Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

The Guts by Roddy Doyle

March 24, 2014

Jimmy Rabbitte Jr., the protagonist of The Commitments, reappears in Roddy Doyle’s new novel, The Guts. In The Commitments, Jimmy Jr. was the 21-year-old firebrand manager of the hardest working Soul band in working-class Dublin. Now forty-seven with the demands and responsibilities of family life, the novel begins with Jimmy announcing to his father Jimmy Sr. that he has bowel cancer. What follows is how Jimmy Jr. navigates disease, family crises, job pressures, a bleak economic landscape, and a reunion with an old flame from his past. Lest this description make The Guts sound like a total downer, be advised that Doyle is a master of levity and wicked humor in the face of a bad situation. His dialogue is a joy to behold, profane and lively and full of energy like this exchange:

—Usin’ her feminine charms, yeah?
—Yeah. Spot on.
—She’s wastin’ her time, said Jimmy’s da.
—Wha’?
—Norman, said Jimmy’s da.—Did yeh not notice?
—He’s gay…
—Norman?
—The Norman in there, yeah.
—He’s gay?
—Yeah.
—Since when?
—Wha’?
—Like, he’s old, said Jimmy.

Also tying the two books together is Jimmy’s love affair with music and the ways in which we use music to bridge relationships in our lives. Throughout The Guts, Jimmy uses music to renew bonds with his children and friends and his quest for the perfect Irish song is a particularly satisfying storyline. The culminating scenes at an Irish outdoor music festival are lovely and low-key though Doyle is ever-wary of sentiment turning into saccharine. If you’re still looking to celebrate St. Patrick’s with some Irish fiction, The Guts won’t do you wrong.

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The Cost of Hope by Amanda Bennett

August 14, 2012

Terence Bryan Foley, the author’s husband, was treated for cancer during the last seven years of his life, the last seven years of his extraordinary marriage to Amanda Bennett. Two years after her husband’s death, the author, with a journalist colleague, investigated exactly what her husband’s treatments cost. She asked not only about bills and insurance, but about whether she fought too hard to find a cure for her husband, and about how we can make more sense of end-of-life medical care.

Her quest led her to pursue answers to these sorts of questions: If the insurance company is billed $109,000 for four doses of medicine, and then pays the hospital $26,000, who picks up the difference? Why do procedures have different price tags depending on geography, hospital, and who’s paying? And what would have happened if Bennett hadn’t been fortunate enough to have employer-paid insurance for her family? What happens to people who don’t have insurance? Do they get CAT scans? Would her husband have chosen to undergo 76 CAT scans in seven years if he had had to pay for them out-of-pocket? Could he have? And did Bennett fight for her husband’s survival when he himself was done? Was she blind to his wishes?

Ultimately, one of the most important questions Bennett asked goes to the heart of our end-of-life treatments: Should she have known that her husband was dying? He had dodged death three times during his seven-year illness. Should she have known that instead of dodging it a fourth time, he would die? While Bennett and the oncologists were hoping for a rally, others on the medical team could see the patient was at his end.

Readers who want better to understand the relationship between health insurance and health care in the US would learn more by reading in-depth treatments such as Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter or Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee.

But people who have never given much consideration to the costs of care, and people who have not seriously thought about how they would make decisions about treatment for life-threatening conditions, might find this memoir a catalyst for thought and discussion with loved ones. Bennett poignantly reminds her readers, when we’re so focused on hope and survival, the chance to say goodbye to a loved one can pass without our being aware of it.

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Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

May 23, 2012

The Korean peninsula has inspired some great novels recently, including The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo, a poetic and harrowing portrayal of life on the border between China and North Korea, Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (previously blogged), and The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Each gives varied views from within the Korean culture.

Now Catherine Chung has written an engrossing story of two sisters born in South Korea, who come with their parents to Michigan as young girls, grow up, and move out into their own lives. There are family secrets between the sisters and between parents and children, which create tension as the story unfolds. Janie, the elder sister, was cautioned to protect Hannah when she was born because sisters can “disappear” (one family secret) and she takes this seriously. Hannah, studying in Chicago, suddenly goes missing and Janie and parents panic.

Eventually Janie traces Hannah to California and informs her that their father is ill, Mom and Dad have sold their home and are returning to Korea for treatment, but Hannah needn’t come: she isn’t needed. Older sister is very conflicted about telling this untruth, but wants revenge for the pain Hannah has put them all through. Meanwhile Hannah has her own painful secret from childhood which she thinks Janie knows about but has ignored.

In Korea, the beloved father receives alternative treatment, seems to improve, and Janie learns more about her parents and why they left Korea from the stream of visiting family and friends. When Hannah arrives, an uneasy truce settles over the sisters as they and their mother disbelievingly watch their father slowly dying. I found this novel beautifully written with spare prose and enlightening cultural details.

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The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

October 6, 2011

“See, we love each other. We just don’t happen to like each other very much.” The quote on the cover of Weird Sisters is what caught my eye and prompted me to pick it up off of the shelf. I don’t often read family saga novels, but this one was an appreciated exception to the rule. The novel centers around three sisters Rose, Bean, and Cordy. After growing up in a household where books reigned supreme and Dad offered advice and guidance by citing the words of Shakespeare, they have opted to take three very different paths in life. Rose, as the oldest daughter, is the responsible one who stayed close to home to care for her aging parents, while Bean headed straight for the biggest brightest lights she can find and Cordy, the baby of the family, has spent her adult life so far drifting from situation to situation and town to town, seemingly seeking a place where she feels like she belongs. When personal crises and their mother’s illness bring Cordy and Bean back home, the three must learn to live with the unique quirks of their family again while they continue to tackle the personal issues that they brought home with them.

The story is a worthwhile read for anyone, but perhaps especially so if you have siblings. It was easy to get wrapped up in the characters as I found myself hoping that Rose would make the same decision I would have while doubting that she would, or mentally rolling my eyes at Bean’s escapades.  You quickly realize that this isn’t the story of each individual sister but rather the story of the sisters collectively, and for this reason, it works.

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