Sick Joke is one quirky travelogue. Glenn Deir spent two years happily stumbling through the conundrums of Japanese culture. Then he got tonsil cancer and less happily stumbled through the conundrums of medical culture. Sick Joke is a tale of two journeys told simultaneously that will make you laugh out loud.
About the author
Glenn Deir is a Provincial Affairs reporter with CBC television in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He’s a passionate world traveler, and has never turned down any food he’s been offered. Once a year he’s transformed into a person he doesn’t recognize and becomes a hunter of caribou or moose. Sick Joke is his first book.
For each of his 25 radiation treatments for tonsil cancer, Glenn Deir was required to wear an immobilization mask. As its name indicates, this mask, meshed and specifically molded to fit Glenn Deir, allowed him to be pinned – bolted down! – from shoulders to topknot on the radiation table. The mask is a device capable of inducing more claustrophobic panic than an MRI torpedo tube. During one treatment Mr. Deir was pestered by his failure to identify a tune – one he knew he should recognize – he was hearing on the CD player in the radiation room. Later, he identified the tune as Sinatra’s ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’. The absurd irony of the situation – considering the lyrics (‘I get no kick from champagne …’) and Mr. Deir’s radiated taste buds – amused him so much that while receiving his next treatment he “… was wearing a big grin underneath the mask.” Mr. Deir’s memoir ‘Sick Joke: Cancer, Japan and Back Again’ is his humourous – sometimes hilarious – account of his fight against a cancer obfuscatingly described as a ‘poorly differentiated carcinoma’. Sick Joke, the memoir, is Glenn Deir laughing underneath the mask. Mr. Deir, a familiar television journalist in Newfoundland, was diagnosed with cancer of his left tonsil, and it, understandably, scared the bejabbers out of him but he fought and defeated the disease. In this memoir he shares the details of his battle in a commendable, vulnerably comical – p’raps witty is a better word – fashion. I confess I would not be able to respond to similar circumstances as Mr. Deir did. I wouldn’t continue enjoying day-to-day events to any extent. I’d be scared and most likely curled up in a black knot of depression. But that’s me, the wuss. A pat on the back … no, a complimentary embrace and some resounding thumps on the back to Glenn Deir for facing, for fighting his monster with courage and clowning and via Sick Joke proving the pen is mightier than the … uh … than the dragon. I cringe I scribbled that line but I’ll – for shame’s sake – let it stand. Mr. Deir’s droll sense of humour allowed him to whistle – so to speak – past the graveyards of cancer treatment. That and Seven of Nine. Seven of Nine? Admit it b’ys, you remember Seven of Nine. Images of her standing at a display console, sexily statuesque in her skin-tight blue body suit are still sometimes the stuff of your prurient sentiments. Faced with the possibility of having various tubes and hoses inserted into and/or fastened onto his body, Mr. Deir joked with his doctors they were transforming him into a ‘Borg’, one of the cyborg collective villains of a Star Trek incarnation. Seven of Nine – yes, I’m stilling scribbling about her – once assimilated by the Borg, reclaims her humanness on a star ship; restates her curvaceous femininity inside the silky (?), microfibers of her bodysuit wardrobe. Stop it! Before being anesthetized Mr. Deir quipped to his medical team, “If you’re turning me into the Borg, then I want Seven of Nine here when I wake up.” I ask you, is that boldly laughing in the brazen face of immobilizing horror? Maybe you’re wondering about how Japan fits into Mr. Deir’s story. Or not. At the time he discovered the lump in his neck, Mr. Deir had taken a leave of absence from the CBC and was working in Japan for NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation. Throughout Sick Joke, he interjects informative, relevant or simply tangential anecdotes about his time in Japan. For instance, while dwelling in the land of cherry blossoms – might I be nominated for the Cliché of the Year Awards? – Mr. Deir learns the danger inherent in calling his wife – Deborah – by the clipped form of her name – Deb. Trust me; any of you with Deborah honeys also had better stick to three syllables. Over a lifetime, while Holy God has been harvesting my curly locks, I’ve read three memorable, funny books accentuating Japan. First (You gotta love the title): ‘The Jewish/Japanese Sex & Cookbook, and How to Raise Wolves’ – Jack Douglas, 1972. Second: ‘Dave Barry Does Japan’ – Dave Barry, 1992. Third: ‘Sick Joke: Cancer, Japan and Back Again’ – Glenn Deir, 2010. If these books are not in your libraries and you’re dying – am I being churlishly insensitive? – for a laugh, you might want to add them to your shelves. Thank you for reading, for appreciating a sick … for appreciating ‘Sick Joke.’
HAROLD N. WALTERS
"Everyone who has ever battled cancer or known someone who has should read Sick Joke.” You will finish it with a renewed respect for what the human spirit can endure, and what a lust for life can get you through. Thanks, Glenn. Your book just might save somebody’s life."
Pam Frampton, The Telegram
"As a funny, honest memoir about cancer, this book is really good... There aren't enough funny books about cancer, and this is a good one."
Trudy Morgan-Cole, Compulsive Overreader
"The book is funny - often hilariously so - because of Deir's readiness to laugh at himself. But Deir is no clown; his voice is dignified, and comes across as true."
Darrell Squires, The Western Star
"Writer and broadcaster Glenn Deir takes us on a personal health journey that begins -- as many often do -- with the discovery of a lump. Writing with brutal, laser-like honesty and rare humor, Deir takes us from Japan to Newfoundland to the famed Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, to that dark place where we're forced to contemplate our mortality. And to that place where we surrender control of our bodies and make that leap of faith to trust our healers. This is 'medicine, from Deir's side of the gurney.' If you've ever entertained a doubt that your doctors actually know what they're doing, this is the book for you." -
Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC's White Coat, Black Art & author of The Night Shift (2010).