A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles

My aunt has breast cancer and is in the final stage of her life. On the way down to see her in New Mexico, I read Lindy West’s Shrill. The memoir focuses on West’s path to becoming a famous humor writer, reflecting on her most famous and controversial essays. Her beloved father’s death from cancer in an intrinsic part of her life, affecting even her reconciliation with her boyfriend and eventual husband. I left the book with my cousin for her and her daughter (first cousin once removed) to read.

Because I just can’t seem to get enough of cancer, on the way home I read Mary Elizabeth Williams’s A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles. Not just a book that talks about an episode in a life that deals with cancer, but an entire book about having cancer. Williams, a mother of two young girls, is diagnosed with a very aggressive type of melanoma in her early 40s. After surgery, she goes into remission, but shortly the cancer returns. The prognosis at the time is terrible, with a less than 10% chance of surviving ten more years. She is saved by being in the right place at the right time to enter a clinical trial for immunotherapy, which teaches her own immune system to destroy the cancer within months. It’s a developing field of cancer treatment that will be the only chance some have to survive. In addition to being an engaging memoir, this book breaks down the basics of immunotherapy for lay people. It’s a sliver of hope carved out of a bitter cake of suffering and doom.

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