Reviewed by: Alysa Cummings
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: June 24, 2010
Author: Melinda Marchiano
Publisher: Happy Quail, 2010
Price: $15.95 US
When I was thirteen years old, I kept a diary in one of those old-fashioned black and white hardcover composition books. Day by day I painstakingly wrote about the things that were important to me at the time: best friends, family fights, boys I thought were really cute, clothes I wanted to buy. You know - the usual barely-a-teenager types of things.
Thirteen year old Melinda Marchiano kept a journal too. The only difference is that her writing detailed "forty-eight doses of chemo, a trip to the ER, two doses of morphine, three drug reactions, forty-one shots, over one hundred-fifty needle pokes, fourteen days of radiation, an eating disorder, a mass the size of a softball, a PICC line, a port, two biopsies, a bone marrow aspiration, total hair loss, nine months of intense therapy and so many doctor appointments..." Page by page, Melinda's journal slowly grew into an amazing book, a written record of her diagnosis, treatment for and recovery from Hodgkin Disease.
How interesting to experience CancerLand through the eyes of young Melinda. Here's her first impression of the Cancer Center where she will be receiving treatment:
"Can I get you a warm blanket?" he kindly offered.
Giggling with glee, I was unable to resist.
"That would be wonderful...thanks," I chimed.
Those warm blankets became my absolute favorite part of being in the hospital. Those toasty, comforting, heavenly blankets made me want to splurge and buy a warmer for myself. When he returned, with not one, but two steaming blankets, I just about melted into my chair...
"Thanks warm blanket man," is how I remember thanking him.
And from then on, good old Luis from the Cancer Center was known as Warm Blanket Man...Oh my gosh. He was my hero.
The book is filled with countless upbeat, smiling photos of Melinda - posing with friends and family members, snuggling with the therapy dogs that kept her company during chemo, mugging for the camera in the hospital with a water bottle balanced on top of her bald head. But every chapter or so, Melinda's tone changes, becoming more serious, somber even, as she tries to make sense of her health crisis:
Staring at my pale reflection, I thought to myself, "Wow, I have a disease. I have a disease...me...Melinda."
Everything felt so weird, so out of order. My life was a stack of blocks, all askew, off-center, and bound to tumble to the floor. I pictured myself as what I was before I got sick, and an eerie silence came over me. The girl with innocent, brown eyes in my basketball picture on the fridge had no idea was coming...the path she was on. That scared me. Every time I saw "me," it was a new "me," sick "me." Hodgkin Disease had invaded me and violated me.
I found myself wondering again and again as I read the book, How can Melinda be only 13 years old? She is so incredibly insightful. What a gifted young woman she is! Making sense of some of the most difficult lessons that cancer has to teach us all:
It was a cross-that-bridge-when-you-come-to-it" sort of thing. So I focused on the smaller goals. Actually, with cancer, the end of each day is a goal, and waking up in the morning is a victory. You literally take it, not day by day, but minute by minute, second by second. All time is slowed to a ridiculous pace, and it gives you a new insight into life and your values. It gives you way too much time to think, which can be good, and it can be bad. You realize how much people get caught up in everyday life, and how they lose sight of what really matters.
Grace is recommended reading for healthcare providers who deal with adolescent cancer patients. In addition, my hope is that Melinda's wonderful book will find its way right into the hands of teenagers currently undergoing treatment who might benefit the most from reading it. Her journey to recovery, shared so honestly and authentically, may offer her peers a chance to see their own experiences reflected, and supply some much needed healing.