Novelist Kanako Nishi Shares Her Story of Battling Cancer

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kanako Nishi

Novelist Kanako Nishi, who received the prestigious Naoki Award, has recently published her first nonfiction work, titled “Kumo o Sagasu” (Looking for spider). The work sheds light on her eight-month struggle with breast cancer during her stay in Canada.

“The act of writing gave me a lot of relief,” Nishi said. On the day when she was diagnosed with cancer, she started keeping a diary, which formed the basis of her latest book, which is published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha.

Receiving treatment in a foreign country with a different language and system from Japan, all she could manage to write was the word “tired” on certain days.

“But I should also have had feelings in addition to feeling tired, so I wanted to take them back,” she said. “I realized again that I’ve been writing for myself, the novels in the past and this work as well.”

Born in Tehran, she was brought up in Osaka and elsewhere. After receiving the Naoki Award with “Saraba!” (So Long!), she went to Vancouver at the end of 2019. Her decision was inspired by a wish to become able to read the original of “The Bluest Eye” by her favorite author, Toni Morrison, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.

In August 2021 during her stay in Canada, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently underwent surgery to remove both breasts.

Although the work is a record of her tough experiences, what is felt from reading the book is a sense of humor, instead of a sense of despair. For example, she wrote about an episode in which a nurse suddenly called her “Bonita,” a name that sounded totally out of place, right before the surgery.

“You are Bonita, right?” the nurse reportedly said to her.

As she continued to be called by a different name, she suddenly had the strong thought that “I’m myself.”

“I’ve written novels to ascertain that I’m myself, but it may have been completely insufficient,” she said. “It felt like I was embracing the fact that I’m myself. I thought I wouldn’t care at all what others would tell me about how I should be.”

She frankly described how she began to make her own choices and steer her life on her own after realizing that her body belongs to her.

Coming back to Japan at the end of last year, the author still goes to see a doctor for medical checkups. In the meantime, she stopped keeping a diary.

“Life continues even after dramatic moments are over,” Nishi said.

The cover of “Kumo o Sagasu” by Kanako Nishi