Thursday, July 21, 2011

Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s

Guilt, empathy, and intrigue are some of the feelings that I had as I read Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s by Kairol Rosenthal. However, I needed to ask myself, did I miss something with my cancer experience? As I read thirteen chapters that delved into the lives of young adult cancer patients and survivors in their twenties and thirties, I got into the horrible habit of comparing their experiences with my own. OMG! There were survivors in this book who had it really bad. One turned to self-cutting, others had serial one night stands and slept around, went into deep depression, became suicidal, infertile, or drug addicted. Two had divorces. It was quite bleak! I felt guilty in some way that I did not experience those things and "got off easy". (If "easy" is defined as surgery, hypocalcemia, "going hypo", hyperthyroid, side effects, scarring, radiation, isolation, hormone replacement, long wait times for second opinions, lack of finances, unavailability of medication, uncertainties, loneliness, depression, and anxieties. I had issues with my insurance and getting coverage but it eventually came around, and that is a long eventually. I didn't say the guilt was logical.) I hate to do the comparison game but this is not your typical uplifting or inspiring cancer book in the sense that no one is running a marathon, climbing Mount Everest, or winning seven Tour de Frances but it is very insightful. (Sorry! Lance Armstrong often pops into my blogs lately.) Everything Changes is gritty, seedy, and dark. It is more like a documentary in which some of the characters you get so attached to die at the end (leaving children behind). The book paints a sadly sobering and realistic picture of cancer. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I read this book (and I couldn't put it down finishing the 239 pages in two days). It was refreshing to read real stories about real people. But Kairol's subjects (the young adult cancer patients she interviews across the US) are going through some really tough "shit". Really "tough". Kairol, herself, has thyroid cancer which makes recurrences during the writing of this book. Ugh! It is tough. Kariol is tough too (and extremely opinionated telling off Louise Hay). Full of suggestions to make you into your own cancer advocate, access resources, and deal with "hard to discuss" stuff like sexuality and mental health and wise quotes from cancer survivors and patients, I was waiting for a bright light at the end of the tunnel. It didn't come. What did come is an increased sense of urgency for the plight of young adults with cancer. Since the year that Elvis died (1977, I know because I was born that year), there have been no improvements in the survival rates of young adults with cancer. The survival rates for children with cancer as well as older adults have both improved. Why? Young adults are diagnosed later since their symptoms are ignored and attributed to stupid shit like the flu or "the sexual positions" (page 170) they are using. Many doctors are saying to their sick young adult patients, "It's not cancer, you're too young to have cancer." They get diagnosed in stage 3 and 4 (which is pretty late) and they have different side effects to treatment. They are more likely to not have health insurance, especially since they are too old to be on their parents' and there is a gap of time between this and finding a stable career with health benefits. I also became more aware of the disparity between the US and Canada healthcare systems. Canadians get a minimum level of healthcare and even the drugs which are not covered by health insurance can be covered with a provincial health benefit. The path to get coverage in the US is a labyrinth. Sheesh! This is a desperate situation. No one, especially young adults who Kairol mentions have at least 2 decades of education invested in them with lots of talent and potential, should have to go through cancer alone or broke. This book did not give me "an uplift" like other materials designed for cancer patients yet it reminded me very much of the trenches I was in not too long ago as well as the varied experiences of my friends with cancer. Cancer patients can read this so they know they're not alone. Doctors and other health professionals should read this to learn about the huge psychosocial impact of cancer on young adults. Family and friends of cancer patients should read this to get inside their heads. This book helps me to realize and be so thankful for all of the support, resources, and people I had along my journey.

I almost forgot to mention that Kairol Rosenthal has a website and blog for Everything Changes. I had the pleasure of corresponding with Kariol recently and she even responded to my post Money Talks I. I decided to post her comment in a separate post called Money Talks II.

Coming up next: I've jumped on the "Crazy Sexy" bandwagon. See my reviews of the "Crazy Sexy Cancer" books coming soon.

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