A husband’s frank, conflicted recollections of coping with his young wife’s stage-four breast cancer.
Brendan, a Boston high-school English teacher, and wife Kirsten are both 32 when she is diagnosed in September 2000. They have a three-year-old daughter, Rowen, they’ve just moved into a new house, and life so far has been pretty good. But the cancer has spread to Kirsten’s spine, so before they perform a mastectomy her doctors advise chemotherapy. Brendan describes Kirsten’s rounds of treatments (he shaves off his hair when she loses hers), his efforts at parenting, and his occasionally difficult relations with his mother and his in-laws, who are trying to help but have needs of their own. His story alternates heartbreaking moments of despair (a round of chemotherapy that doesn’t work) with inspiring affirmations of love and life (a birthday party that fills their small house with supportive friends). Brendan is beguilingly frank about his fears and failings: his father died suddenly when he was nine, which has made him a hypochondriac fearful of death; he admits that he finds it easier to work than to stay home with his convalescing wife; and he does notice pretty women, though he is resolutely and lovingly faithful. At his Unitarian church, he wrestles with questions of faith, of good and evil; not always certain about God, he is deeply appreciative of fellow churchgoers who clean and pitch in when he needs them. Video games, music, and movies also help a little. Brendan admits that, although Kirsten has survived chemo, he is writing a story with a choice of possible endings, most unhappy. His prose is breezy, his attitudes hip, but he vividly describes real anguish and fears.
An affectingly honest account of what it means to watch helplessly as a loved one suffers: a timely addition to the literature of disease.