Book Café boss survives cancer

HARARE - Book Café proprietor Paul Brickhill has described how he thought he wasn’t going to make it when he went into an emergency surgery due to cancer.

Speaking exclusively to the Daily News on Sunday, the arts practitioner and creative director revealed doctors warned that his condition would be “touch-and-go” following a procedure he underwent after falling sick on July 24.

“I underwent emergency surgery to open an airway into my trachea after an unexpected discovery of a tumour pressing my windpipe, causing huge distress,” said Brickhill.

“A biopsy diagnosed anaplastic thyroid cancer, the least-known cancer. Its causes are unknown, and the most aggressive.”

The arts practitioner is happy to be receiving home-based care.

He is going through a lengthy course of radiation therapy and hopes to fully recover in the long term.

“The relief of sky, trees, flowers, birds, music, family and real coffee is what I feel right now!”

He recalls the day he fell sick.

“It was a close shave that night,” he said. “I am lucky to be alive, thanks to quick thinking of my brother Jeremy and the specialists who attended to me that day.

“A 33-year era has ended for me, abruptly and dramatically. The next journey of my life has already begun.”

He said just before he fell ill, he read this insightful paraphrase by Albert Einstein: “Either everything is a miracle, or nothing is.”

“I am intrigued that a scientist could think like that,” said the arts practitioner.

The creative director said as he reflects, it seemed like everything that has taken place in his life appears to him like some impossibility.

“Yet it has happened, none more so than our beloved Book Café, its thousand of artists and life, histories and soul,” he said.

“Virtually my entire close and extended families were either with me or flew to Harare and mounted a 24-hour vigil at my bedside. Overwhelming really!”

He said he found it a little strange to be saying this, “but it is true, I feel utterly blessed, and in many ways too; this extraordinary, rich life, an African life, so many wonderful, loved people and happenings, my life brim-full with goodness, love, beauty, music, books — and laughter!

“A new sunset every night, and the majesty and enormity of Africa, the place, people, and the ‘idea’; the strong, vital and decent people whom I have known, who bear life with grace, time is longer than a rope.”

He said now each day for him is lived simply as it should be, “alive and happy to see what the day will bring, the miracle of life, it is not yet over.”

“I find myself so fortunate to have been in situations where I could do something. I fight on. Aluta continua! African struggles, emancipation and life itself!”

Brickhill believes the arts are by definition untidy.

He said many emerging stars who came into the national spotlight and proceeded to international tours either started at Book Cafe or had their early shows there.

“Later poetry blazed its path at Book Cafe through the House of Hunger Poetry Slam. We considered the poetry movement as vital to the literary culture.”

Book Cafe was among ten laureates of 2011 Prince Claus Awards and was rewarded for its role in “culture and development”.

Brickhill said Book Cafe was inspired by a simple idea. “We began to realise that, in terms of freedom of expression and African-centred viewpoint that a great wealth of stories and
narratives in the culture of people was contained in music, live poetry, theatre, storytelling, comedy, public discussion and other transient, verbalised arts forms, of which published books was only one part.

“Public discussion as well as performing arts was part of Book Cafe from the start. Every Thursday was devoted to public discussions. The speakers shared the stage to engage in
public dialogue and freedom of expression, and the results of those discussions, would amaze people today.

“There was no topic that captured the interest of the people that we failed to discuss: the land question, democracy, religion, witchcraft, science, nationalism, capitalism, socialism, books, art, politics, corruption, Africa, the police, the struggle, the future, political parties, trade unions, civil society, media. The public discussions were effectively banned under Posa in 2002, and Book Cafe closed for three months.”

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