Interview With Jean-Jacques Trochon, Author of Flying Against the Odds: One Man's Journey to New Ways of Healing

Please share about your journey to write your memoir of surviving cancer twice. What inspired you to begin writing and why was this the right time for you to write this book?

I have actually survived several relapses following my initial kidney cancer diagnosis in 2003. I was clear for nine years and considered to be ‘cured’, having passed the official five-year-mark. It therefore came as a shock when I was diagnosed with multiple metastasis in my lungs in 2012 and 2014, with some smaller tumors detected in 2018. I am currently cancer-free, but am always vigilant because cancer cells have a sneaky way of creeping up on you when you least expect it.

My wife and I began discussing writing my memoir following the positive response to ‘Rethinking Cancer 2017’, a conference that I initiated and co-organized. Held at Institut Gustav Roussy, Europe’s largest cancer center, in September 2017, the conference brought together leading scientists and doctors from the fields of alternative cancer therapies. After the conference, I was contacted by many cancer patients, journalists and even doctors - both from France and overseas. I felt that a book would be the best way to share my experience with a larger audience. Its publication also marks a new chapter in my life, since I recently retired from my career as an airline pilot and am able to devote my time to helping other cancer patients.

What about the writing/publishing process came easiest for you? What did you find the hardest?

Writing the book was a collaborative process with my wife, Heather. Although it is my story, she is the one who made my words come alive on the page. I wouldn’t have entrusted my story to anyone else. Heather and I married in 2008. She has therefore been in my life for much of my cancer journey. We worked as a team, with Heather asking questions to probe my memory relating to certain experiences. It was tough at times, since I had chosen to bury some of the more emotionally challenging memories and was forced to confront them again. Anything relating to my children and how my cancer diagnosis affected them was always going to be difficult. Another challenge was in choosing what to include in the book, and what to leave out. Some moments seemed intensely personal, but they were an important part of the story. There have also been many funny moments in what has often been a very frightening experience. I ultimately wanted the book to be uplifting and hopeful.

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As you wrote, how did walking back through this journey affect you emotionally? What did you do at the end of a writing day to put it all away and embrace life?

One of the toughest emotional experiences was reliving my father’s final moments. I was recovering from surgery on kidney metastasis in my lungs when I received the news of my dad’s lung cancer. He was basically sent home to die as the result of his terminal diagnosis. As a family, we shared some very intense weeks nursing my dad. The conversations that I had with him are treasured memories, but incredibly painful. Quite simply, my dad was my hero. I dedicated my book to his memory.

I often felt emotionally drained after an intense interview session with Heather, especially when I was asked to share those intimate details of my father’s final days. Afterward I needed to be alone with my thoughts. I found peace of mind by driving to the ocean and watching the waves. I have always found this to be a calming experience.

When writing Flying Against the Odds, who were the people you wrote it for (patients, doctors, family, etc.)?

My story is aimed at everybody and anybody who is confronted with cancer, whether as a patient, a friend or family member, or someone from the medical community. I would also like it to be read by those who want to understand the importance of preventative measures. The statistics are alarming, with one in two people predicted to have cancer in the next ten years. I want everyone to wake up to the fact that we can all have a direct impact upon our health by what we put in our bodies.

What is the one thing you most hope readers will take away from reading your book? Do you see yourself writing any more in the future?

I would like readers to take two things away from reading my book: 1) basic scientific awareness and 2) hope.

I don’t plan another book, but I do have a website. It is here that I will provide updates on research and also enable fellow cancer patients to reach out to me -

Now that you are retired, I know you are still involved in exploring new research and supporting those who are dealing with cancer treatment. Can you share a little about all you are doing in this area?

I took early retirement in spring 2020 so that I could concentrate my energies on researching cancer therapies and also helping an increasing number of people, including doctors, who contact me for advice. The timing turned out to be fortuitous, since I had no idea that we were about to be hit by a global pandemic! After having had such an incredible career, finishing up on the Airbus 380, I wouldn’t have enjoyed flying under these reduced circumstances.

I am regularly in contact with the leading researchers, many of whom have become personal friends. We were in talks for a second ‘Rethinking Cancer’ conference. This has currently been put on hold due to Covid. However, cancer remains one of the leading causes of death today. It is vital that these alternative therapies are taken seriously by the broader medical community. It is also possible that a future conference could be held online. I think the past year has shown us that we need to find new ways to come together.

As mentioned previously, I have also set up a website to provide resources for patients and those supporting them. I am available for one-to-one consultations in which I share my experience and advice. No one cancer is the same, and each individual case needs to be approached differently.

I would love to close with a quote that has meaning to you. Can be on any subject, just one that you hold dear.

This is a quote I refer to in the book. It is from Japanese poet Ryunosuke Satoro:

"Individually, we are one drop.
Together, we are an ocean."

These words resonate with me because teamwork has played a major role throughout my life, both in my career as a pilot, as a patient, and now as a patient-researcher. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the incredible support of those around me. And, what’s more, I’m a surfer. The ocean is where I feel most at home. I am lucky to live within walking distance from the Atlantic Ocean, here in the beautiful French Basque Country.

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