I just finished “52 Days: The Cancer Journal – A True Story” (iUniverse, 2012), based on a Los Altos woman’s intense battle with cancer and recovery against all odds. In fact, Paul Nyberg, our esteemed publisher, also has been reading it and called it a real “page-turner.” I concur.
The book chronicles the struggles of “Miriam” (names are changed to protect privacy). Written by Miriam’s son-in-law, Jordan Lane, “52 Days” will hit home for those, or whose loved ones, have been stricken with the disease.
Which includes pretty much all of us. The book notes that one out every two men and one out of every three women contract cancer. Although the number of deaths still trail heart disease, cancer seems to appear more randomly, making no exception for people who take care of themselves versus those who don’t.
In Miriam’s case, cancer chooses a victim who couldn’t have been any healthier. She exercises regularly and eats all the right foods. Then one day in June 2005 comes the discovery: She has an unexplained mass in her chest. It turns out to be T-cell lymphoma.
The book is a quick read, with short, active sentences navigating the reader through the family’s fears, frustrations, routines and celebrations. Although the writer sometimes gets bogged down in the most mundane of details, his narrative is such that any setbacks are soon overcome by a startling revelation. He’s also good at distilling medical complexities into (mostly) plain English.
Several images proved lasting for me after finishing the book. As you can imagine, for family members, the time spent at Stanford Hospital seems like an eternity. They live in waiting rooms, crammed into a corner with uncomfortable chairs for sleeping quarters. They find relief in the oddest of things, such as watching the shade of a large hospital window slowly come down at the end of each afternoon.
Miriam declares her love for her family just before suffering a major complication that requires doctors to induce a medical coma – her life hangs in the balance for days on end.
Repeated flights from El Segundo to the South Bay become the norm for Miriam’s daughter and son-in-law, who want to be available and do whatever they can to help their family.
Miriam’s story is a roller-coaster ride. She has a serious cancer but seems to be nearly cancer-free after weeks of chemotherapy and other procedures. However, the procedures fighting the cancer nearly kill her when her weakened body triggers internal bleeding and fills her lungs with fluid.
This leads to the medical coma, which has family members calling upon higher powers. Miriam’s condition is so dire that Father Gary Thomas, former pastor at St. Nicholas Church, visits her to administer holy oil and offer prayers for healing.
The book strongly suggests it was divine intervention that put Miriam over the hump and on the road to a full recovery. The oncologist who wrote the book’s foreword acknowledges that something beyond medical science is at work when patients emerge from seemingly hopeless conditions.
Each chapter begins with profound quotes from famous people. Many of them reflect the underlying message of the book: Never give up hope.
For more information or to purchase “52 Days: The Cancer Journal,” visit www.52daysthecancerjournal.com.
Bruce Barton is editor-in-chief of the Town Crier.