A cancer survivor looks back on how personal and family issues affected his diagnosis, treatment, and aftermath.
Though debut author Henigson does go over the discovery of his brain tumor in 1986 at age 15 and the symptoms, surgery, ensuing courses of chemo and radiation, and then a quixotic journey to Moscow, thanks to the Starlight Children’s Foundation, in hopes of discussing nuclear disarmament with Mikhail Gorbachev, the fuel powering his narrative is a blend of smoldering anger at his cold, distant father, weary acceptance of his mother’s emotional dependence, and wrangles with adolescent libido and depression. Consequently, and notwithstanding worthy views on the arms race and a cogent insight that “battling” cancer is an invidious metaphor (“I wasn’t one of the combatants. I was the battlefield”), he comes off as a self-centered and not particularly reflective teen more interested in grinding axes against his neurologist, a certain unsympathetic teacher, and, most particularly, his dad than in offering comfort, coping strategies, or even reassurance that he ultimately found ways of moving past his anger. His account cuts off abruptly with his entry into college and an exclamatory letter of praise from a Russian fan.
Cancer fiction with young characters abounds, but memoirs are rare—so it’s unfortunate that when one does come along, it’s neither particularly current nor much more than self-therapy. (Memoir. 13-18)