A detailed memoir from a registered nurse about her battles with cancer, again and again and again.
Zercoe can’t seem to escape tragedy. As a young child, she was thrown from the window of a school bus when the driver took a turn too quickly. As a young wife and mother, she was told by her brother-in-law that her husband had been electrocuted and killed. As a businesswoman, wife and mother of two, she found a small lump in her breast. And that was only the beginning. A year and a half later, after her first mastectomy, the cancer returned, forcing her to have a lumpectomy followed by yet another mastectomy. Five years later, there was a splitting pain in her side, which led doctors to discover she had pancreatic cancer. Throughout these tragedies, Zercoe juggled the minutiae of everyday life—marriage woes, brooding teenage children, lost promotions—and strove to find joy. Her cancer treatments ranged from chemo to surgery to support groups as she survived one medical mess after another. Discovering her family’s extensive history with cancer gave Zercoe the drive to let her unique case help medical research. And she needed all her strength and heart to face the news of her young daughter’s own cancer diagnosis. It took everything being stripped away to show Zercoe what mattered most: love and family in the present moment. The litany of misfortune can sometimes make for hard reading; there’s so much plot that the narration lacks a pause, a place for readers to check in with how Zercoe was feeling at the moment. What’s more, the many details of problems that arose when life wasn’t at stake, such as nannies who quit or living in a house as it was remodeled, can sound trivial. The narration often strays into real diary entries, which don’t do much to illuminate Zercoe’s internal journey. But there’s reward in the memoir’s second half, when it focuses on the author’s hopeful transformation through spirituality and her forming true bonds with women she wants to help. In these final chapters, Zercoe’s compassion and humanity shine, and readers can revel in not only her relative health, but her ultimate happiness. A foreword by Margaret A. Tempero, director of the UCSF Pancreas Center, offers additional insight.
A one-of-a-kind cancer story that makes for a riveting, if not particularly illuminating, account.