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Lindsey's Literary Leanings

Book Reviews - Contemporary Fiction / Biographies / Autobiographies

  • Lindsey Skelton-Smith

How To Live When You Could Be Dead (Author: Deborah James)


How To Live When You Could Be Dead (Book Cover)

Genre: Autobiographical/Factual/Self Help


How To Live When You Could Be Dead by Deborah James.

I'd seen Deborah James many times on TV over the years, especially the 'Lorraine' show on weekday mornings, but who she was & what she was about initially passed me by.


It wasn't really until January of last year when it was announced that things had got worse for her, followed by another announcement in May that her cancer had advanced, that I really became properly aware of her & followed her progress. I began to take an interest in anything I saw about Deborah online or on TV & although it was expected & inevitable by that stage, I was a little shocked & very sad when I heard the news that she'd lost her fight. I wanted to buy this book but finances were tight so I stuck it on my wishlist & received it for Christmas.

I had read the synopsis of the book & assumed (wrongly) that it was an Autobiography only. However whilst she does take throught the reader through some of what has happened during her cancer journey, notable moments such as when she was in hospital with Colitis & her bowel had completely stopped working & all ahe could think about was needing to fart! She recorded her predicament on Instagram to 400,000 followers....and then announced the arrival of some very welcome flatulence with one word....'Hallelujah'!

Mainly though, the book details the way in which she coped with her diagnosis & the way in which she spoke about it, referring to it as 'incurable', rather than 'terminal'....as incurable still evoked hope that a cure might be found. Terminal was too final. Also, ways to overcome the bigger challenges, imagining what they might be & thinking of solutions. She talks about her illness signalling the end of her career & what that meant to her. The loss of purpose & self worth, & starting her blog & podcast. She then goes on through the chapter to talk about the things that helped her get through from diagnosis - the setting of goals - things that had to be meaningful in order for to want to do them. Looking for opportunities & potential, in place of failure & loss. Time structure, how difficult it was to go from a busy teaching job to having time on her hands & breaking the day into chunks of time so that it didn't seem overwhelming. Congratulating yourself on the 'little wins', not just the big ones as there may be less of the latter, & concentrating on the positiveness on social media & looking at what bolsters you mentally.

One chapter looks at failure & the way in which we view what we see as our failures, & the three different types. The importance of asking for help & how we respond to feedback, not seeing it as criticism but constructive advice.

There is a chapter on grit & perseverance - the belief that you can achieve. Optimistic self talk as a good way to cultivate grit & perseverance.

Resilience - cultivating & nurturing your friendships & relationships can help strengthen your resilience. Making connections. Not seeing every crises as an insurmountable problem.

Anxiety - she mentions the conventional ways of treatment available on the NHS such as CBT/Mindfulness/Talking Therapies & relaxation techniques, & regales us with an anecdote about when her anxiety was a major issue & how her diagnosis seemed to cure her anxiety as it made her face her worst fear, & that she has had no choice but to overcome her fear of death. She emphasises how she feels it important to put a brave face on for the people around you & that in turn can make you feel more positive. People have told her that she is brave, but she doesn't see it that way as she is just doing what it takes to get herself through the situation that life has dealt her, but it is important to bear in mind that each little step is brave & that will help us to increase our store of bravery.

Humour - She felt it was important to always maintain a sense of humour, albeit sometimes black, even in your darkest moments & refers to the fart story that I told you about earlier in this review.

Finally, Gratitude - after her diagnosis, she felt that she hadn't fully appreciated life as fully as she did after it. Taking a lot of things for granted. Since her diagnosis, a lot of her expectations have had to adjust, & continue to do so.

This book, in my opinion is a very good read for anyone who is experiencing a life altering illness, be it temporary, long term or.....incurable.

It has certainly made me think of my own situation differently & appreciate what I can do, rather than dwell on what I can't (I still have my moments though), & think about what I may be able to do to improve my quality of life, & be glad (for the most part) for my life. If Deborah were still alive today, I would be thanking her social media for such a thought provoking & encouraging piece of literature.

Deborah mentions the rose that was named after her at the Chelsea Flower Show last year & that a hope might be that Eloise her daugter chooses it for her bouquet when she marries someday.

She closes the publication by including letters written to her husband Sebastian & her children Hugo & Eloise. I found it touching that she was willing to share something so personal with us, but absolutely heartbreaking that those words are the last communication that they will ever have with her, depending on what you believe. She has left behind an amazing legacy & I will be purchasing my own 'Rebellious Hope' t-shirt, as I think the phrase fit very neatly into how I, & others with disabilities & conditions feel about our situation. Thank you Deborah. X

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