It’s man versus disease in this fictionalized memoir of a cancer survivor.
When David Wesner wakes up one morning with a fever and a dull pain in his kidney, his life is turned upside down. The disruption turns out to be temporary, however, when his symptoms subside as suddenly as they appeared. Life continues along at its normal pace–he spends his days working as a computer technician in Manhattan and takes turns with his wife fussing over their newborn son. But two more bouts of illness arise within the span of three years before David is finally diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. That’s how his cancer manifests–long periods of stasis punctuated with brief eruptions and unheralded harbingers of doom. And that’s how the story proceeds as well, for better or worse. David has his kidney removed and takes interferon injections only to have the cancer appear mere months later in his lungs, putting his odds of survival at two percent. He embarks on a last-ditch experimental treatment with interleukin-2 and the drug’s side effects nearly rival the horror of the disease itself. The narrative follows David through a steady round of medical appointments, interminable and anxious periods awaiting test results and a growing suspicion that his doctor may have misdiagnosed his condition. Wasserman, a cancer survivor himself, knows this territory well. The novel abounds with meticulous, unsparing studies of a patient’s experience: the procedural of bone scans, the humiliation of pre-op shaving and the timidity felt before brusque, arrogant doctors. But the author sometimes has trouble shaping this material. Routine office visits and phone consults are hashed out at exhaustive length, and the prose is bogged down with extraneous minutiae of David’s daily schedule. At times, though, Wasserman’s penchant for details yields powerful evocations: a harrowing description of David’s post-surgery pain, an epic account of his interleukin-2 treatment, and a phantasmagoric portrait of an intensive care unit at night.
An uneven yet gripping survivor’s tale.