struggling to call during a nightmare… ah…” Violent seizure He was then revealing himself to the “suicide mission” of his body.

Morris, a communications consultant, had glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor that is terminal, and has a median survival rate of 14 months; After five years only 5% are alive. The hourglass was replaced and the sands of his life were running out. all in my head – Written in a voice that is loud, defiant and beautiful, and which demands to be heard – is his account of what he did when he was punished. It’s a story that can only have one end: I picked up the book, whose back-cover photo depicts him chemo-bald and fiery, knowing that Morris died last year, The latter word is by her husband, journalist Ed Pilkington. Evil bastard, as she calls her illness, had found it, and her story is over.

But it didn’t end without a joyful, stubborn, furious battle—which is a fight to the death not only for its impossible survival, but for others with GBMs whose predicted consequences are so dire. She begins with her own case, “the steepest in the learning curve”, as she puts it in the blogs she writes for her family and friends, where she is first offered a “standard of care” for her tumor. Is performed; Namely, the recommended treatment for anyone diagnosed with glioblastoma, surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Morris feels he is not a “standard of care” person. She seeks a second opinion and is told it will be “sub-optimal” (a phrase she despises for the way she formulates a truth she wants to face squarely) and That there are unproven forms of immunotherapy that he can try.

When she fails to persuade the two doctors to cooperate, she learns of the gap between the patient and the doctor. Forced to choose between two world experts, she chooses the unproven, risk taker. “I’m so cutting edge,” she writes to Friends with a spirited gallantry that captures the heart. He is ready for every treatment. She goes under the knife. He has chemo. She participates in a trial in which the herpes virus is injected. She wears an electronic helmet attached to a backpack that makes her look like a terrorist (two teenage boys in Central Park tell her it’s cool, and she agrees it is). She slides under the MRI machines and listens to music in the silent darkness, trying not to be consumed by terror alone. She tries to live in the moment, and there are days and weeks when she feels blissful, other days when her defenses are overwhelmed and she wonders to herself whether she’s “beating this disease, or running down the battery of life”. Sometimes she feels quite healthy; On others, horrifyingly. His skin itches and hurts; She breaks out in hives; he is ill. His body, which he has always trusted, begins to betray him.

The consequences of GBM are so dire that they have discouraged pharmaceutical companies from seeking treatment. In addition, because it is a rare form of cancer, it lacks important data for scientists to work with and therefore less research has been done on it. Morris decides to change this by using the knowledge of those living with GBM. “The patient knows best,” she declares, and with specific determination she sets up an app called our brainbank – Patient community combined with the latest interactive technology where people can log symptoms and share data. Its tagline is “Patient Driven”; The aim is to make GBM treatable, not terminal.

Morris picks up his extraordinary journey—which lasted five years, beyond average—in a clear battle. She calls herself General Morris and her strategy is to fight the attacker aggressively, counter-attacking every opportunity. Sometimes she feels victorious, at others she feels defeated; Her cancer companions who die are war heroes. I’ve always felt anxious about the fighting metaphors surrounding disease, such as a heroic effort leading to survival and death being a failure. but reading all in my head, I could see how for someone like him – an activist, strong-willed, optimistic, bloody-minded, full of purpose, heart “totally full” and “no one’s fool” – it would last forever. No, but it was a matter of surviving for the day. By day and week: alive to life, in control of your destiny, choosing for yourself, full of effort. When she first hears the diagnosis, she spends several minutes looking at her reflection in the mirror, facing herself, staring at death, filling herself with “quiet power” until she can say: “I choose to take it.” When she is advised to discontinue chemo, she feels inactive and bewildered. She blogs and writes this book to be in charge of her story.

In August 2019, “the harsh logic of the disease” caught hold of him. One day, at an airport after visiting his family in London, Morris feels a twinkle, a flutter, in the corner of his right eye. There is a speck of whiteness on the MRI. Evil bastard is coming for him. The book’s final chapter is set in a fictitious future, when she is no longer there, but is missing the ones she loves, raising her glass to Jessica in the toast that’s long gone. . And then this clear, fresh, funny voice stops.

All in My Head: A Memoir of Love, Life and Patient Power By Jessica Morris is published by Fleet (£16.99). to support Guardian And Observer Order your copy here, Delivery charges may apply