1. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    Terminal disease. (Brain cancer?)

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Fervidor, Feb 23, 2020.

    So, I need my main character to by dying of some very serious illness. I'm currently thinking an aggressive inoperable brain tumor is probably a pretty safe choice. Or maybe some other nasty sort of cancer, I don't know.

    Thing is, I know very little about medicine - I write about sword fights and magic and stuff like that. Terminal diseases in particular are way outside of my comfort zone since I find the subject depressing and existentially terrifying. I've tried doing research on my own but I still don't feel like I know what I'm doing here. So at this point I'm kinda looking for whatever advice I can get.

    Some context for what I'm going for:

    -The story starts out on modern day Earth in an unspecified western country. My protagonist is a girl, mid to upper teens, who has been physically active in the past but has since fallen ill.

    -The illness is incurable and is pretty much definitely going to kill her relatively soon, say within a few months to a year. It's kind of important that she genuinely thinks she's very near the end, since I need her to be in a desperate "nothing left to lose" mindset where she's willing to make reckless decisions.

    -The illness keeps her from being very active, but she can still move around with effort, speak to people and think clearly most of the time.

    -She is not hospitalized, but may have a private nurse or something like that since her family is fairly upper class. Essentially I need her moping around her parents house just waiting to die. (I'm not sure how realistic this part is.)

    -She keeps seeing a "ghost" that nobody else sees. If feasible, she may not be sure if it's real or a hallucination caused by the illness. However, that is not especially vital: I can make it work even if the illness wouldn't cause hallucinations and she believes the ghost to be totally real.

    Now, supposing I go with the cancer, I can look up general stuff like common symptoms easily enough. What I need input on if how believable my scenario is, what kind of treatment she'd be likely to get and how that might affect her situation, and other more situational issues I can't just look up on Wikipedia. Really, just assume I know nothing about this stuff.

    I'm also open to suggestions for alternative afflictions, if anyone can think of one that would work better for this.
     
  2. Gelände Søûÿååžæ

    Gelände Søûÿååžæ Banned

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    If you create the disease, you can be more imaginative with the symptoms and the resultant medication.
    Could not your character have Dobies Syndrome?
    I think a syndrome sounds almost believable and there are very few sufferers of it!
     
  3. Scoobyslippers

    Scoobyslippers Member

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    Parkinson's disease (my Dad is a sufferer) can creates hallucination very similar to what you describe. It normally effects older males but can strike anyone at any time so may add to the sense of bad luck your character is no doubt experiencing?
     
  4. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    I could make something up, sure, but I just feel like that would be sort of an obvious cop-out.

    Is... that a disease you just made up? Because the Google results I got suggests it's something dogs get.

    Not to belittle your father's plight, but I don't think Parkinson's is nearly lethal enough. From what I can tell it's not even fatal, it just reduces your average lifespan "compared to healthy individuals of the same age group," with even people who get it at an advanced age being capable of living for decades.

    My girl should be around 16 years old or so, would have been healthy in her earlier teens, and is guaranteed to be dead very soon. That's really the important thing here. So, I need this to have a pretty rapid onset. Like I said, I'm fine with giving up on the hallucination angle completely if necessary.

    (I did not know Parkinson's disease causes you to hallucinate ghosts, though. Learn something new every day, I suppose.)
     
  5. Scoobyslippers

    Scoobyslippers Member

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    No problem at all Fervidor - yes the PD would not be a rapid enough outcome for your plot. :supersmile:
     
  6. Gelände Søûÿååžæ

    Gelände Søûÿååžæ Banned

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    "Is... that a disease you just made up? Because the Google results I got suggests it's something dogs get".

    Thanks for the chuckle.
    You are referring to Blue Doberman Syndrome.
    Although, diseases can cross mutate, good idea actually.
    Dobies Syndrome - it makes you feel dog ruff! :D:D:D
     
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  7. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Hi, @Fervidor, and welcome to the forum!

    I'd say, before you go too far into planning your story, maybe start googling the symptoms you need, and do some really heavy research. If you spend a lot of time plotting everything down to the last inch, then go looking for a disease that will 'fit' your plot, you be creating real problems for yourself. Don't get the cart before the horse. I'd say do your research beforehand. You are unlikely to find a forum member who has experienced all of this (although they might have some experience that can help) so at some point you'll need to dig in and do the research. Fortunately, Google is your Friend! :)

    You could approach it several ways. You could come up with disease names and search out what symptoms, treatments, etc are associated with this disease. Or you could pick a few symptoms and google them, and see what diseases are associated with these symptoms.

    OR...and I'm picking up hints from what you've said, that there might be an element of fantasy creeping in? Or supernatural stuff? If that's the case, you could have your girl diagnosed with something that turns out not to be what she's actually got. Lots of ailments and conditions get misdiagnosed. So she might be told she has terminal brain cancer, or something like that, but it actually turns out to be something else altogether? Something that will actually kill her, or something she will eventually recover from? But she would believe she has brain cancer, so you can make use of all the drama that goes with a diagnosis like that. It's another way to go ...and it would mean you could create the symptoms to fit your story after all.

