A novelist and her husband share insights regarding his cancer journey in this inspirational memoir.
In 2013, Wiggins slipped off a ladder, with persistent back pain leading to a diagnosis of stage 3 multiple myeloma, a rare cancer formed by malignant plasma cells. The couple mobilized to address Wiggins’ care, which included living in temporary quarters near the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance while he underwent aggressive chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. They share their story through essays, poems, and, most particularly, letters written during this period, with some family/friend replies also included. Contributions from Wiggins, a scientist, focus on the clinical analysis of his condition. Rolnick, whose musings make up the majority of this memoir, is more literary and emotional, noting how she relished spooning within the “cocoon” of Wiggins’ arms and how the cocoon envelops “cancer patients, medical teams, and caregivers.” The couple weigh in on the major lab mix-up that could have cost Wiggins his life. Additionally, Rolnick touches on her mother’s death and granddaughter’s birth during this time. By memoir’s end, the couple are back in their Washington state home, with Wiggins in remission. Given that Wiggins’ cancer is incurable, however, the future remains uncertain. Rolnick concludes the book with a self-questionnaire, answering “Did you ever get angry?” with “I decided early on not to waste my time on anger,” and questions for readers to ponder, including practicalities of caregiving—how to handle stress, finances, etc. Rolnick (River of Angels, 2010, etc.) deploys her writer’s craft to evocative effect in this collection. She conjures up several striking images, not only her cocoon analogy, but also her comparison of Jim’s “secret strength” to “upside-down dogwood flowers.” Yet Rolnick isn’t simply lyrical; she also provides unsparing glimpses into the challenges and struggles faced by this couple, which she makes clear were made bearable by their loving connection and the ideology that “Finding joy is a choice.” Thus, while some of the less-than-revelatory friend replies could have been trimmed, overall, this collection delivers instructive, uplifting testimony.
A positive, perceptive primer for cancer patients and caregivers.