Book Review: And it was Beautiful

I recently discovered the books written by Kara Tippetts, a metster like me, who passed away in March of 2015. Like many of us, she began blogging while writing one of her other books (there are three) and her last book, “And it was Beautiful”, is a compilation of her blog posts while going through treatment for stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She was a wife, a mother, and she worked through her feelings on dying young, on leaving her children motherless and her husband a widower in her posts.

Kara takes the mundane, the routine, the detritus of parenting and life activities and finds the grace, finds the beautiful and celebrates time with her family. As a mother who has gone before me in this struggle to integrate life and faith and living while dying, her book feels like she was talking directly to me. Since I know that’s not logically possible, this is perhaps the genius in her writing, that her thoughts and feelings resonate across time and distance. Kara is, after all, simply recording the cries of her heart and soul.

She also called the machines that we regularly see for MRIs, PET scans, CT scans, etc., “scary snorts.” I love this so much that I am going to start using this terminology going forward. This will be my homage to her.

Knowing the outcome of Kara’s treatment and that her words are being received posthumously gives a certain weight and poignance to her efforts. Maybe that’s part of the resonance of her books. She was here, she made her mark, and left behind a husband and children and a community that learned from her life. I count myself as part of her community now, who grieves with those who lost her and who looks to her example. She wasn’t perfect, but she was courageous enough to leave her words, the words written from her heart, to guide the rest of us.

I count myself lucky to have stumbled upon her writing.

Book Review: The Cure for Sorrow

I recently discovered Jan Richardson and her blessings resonate with so many things, but this book especially has touched me in the midst of the treatment I’m enduring for stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She wrote this particular book in the middle of and as she lived her life in the aftermath of her husband’s sudden death. While she is working through her own grief at the death of her soulmate, the specifics of the grieving process are nearly universal.

From the introduction, the author describes grief in this way:

“Grief is the least linear thing I know. Hardly a tidy progression of stages, grief tends to be unruly. It works with the most raw and elemental forces in us, which makes it unpredictable and wild. Grief resists our attempts to force it along a prescribed path. It propels us in directions we had not planned to go. It causes what we treated as solid to give way. It opens new seams of mourning in places we thought settled. It spirals us back through layers of sorrow we thought we had dealt with.”

These words reveal to me that the author gets it, she endures grief, and that speaks to me in a deep and compelling way. I haven’t lost my husband, as she did, but I am grieving a great many things in light of my terminal diagnosis and the language of grief is the same no matter what is being grieved.

One of the blessings that resonated the most with me is this one:

BLESSING FOR THR BROKENHEARTED

Let us agree

For now

That we will not say

The breaking

Makes us stronger

Or that it is better

To have this pain

Than to have done

Without this love

Let us promise

We will not

Tell ourselves

Time will heal

The wound,

When every day

Our waking

Opens it anew

Perhaps for now

It can simply be enough

To simply marvel

At the mystery

Of how a heart

So broken

Can go on beating

As if it were made

For precisely this–

As if it knows

The only cure for love

Is more of it,

As if it sees

The heart’s sole remedy

For breaking

Is to love still

As if it trusts

That its own

Persistent pulse

Is the rhythm

Of a blessing

We cannot

Begin to fashion

But will save us

Nonetheless

Grief is human. Grief is real. Grief is weighty. Grief changes us.

Book Review: Breakthrough

My dear friend, Emily Garnett, had the author of Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer, Charles Graeber, on her podcast earlier this year and if you aren’t already listening to her podcast, The Intersection of Cancer and Life, you should start immediately. 😉. It’s available through the podcast application on my iPhone and I wait anxiously to listen to each new episode. Anyway, I’m super interested in Immunotherapy since it seems to have some promise for the treatment of cancer and I immediately purchased his books while listening to the podcast. Yes, his previous book, The Good Nurse, is insanely well written as well.

A pretty important question is why our immune system does not recognize and kill cancer cells like it does the common cold. Scientists have been baffled by this question for a very long time and they still don’t fully know. In this book, the author utilizes records and real life anecdotal and other evidence to trace the key players and the perception of Immunotherapy from the early 1900s to present.

The pictures, information and evidence the author gathered is then weaved together into an easy to read and follow narrative. At some points, it’s almost easy to forget that the book is non-fiction! In hindsight, it is clear to see the progression of research and how scientists looking at different parts of the puzzle come to differing conclusions or how the research in one lab built off the research in another lab or overlapped, etc. In the throes of the research, scientists often didn’t know what they knew or didn’t know. Trials were designed using the wrong criteria. Patients who never expected to live were thriving and finding out that fact was sometimes accidental.

Sometimes, as a patient, it is troubling to be shown clearly, logically and irrefutably that doctors and scientists are people too. They get tunnel vision. They are affected by the opinions of the establishment. They miss connections. They ask a million wrong questions before they ask the right one.

😳

Yes, it’s not a good thing to be reminded of how all people are fallible.

Yet, it’s also a good thing to see that even if something is debunked; even if the established thinkers/leaders think an idea is bunk, the truth will out.

There were sufficient scientists and a drug company or two willing to invest some money into the idea and Thank God they did. Immunotherapy is looking more and more viable the more each part of the equation is studied. The breakthroughs in targeted therapy over the last decade or so has certainly helped.

Bottom line, there is no cure for cancer yet. At the same time, Immunotherapy and other hot topics are the ones to watch as we get closer and closer.

Pick up Breakthrough: Immunotherapy and the Race to Cure Cancer on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. You won’t be sorry! It’s riveting.