A wry, moving memoir of suffering and survival by a young man with Hodgkin’s disease.
Shapiro (Pychiatry/Univ. of Arizona) collects, modifies, and adds to some of the droll and poignant pieces he originally delivered on NPR’s All Things Considered. Divided into seven principal parts (each introduced with a physician’s “Dictated Note Chart,” indicating the author’s then-current clinical status), his account chronicles in digressive fashion the progress of the insidious disease whose fierce treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplant) were almost as fatal as the illness itself. To ease the deleterious effects of his first chemo treatments, Shapiro smoked marijuana planted and harvested by his reluctant mother (“my antidrug-never-apologize mom”); it was not until he had children of his own that he understood how she could “sacrifice fundamental beliefs in favor of her child’s comfort.” Between May 1987 and April 1992, Shapiro experienced one harrowing medical and psychological trauma after another, interrupting (but never stopping) his studies in college and graduate school. He eventually earned his Ph.D. and married a nurse, a remarkable, compassionate woman. The author tried to cope with his illness in myriad ways: macrobiotic diet, shark cartilage, and “anything that I could [read] that portrayed anguish and a response to it.” Some of the events are extraordinarily moving: his father (a gifted clarinetist who has not played much in years) offers a solo to his son after what they thought was his last radiation treatment; when Shapiro is sure he’s dying, he prepares a mental list of visitors to thank for their tiny, but immensely humane, kindnesses.
There’s some repetitiveness: vignettes about a tough wrestling coach and about whitewater rafting deliver the same message. But Shapiro does turn a lovely phrase in this paean to perseverance, a hymn to hope. (16 b&w photos)