At the age of 54 Claire Gilbert was diagnosed with myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood. The prognoses ranged from surviving only a few months to living for several decades, with no guarantee of which outcome was to be hers. It was a shocking diagnosis into uncertainty, or rather, into only one
certainty: death. But Claire discovered that facing her own mortality was liberating.
She discovered this through writing letters. Claire asked her siblings and a small group of friends if they would let her write to them with total honesty about what she was going through, as she was going through it. These letters turned out to be a great solace, and gradually her group of ‘dear readers’ has grown; what she had to say wasn’t just of value to herself, but to others, too.
Miles to Go Before I Sleep is no ordinary cancer memoir. It is an unexpectedly exuberant account of how – through her terminal diagnosis – Claire has learned to live fully, with joy and defiance. The letters chart Claire’s journey through diagnosis, chemotherapy and a brutal round of stem cell treatment, and end with the rest of the UK joining her in her immuno-compromised isolation in March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic hit. And as the pandemic rages on, Claire has a lot to teach us about living courageously. We are all having to learn how to navigate uncertainty, live alongside illness, and stare our own mortality that bit more closely in the face.
Unflinchingly honest and wide-ranging, Claire writes about the restorative role of nature, politics, poetry, humour – and a restless exploration of the spiritual dimension of death and dying. This is an honest, luminous account of what Claire has gone through and what keeps her going, a
deeply spiritual meditation on life and suffering, and an exploration of how faith is no simple solace but provides a whole new plane of meaning during these liminal moments.
‘My cancer is incurable, so although the treatment has ‘worked’ and I’m in remission. It could come back next year, or in 20 years’ time. I’ve no idea. So, I have to find my peace elsewhere than in having or not having cancer. I can’t think of fighting it: it isn’t going to go away. How do I find peace in ‘failure’? Stillness when nothing is for sure? Wisdom when I don’t really know anything? I have lots of wise good people around me, but no one can make things right for me, least of all myself. I don’t have any answers, and the book doesn’t give any answers, it just tells you how I have
tried to face this enormous gaping unknown.’
Claire Gilbert grew up in London, of Jewish, Scots, Spanish and English heritage. She lost her parents and all but one of her grandparents to
cancer. Claire was a research fellow at King’s College London where she became a national expert on the ethics of medical research on humans.
She writes and speaks on ethics in public life, medicine and the environment as a moral philosopher and theologian and now from personal experience.
She spent one summer ingloriously as a stand-up comedian. She lives in