How eight cancer patients at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center endured the ordeal of treatment--a fuzzy,...

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A MORTAL CONDITION: Eight Portraits of Survival, Hope and Loss

How eight cancer patients at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center endured the ordeal of treatment--a fuzzy, splintered account with one knockout story. Fay jointly chronicles the progress of: three teenagers with leukemia who rose successfully (and dissimilarly) to meet the challenge; a nursing student with ovarian cancer who often rejected conventional treatment; a lawyer who was the third generation of his family stricken with cancer; a physician's daughter with breast cancer; and a middle-aged businessman who sailed through his illness with the optimism he'd displayed all his life. But the truly affecting case here, and the one Fay follows most carefully, is Terry O'Brien: a 48-year-old housewife and mother of six, who died after a struggle with metastasized lung cancer. Humor intact and head clear, Terry survived surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and numerous hospitalizations--until, finally, cancer spread rapidly throughout her body, leaving her disoriented and bedridden. ""If she had understood how quickly her life would unravel at the end,"" Fay opines, ""she might have concentrated more on the manner of her death than on fending it off."" Therein lies the difficulty: Fay is unsure whether to include herself in the stories or not; so she is sometimes observer, sometimes participant. Thus, readers sometimes get the patients' feelings, sometimes Fay's feelings; and since Fay seems not to know each of the patients well, most of them remain shadowy. Only O'Brien, by force of personality, emerges strongly and distinctly.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Coward-McCann

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983