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This was not the war I had been training for all my life. I suddenly felt hurt, betrayed by my own body. It was going to take another two weeks before I did cry, and in an airplane toilet thousands of feet above the ground my reality finally crashed. But at least I was alone and no-one saw it happen.
When I was sixteen I had a medical scare, one that has left me worried about my health ever since. Men’s health, particularly when it comes to testicular cancer, is something of a public taboo. Many of the issues go undiscussed, often due to attendant fears of a failure of machismo.
As a result I jumped at the opportunity to read this book.
A serving officer in the Australian army, Carr presents as the epitome of the traditional Ocker. As a young man he loved his beer, meeting girls and playing rugby. Having been a somewhat tubby child, Carr grew to become determined to shape his body into a stronger and fitter form. Then at the age of twenty-five, it turned against him. Diagnosed with testicular cancer, Carr’s shock caused him to turn to what he knew: the discipline and training he had gained through the army.
Taking sick leave from the army, Carr underwent a number of different operations to battle the cancer, which had aggressively spread to the rest of his body. Steeling himself mentally, the soldier envisioned the tumorous masses as invading enemy forces. With the doctors as his generals, he agreed to their plan of action and trusted to a positive attitude to get him through the debilitating chemotherapy bombardment of his rebelling body.
In fact, Carr’s humour is a welcome aspect to this book, droll and self-deprecating throughout. To spare the embarassment of some of those he crossed paths with, especially the attending physicians, nicknames are dispensed liberally throughout, such as Dr. Honey, Dr. Chocolate-Love, Dr. Non-Caucasian. That last one represents the start of Carr reassessing a number of assumptions he has made in his life. He even comes to explore alternate methods of treatment following extensive surgery, including meditation, organic foods, Taoism and Qigong exercises.
It is the army that remains Carr’s home, a constant source of discipline and, perhaps most importantly, excellent medical and financial support during the years of his cancer treatment. When he is deployed to military operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Carr witnesses a frightening externalisation of the chaos that his body has been fighting against for seven years.
I was concerned that the military jargon and analogies would be overwrought in this book, but in fact Carr’s method of relating his experiences is excellent, interpreting the battle against his cancer in terms he is not only familiar with, but able to use to give genuine insight. One telling moment in the book is when he is given a gift of Lance Armstrong‘s biography of his own fight against cancer. Carr is suddenly forced to face the enormity of what he is up against and is devastated. I have not read Armstrong’s book, but I found the positivity, humour and humanity of this ordinary soldier’s tale inspiring.
This is a gripping and honest book, that is full of hope. An excellent read.