The Glasgow Daily Record

"Once his dad David had recovered from his first course of treatment, the two of them resolved to take something positive from their experience.

They spent a year researching the history and science of the disease for a book to help others in a similar situation."


24 July 2006
David Wishart died before his 'cancer' book was finished. His son completed it in his memory
By Brian Mclver
WHEN Adam Wishart found out his father had cancer, his ignorance of the disease plunged him into a state of absolute terror.

But once his dad David had recovered from his first course of treatment, the two of them resolved to take something positive from their experience.

They spent a year researching the history and science of the disease for a book to help others in a similar situation.

Sadly, David Wishart would lose his fight before One in Three was finished but his son vowed to see it published in tribute to him.

JUST 12 months after being diagnosed with the cancer that had so devastated his family, David Wishart lost his life to the illness.

Despite grieving for his father, Adam Wishart had wanted to press ahead with completing the book, which is named after the number of people who, statistically, will be affected by the killer disease.

His book tells the story of his father's illness and death but primarily aims to offer sufferers, their relatives, and anyone else who has an interest, a no-nonsense history and factual description of cancer.

Adam, 38, a documentary maker who lives in London, hopes it will give valuable information and precious hope to cancer victims and their families - by sharing the experiences of his dad's treatment and breaking down some of the scary myths about the disease.

He said: "When my dad was diagnosed, I felt a terrible kind of terror and fear and darkness, and that darkness had no limits to it.

"I didn't know if my mother was going to die from it, or my sister, or her children.

"It was just this terrible unbounded fear, and because I knew so little about it, I never had any idea of what was going on.

"I went to a bookshop and thought that 'there must be a book that can help me', and there wasn't.

"I felt very strongly that a book like this would have helped me and I just wanted to write that book.

"To begin with, the stuff about my dad wasn't going to be in the book, it was going to be quite a plain text about the history and the science of the disease, but he became a central part of it."

The family's fight against the disease had begun when David underwent operations to help rebuild his spine, which had sapped due to the aggressive nature of his cancer.

As soon as he was recovered from that bout of surgery, the patient was signed up to help with the book.

No one knew they would only have 12 months together to work on their project.

As he underwent various treatments, David acted as research manager for the book, sending Adam off from his bedside on fact-finding missions to plug the gaps in their collective knowledge.

David, from Fife, had been a studious man all his life and relished the chance to get stuck into a semi-academic project.

He was 73 when he was diagnosed in April 2002, and Adam cherished the chance to spend so much time with him, even though nobody realised just how painfully shout that time would be.

Adam recalled: "I first heard the word 'cancer' when my mum phoned from the hospital and said he had gone into emergency surgery because two vertebrae in his neck had collapsed, and were being rebuilt using a titanium pillar.

They said cancer was a possibility, but didn't know for certain at that time.

"It was a kind of reflex reaction that I thought there was bound to be some kind of book about it, and when there wasn't, I decided to write one to give to my dad.

He was a very bookish man, he did a degree at St Andrews and was a maths lecturer in Aberdeen.

He had that very Scottish tradition of education, he always wanted to know and find out things, and was obsessed with the history of science.

Just out of surgery, it was the first thing he started talking to me about and that for me was like the confirmation that he was alive. He was able to revel in the joy of just being alive to lecture his son again about the history of surgery."

He added: "From that moment on, I'd go away and research something, and come back to tell him about it at bedside. He would read the papers and cut out something about genetic therapies for me to research.

"About 10 or 20 per cent of the book is the memoir of me and my dad and the rest of it is stories of scientific discovery from the Greeks to the Victorians right through to modern times.

"Each story is supposed to tell you a basic piece of science, like what chemotherapy is, what radiotherapy is, what pathology is, what the cells are, for example."

While studying the history of cancer, Adam researched back thousands of years ago, when the disease was killing ancient Greeks and tribal Africans.

His investigations tracked the slow advancement of knowledge about the disease through the centuries.

He also looked into the future, where there are ever-improving treatments on the horizon.

Adam said: "The trouble with cancer is the relentless degradation of our genes throughout our lives.

"Just like our face ages and wrinkles, the same happens to our cells and in the end one in 10 million goes wrong and causes the disease.

"Some people think that cancer happens because you hold your emotions in or are depressed.

"Two thousand years ago, the Greeks had the idea that a melancholic humour caused it.

"In the Fifties, Freudian psycho-analysts arrived and said it was about repressed sexuality. Then the alternative medical community came out and said it was mind over matter, if you battled it you'd be okay - and all of that's rubbish.

"Doctors used to lie to patients about their diagnosis. They would say 'it's not cancer' or 'not that bad', because they thought the absolute fear and terror that the diagnosis would provoke would be worse than the disease itself, and because there was nothing you could do, you might as well lie about it.

"That's where the phrase 'The Big C' came from because, in polite society, nobody wanted to say the word.

"But now, if you talk to the most cutting-edge surgeons, they all say it is becoming more and more a disease that we live with rather than die from."

As the pair threw themselves into their project, the outlook seemed positive.

Everyone in the family, including Adam's GP aunt, were convinced things were looking up.

Then, when they weren't expecting it, David succumbed to his illness.

Adam said: "As human beings we have such a demand for life and belief in life, that even though he was close to death, none of us could believe it.

"That moment was very strange. I didn't feel very much, it was like being in the eye of a storm.

"I and my family had been buffeted for the whole year and it just stopped in a moment of calm."

After the death and the funeral, which a disbelieving Adam had helped plan just months before although he was convinced it was years off, he was left with the task of finishing the book alone.

Still grieving and now lacking the loving but firm hand of its editor, Adam vowed to complete it any way he could.

Completing the outline that father and son had sketched together was harder than he expected, and it took him three years to complete, and eventually publish.

He said: "Having started this and been inspired to start this book with him, I felt I had to finish it.

"It was mine and my dad's last project together and only a coward wouldn't complete it. In the year following my dad's death I found it very difficult, but I had to complete it."

He added: "Having written the book has given me a different perspective. Two years ago, my mother, Eva, was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

"That's not a good moment obviously, and I still had the terror that she was going to die, but I felt my attitude to it was different than when I heard about my dad.

"Thankfully, she has now been treated for it and received a clear scan.

"I felt more practical, that here was a biological malfunction and people were going to try to deal with it, as opposed to the blind terror I felt before.

"It was easier to cope."

He finally had One in Three published this year.

Adam fervently hopes the book will inform and comfort the thousands of people who are affected by this terrible disease.

But he knows it has at least helped one person who's lost a loved one to cancer.


'It was mine and my dad's last project together and only a coward wouldn't complete it. It was difficult but it gave me a new perspective'

One in Three by Adam Wishart is available on Profile Books, £15.