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Author Joanne Harris: Speaking publicly about my cancer treatment felt natural

Joanne Harris (Ian West/PA)
Joanne Harris (Ian West/PA)

Author Joanne Harris has said people are “very afraid” to tell others they have cancer, but she felt that speaking publicly about her experiences was the “natural” thing to do.

The Chocolat writer told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that while she was being treated for breast cancer, she “shared so much online” and felt “so connected to the world” because of social media.

Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

She said she initially decided that posting on social media about her illness would mean she would not have to speak to tell lots of people individually about how her recovery was progressing.

Harris added: “But they I realised that actually as I was getting feedback from people, I realised there were a whole lot of people who were also going through the same experience and who felt empowered by the face that I’d come out and talked about it.

“People are very afraid to say, ‘I have been diagnosed with cancer’.”

She added that it “hasn’t been an entirely negative experience for me” because it was caught early thanks to a routine mammogram.

“I have been telling people on social media, ‘Don’t cancel your mammogram, it could save your live’. It could have saved mine.

“If you can have some good come out of this, then why wouldn’t you.”

Harris added that making light of her treatment on social media has helped her deal with her recovery.

Jack Reacher Premiere – London
Joanne Harris (Ian West/PA)

“I think it’s one of the coping mechanisms the human mind has, to poke fun at something which is terrifying,” she said.

“And also I started doing various tweets in which I brought out the funny side of some of the things that were happening.

“I decided that I would give my cancer a name, I called him Mr C, I created a hashtag #GoodbyeMrC and I would basically tell jokes about losing my hair, losing my eyebrows, losing my eyelashes, looking like a potato.

“All of the things that people thought might matter, but actually in the face of what’s happening to you, you don’t feel they matter all that much.

“You feel there’s actually quite a lot of amusement to be taken from the situation.”

Harris’ episode of Desert Island Discs will air on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday at 11am.

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