Dancing with Cancer

Book Reviews

Maneesha reviews Diana Brueton’s book.

Diana BruetonPrem Diana (aka Diana Brueton), a sannyasin of 32 years, left her body on 14th March 2012. A writer, a teacher and art therapist she had worked for the BBC and also The Bristol Cancer Help Centre (now renamed the Penny Brohn Cancer Centre). She began journaling shortly after being told, at the age of 55 that she had terminal colon cancer.

Dancing with Cancer Diana BruetonTo read her account, Dancing with Cancer (and how I learnt a few new steps) is to appreciate why some regard the experience of illness as analogous with the mythological ‘hero’s journey.’

Over what was to become a 4-year process Diana passes from a life of activity and fulfilment through shock, pain, joy, hope, despair, anger, anxiety, witnessing, acceptance, catharsis, sadness; ‘the wobbles’ as she calls them; not-knowing, hurt, disappointment; outrage, trust, love, fear, centering, doubt, insight, gratitude, vulnerability, celebration, empowerment, peace, fear and humour (not necessarily in that order) to the final let go.

Awesome to read of the unremitting challenges she faces – some anticipated, others out of the blue – and of her determination to be present to whatever is happening and find the lessons inherent along the way. Happily, not only is she rich in outer resources – notably in the unwavering, loving support of a wide circle of friends, of her two siblings and of her husband Chetan – equally significant is the reservoir of inner resources she calls on. As an art therapist she appreciates the value of expressing her feelings through the medium of painting. Her dreams, which are plentiful, illumine and direct, and enable her to make sense of what is happening.

The writing, in itself, of this book also provides her with support – in the form of her imagined readers, you and I. On attending one particular consultation she comments:

If…being told about the liver secondaries were awful, this was on the same scale. No, worse. It would drain me of hope. Even now writing about it is excruciating. Even now I need to have my hand held to endure it. Thank you for being with me, reader.

The gratitude expressed there in those early days develops into a theme to which she constantly returns…

My body has suddenly become quite strange to me, as though it’s not really mine… It’s time to befriend it… and in particular to acknowledge it for the fantastic job it’s done all my life, and still now. Thank you, lovely body. Let me know what you need. I’ll love you, not to be scared of you.

And later:

The tumour markers were down yesterday to 794!!! Amazing, after 50000+ in November. Thank you for the healing.

Another resource, the glue holding her together when everything is disintegrating around and inside her, is Diana’s sense of the spiritual. In her language, ‘God’ and ‘the divine’ are felt through the connection to her master, Osho, through the prayer service of Silent Unity (a Christian organisation), rituals from the American Indian tradition and the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism.

Initially, when feelings are running high, meditation eludes her, then a little further along she notes:

Meditation is feeling easier now. It is the time for deepening that as much as I can. Watching the fears and griefs, and coming back to the wonderful now whenever I can.

Witnessing becomes pivotal. She writes,

This is what I have to do now. Return to the centre, my core, so that I am not buffeted by all the emotions, the events, the decisions. Become the watcher, always from that centred place.

She had decided early on to record her experiences, both for the support that gave her and could give others, and for helping her make sense of it all.

Diana shares with us what happened in that week or day just past, and then brings us back to the present moment. She is a little torn by that device, noting:

Why write this, visit the difficult past when the present is so precious? Outside, frogs are croaking loudly, the storm has awakened them. Maybe I too need to sing my song.

Nothing focuses us as much as the knowledge of our impending death, and Diana consistently discovers the awesome in what had once seemed ordinary. For example, ‘The beachside bars have closes for the season. We walk barefoot under cloudless skies.’ And later: ‘Raking up leaves in the warm October sunshine…. What was once a chore is now a pleasure.’

Post-it notes cover my copy like confetti because there is so much quotable within these pages – not only a liberal splattering of Osho, Rumi and Hafiz but of Diana’s own insights, exclamations, observations and reflections, all expressed in her lovely lyrical style.

The river looks like an unmoving silver chain. Upstream, our home. Downstream, rock where one day my ashes will lie beneath Dartmoor soil. But now, children play beside the river in soft spring sunlight.


The cat brings in a dying mouse. I see it take its last breath, and am ridiculously upset. Bright eyes, soft fur, perfect. I bury it under leaves beneath a hedge.

Along with:

I’ve woken up calm, peaceful and happy. I got up to make drinks, and saw that in the garden a mass of primroses has come up. Then I felt a bit faint, must have overdone it. Chetan just held me for ages, it was so beautiful. I know how extraordinarily blessed I am.

And look – porridge has arrived now!

So many entries read like haiku, such as….

Two magpies perch high in an autumnal tree.
One for sorrow, one for joy.
I am still here.

And the last in her book, perhaps her self-created epitaph:

I am the Dance
And I still go on.

A gripping story and telling of it. In spite of knowing what was to come, I took the book with me – to bed, to the beach, on a commute, to a waiting room – exactly as I would if it were a thriller. And, beloved Diana, I mean that in the very best, most exalted sense of the word!

Book available online from: amazon.comamazon.co.uk
Kindle available from: amazon.comamazon.co.uk

Maneesha, Osho News – www.oshosammasati.net

The launch party will be held on Friday 28 February 4-8pm at Space Upstairs in Ashburton, Devon.

Osho News tribute page for Prema Diana

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