VanDyke’s memoir of an idyllic childhood changed irrevocably by cancer.
VanDyke wasn’t quite an average 11-year-old, but she was a happy and healthy one, living with her parents, brother and extended family on a sprawling farm in Oregon, going to school and church, riding horses, celebrating birthdays and so on. But when one of those birthday parties ended with a mystifying emergency that evolved into her diagnosis of kidney cancer, the pace and pattern of life changed forever for both VanDyke and her family. She tells the story in her own voice as an adolescent, showing a remarkable capacity to inhabit the psyche of her former self: Her memories, emotions and language all ring with authenticity. The narrative unfolds in a way that echoes the author’s own gathering awareness of her condition; for the most part, readers learn about diagnoses, medications and treatments right alongside the young VanDyke. The exceptions are brief passages in the voices of her mother, father, nurse and friends, which precede each chapter and read like oral histories that cumulatively provide a broad sense of how cancer affects a tightknit community. This book, VanDyke’s first, is remarkable in its ability to read simultaneously as a compelling YA novel and a serious medical memoir. The scientific names for the diseases, drugs and procedures are given—VanDyke doesn’t miss a detail—yet she also makes clear that this is all knowledge in which a teenage cancer patient learns to become conversant. As Lindsey enters adulthood and receives a new diagnosis of thyroid cancer, the tone of the book changes a bit and may become somewhat less engaging for younger readers, who will identify less with issues of fertility, marriage and career. But embedded within this new journey are poignant observations about PTSD related to her treatment and the lasting psychological scars of childhood cancer—observations that will resonate deeply with both survivors and parents of current patients.
Intelligent, unvarnished and ultimately hopeful; essential reading for anyone touched by childhood cancer.