It requires a brave voice to tackle cancer as the subject of a novel.
Jacinta Dietrich has found that brave voice, with This Is Us Now, her debut novel from Grattan Street Press, published in June.
At 95 pages and just over 20,000 words, it's more of a novella. But the weight of the subject makes reading it feel like a novel.
The fictional story tells each side of the ordeal of dealing with cancer for two young people in love. There's Theo, the Melbourne university student who's got Hodgkin's lymphoma, and his girlfriend, also a student, Ella.
Together, they face the challenge that's come out of nowhere and scared the hell out of them. Separately, they question their own emotional strength to get through it, and fear the survival of their loving relationship.
There is no sugar coating in these pages. The emotions are bare. There is hurt, there is pain. There are tears. There is silence. And it all makes love seem more real.
The story's origin came from true life - Dietrich's partner did have cancer and survived.
How close does it cut? Dietrich says it took her partner a year and half to read the story. "He would get a few pages in and cry," she says. "He was supportive of the book the whole time. He didn't care what anybody thought or cared about it. He'd say, 'If people can't see characters, that's on them.' "
Dietrich works in the book publishing industry now, as well as writing. This Is Us Now started life as her creative project for her Master's at the University of Melbourne.
"It felt like a real black spot when we were in that position," Dietrich says of the cancer diagnosis. "There is nothing in movies, or books that really captured this specific age group, this specific experience I guess.
"I wanted to be honest. It's not all pretty, not all fun, not the way all cancer stories are. Sometimes you get fat instead of lose all your weight. Sometimes it's different to what the movies show."
The honesty of the story is unsettling. From the mundane (how Theo smells during treatment - 'he smells like poison. It's a sickly sweet, noxious smell that mixes with his sweat.'), to the serious (the terrible coughing fits he has that he cannot hide from Ella any longer), and everything in between (losing pubic hair, masturbating to collect a semen sample before treatment begins).
There are two other leading characters in the book - Theo's parents, as Theo moves home prior to the extensive chemotherapy treatment, and they are ever-present at home and at the hospital.
The city of Melbourne is also on the periphery of the novella, from the opening scene with of an elegant picnic in Carlton Gardens, to the closing scene of the couple at Parliament train station, a short distance from St Vincent's Hospital where Theo was treated.
Of course, Theo the character is a coffee snob. He's forced to quit caffeine during treatment because of how it effects his heart rate.
But Jacinta Dietrich, the writer, in real life, is not a coffee snob, having a preference for instant coffee at home.
The story was submitted as a thesis in 2017 by Dietrich, cut to fit at 15,000 words. Then, it was accepted by the publisher, Grattan Street Press, who asked for changes.
"We extended the ending from what it originally was," Dietrich says. "It ended on an ambiguous note. With a little back and forth, we extended it, to give it more closure to the reader."
The big question front and centre is: can a relationship survived such a crisis?
But, in today's world, perhaps relationships are more fluid regardless?
"There's always been so many factors and things. Now, you can't guarantee anything," Dietrich says.
Dietrich spent a handful of her formative years in the Hunter region. Her family moved to the Hunter when she was three years old, she went to preschool at Beresfield and attended Woodberry Primary School before leaving the area when she was seven years old.
She is drawn to life stories. "I like to cover things that are real and authentic and reflect emotions," she says.
Although she may draw on stories from life experience, she likes having the option of fiction.
"Whether they end up factual, that's something I play with," she says of her writing. "They come from a specific moment, or feeling. That I don't see enough of in literature. Or feelings I can process by writing about it.
"Everyone says write the things you know. It's nice to have the fictional option, to dramatise or change it to make it interesting."