Diamond, John 1953–2001
Diamond, John 1953–2001
PERSONAL: Born 1953, in London, England; died of cancer March 1, 2001, in London, England; son of Paul Sydney (a biochemist) and Caroline (an artist; maiden name Hiller) Diamond; married Nigella Lawson (a food writer), 1992; children: Cosima, Bruno.
CAREER: Newspaper, television, and radio journalist. Columnist for the Times, London, England.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named Columnist of the Year, What the Papers Say Awards, 1997.
Because Cowards Get Cancer Too: A Hypochondriac Confronts His Nemesis, Times Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, introduction by Dominic Lawson, foreword by Richard Dawkins, Vintage (London, England), 2001.
Contributor to newspapers, including Daily Mirror, New Statesman, Manchester Guardian, London Sunday Telegraph, Daily Express, and London Evening Standard.
ADAPTATIONS: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too: A Hypochondriac Confronts His Nemesis, was adapted as a stage play.
SIDELIGHTS: British columnist and broadcaster John Diamond died in 2001 after a battle with throat cancer. First diagnosed in 1997, Diamond was open about his struggle, and he changed the focus of his ongoing newspaper column as his life was transformed by knowledge of his imminent death. He wrote Because Cowards Get Cancer Too: A Hypochondriac Confronts His Nemesis and also Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, a volume critical of alternative medicine that remained unfinished at the time of Diamond's death, and which was supplemented by a number of his columns for publication. These included pieces were written both before and after their author learned of his cancer.
Diamond was declared cancer free in 1998, just before his Because Cowards Get Cancer Too was published. A long-time smoker, he was forty-four when a lump in his neck and pain in his ear led to his initial treatment, but the primary site of his cancer, at the back of his tongue, was at first missed. He writes of the removal of part of his tongue, chemotherapy treatments, and suffering a depressions so intense that he talked of suicide. His wife, Nigella, convinced him not to take this step for the sake of their children. Diamond's column in the London Times had been an upbeat observation of life in the city; now it was a report of his life-and-death struggle.
In Because Cowards Get Cancer Too Diamond writes of the consequences of smoking, the contents of his medicine chest, and how his illness sent him into rages. Spike contributor Gary Marshall noted that the author "reserves his most vicious criticism for those who believe surviving cancer is a matter of the correct mental attitude, as if those who die simply didn't try hard enough." Paul Keeley reviewed Diamond's book in the British Medical Journal, calling it "a reflection of his still being alive and able to order his account of his own illness. He is funny, self-deprecating, and brutally honest about this experience of cancer and its treatment. As a good journalist, he is almost obsessive in recording the detail of his symptoms and treatments; as a man, he is not afraid to admit that he can be hopeful, fearful, bored, elated, and uncertain."
Diamond finished nearly six chapters of Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, which he called "an uncomplimentary book about complimentary medicine." When his cancer became public knowledge, he was offered considerable advice on alternative medicines, which he deemed to be ineffective. Lancet critic Paul Crichton wrote that Diamond "does not sufficiently acknowledge the fact that most patients who use alternative medicine seem to regard it, quite sensibly, as complementary to their orthodox, mainline treatments, and that they do so because such alternative therapies can often improve their quality of life, whereas chemotherapy and radiotherapy are more likely to diminish it, in the short-term at least. The fact that some patients then attribute a remission of their cancer to alternative medicine alone, is not a defect of this approach, but the result of misinterpretation."
Diamond pointed out that the increasing popularity of alternative medicine is, in part, a response to the assembly-line treatment of patients by mainstream practitioners. Alternative practitioners, if nothing else, can spend more time with patients, making them feel they are getting better care. Physician educator Oliver James wrote in the Spectator that "as Diamond says, often and eloquently, time and sympathy are a large part of what you pay for when you see an 'unorthodox' therapist. But time and sympathy are not the only things that conventional medicine frequently fails to deliver. The ability to say, 'we don's understand your disease or what causes your symptoms but I know they are genuine and distressing' comes hard to many doctors." James called Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, "wonderful," and added: "I wish I'd writ-ten it, and that I were one tenth as eloquent as John Diamond at explaining scientific method and exposing the disingenuousness and double standards of most practitioners of alternative medicine."
Susan Preston, writing for Pain Concern online, noted of the author that "the columns spanning the years of his relationship to the cancer, the disability, the medical process, the life, and the people he treasured, are inevitably the most compelling to read." Crichton felt that the entertaining pieces written before Diamond's diagnosis "show a much lighter, sometimes whimsical touch, and can be fairly hilarious, which gives them an unexpected poignancy now."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Diamond, John, Because Cowards Get Cancer Too: A Hypochondriac Confronts His Nemesis, Times Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Diamond, John, Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, introduction by Dominic Lawson, foreword by Richard Dawkins, Vintage (London, England), 2001.
Booklist, October 15, 1999, William Beatty, review of Because Cowards Get Cancer Too, p. 398.
British Medical Journal, September 19, 1998, Paul Keeley, review of Because Cowards Get Cancer Too, p. 825; August 4, 2001, Annabel Ferriman, review of Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, p. 288.
Issues in Science and Technology, spring, 2002, Robert L. Park, review of Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, p. 93.
Lancet, February 2, 2002, Paul Crichton, review of Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, p. 454.
Library Journal, October 1, 1999, Jodith Janes, review of Because Cowards Get Cancer Too, p. 126.
Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1999, review of Because Cowards Get Cancer Too, p. 64.
Skeptical Inquirer, March-April, 1999, Robert Lopresti, review of Because Cowards Get Cancer Too, p. 57.
Spectator, July 14, 2001, Oliver James, review of Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, p. 31.
Student BMJ, September, 2001, Sally-Ann S. Price, review of Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, p. 352.
Time International, July 23, 2001, Pat Regnier, review of Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, p. 59.
Pain Concern Web site, http://www.painconcern.org.uk/ (March 19, 2004), Susan Preston, review of Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations.
Spike Online, http://www.spikemagazine.com/ (June, 1999), Gary Marshall, review of Because Cowards Get Cancer Too.
BBC News Web site, http://news.bbc.co.uk/ (March 2, 2001).