    Anyway, good luck. But don't shy away from digging in and doing the research. You may unearth details that actually give you more ideas as to how your story will go—even if it's partly fantasy. At the moment, you're just working with what's in your own head, but if you start to really read up on the subject, you'll get a lot more material to work with.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2020
  8. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    You need to talk with somebody who has been nearby when someone close to him/her has died to cancer - all the way to the end.

    You need to talk face to face. You need to hear how the breathing sounds. You need to hear about the changes cancer makes in the end.
     
  9. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    Thanks, Jannert, but I know the importance of researching central subject before completely committing to a plot. If anything I hesitate to plot a story out if I'm not sure I understand the factors it is built on.

    Actually my main character's illness isn't that important to the plot as a whole, as the issue is resolved early in the second chapter by my estimate. It is, however, a very important part of the instigating events that kick the whole thing off. In fact, the protagonist I have in mind literally can't come into being without it.

    Yeah, I figured it was a long shot. The trouble with googling it is that all I get is descriptions of what the disease in question does, what kind of treatment you get for it and technical stuff like that. It has proven difficult to get much insight into how one should portray a character suffering from it, or how well it works with my intended scenario.

    That would be an understatement. It's actually a very over-the-top high fantasy adventure story, although the main character originates from our own mundane world.

    The disease she is dying from serves as motivation for why she would venture into the main setting despite having no idea what to expect (though there are other factors as well) and more importantly leads to her making and (almost literal) "deal with the devil." Like I said, this pretty much has to happen or I lose the whole basis for my story concept.

    Anyway, there's really no narrative reason I could think of for it to be anything but a perfectly mundane illness, and I actually prefer that it be that way. Like, it's just brain cancer. It's not magical or anything, the poor lass just had bad luck. I think that situation makes for a good contrast to the very fantastical events she'll find herself in.

    That's all good and well, but I don't personally know anyone like that. And if I did, I think I'd be a bit uncomfortable prodding them for information on something that personal just for the sake of my comparatively silly fantasy story.

    I think the ideal would be if I could talk to, like, an actual doctor - say an oncologist with real experience in these matters. I just have no idea how to get in touch with a person like that, short of literally calling a hospital or medical university. (And, again, I have concerns for how proper that would be.)

    I actually did try to find message boards specifically for medical discussions, but I didn't have much luck.
     
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  10. N.Scott

    N.Scott Active Member

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    Read books about cancer, fiction or non-fiction. I prefer fiction, because you can see how it was done by other writers. I think you can find a list or two on Goodreads or somewhere similar. Also, don't forget to read those comments underneath the book page, those are gold mines in my experience.
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Ah, I now have a better picture of what you're looking for. Hmmm. I'm wondering if there are any biographical/autobiographical books out there about what a disease like that is like for the person suffering it. Have you fixed on it being brain cancer?
     
  12. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    Well, as mentioned, I wouldn't be against picking something else if it turned out to work better for what I'm going for.

    Though, having looked into this a bit already, I currently suspect that a bad case of glioblastoma is probably the most suitable option for my purpose. It's apparently, like, the worst kind of brain cancer you can get and the average survival rate is less than a year. Additionally, the symptoms seem more or less appropriate. (On a side note, researching this stuff is kinda depressing.)

    I also favor cancer because... not sure how to put this, but it's easy to visualize the problem: A tumor is a specific thing in the body causing the issue, and all the main forms of treatment focus on simply getting rid of it. I think this might make it easy to accept when she does get cured. (Albeit at a very high cost.)

    By contrast I rather wanted to avoid genetic disorders since I felt it might be harder to swallow something like that just getting magicked away.
     
  13. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    A little searching should turn up message boards where people discuss things of this nature. Just as we have our little support group for aspiring authors, there are online support groups for the loved ones of those suffering from terminal diseases of all kinds. Some might be open to anyone, some might require you to make an account.
     
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  14. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    Why not to do it yourself?

    1. Find a palliative care home.
    2. Volunteer to keep company to someone who is lonely.
    3. Do it - all the way. Do it with love, respect and your heart in it. 3-4 hours a day, 1-2 when you are busy. In the same room.

    If you do that, you really learn something about life - and death.
     
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  15. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    But that would require me to leave my home. And, you know, interact with actual people. :(
     
  16. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    If it's hard to leave your home and interact with actual people you can start with bits and pieces.

    Reality is best material you can get as a writer.
     
  17. frigocc

    frigocc Contributor Contributor

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    Not a terminally-ill disease, but my favorite made-up disease was the one from the Dirk Gently TV series. Especially with the revelation at the end of season 1.
     
  18. ruskaya

    ruskaya Contributor Contributor

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    I don't know much about cancer either, but something I noticed most often gets set aside is the emotional toll and crippling effects of pain. Perhaps the pain could be a measure of how close she is getting to the end...?
     
  19. Aaron Smith

    Aaron Smith Banned Contributor

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    Glioblastoma multiforme is pretty much a death sentence with a ~12 month best case prognosis with treatment.
     

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