A debut memoir explores love, cancer, and learning to live in the moment.
On June 29, 2012, Slaby and her husband, Michael, were preparing to finish work (she at a Chicago law firm, he with the Barack Obama re-election campaign) before boarding a plane for New York to attend a friend’s wedding. But first she had to see her doctor. She had been suffering from shortness of breath. Her physician detected a heart irregularity and insisted she see a cardiologist immediately. What followed became a nightmare medical saga. X-rays and CT scans revealed a grapefruit-sized tumor pressing down on her heart: “My tumor was pushing on my heart, which reacted to protect itself by filling the sac where it lives with fluid. There was so much fluid, however, that my heart was under attack from its own protection.” The author was diagnosed with stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Chemotherapy, the prescribed treatment, first involved discussions of how to preserve her fertility. She was only 33 years old. While the tumor was not removed surgically, chemotherapy successfully shrank it. And then a December 2012 follow-up PET scan showed her thymus lighting up. It could be nothing—the tumor, now one-quarter of its original size, may have wound around her thymus. Or it could be something dire. The ensuing surgery involved cracking open her chest. Then a medical error almost caused her death. Slaby’s narrative is about much more than cancer. Although the unusual complexity of the sequential medical emergencies the author endured, which she details in lucid, graphic prose, threatens to overwhelm the memoir, she also presents a tender love story. Slaby deftly intersperses portions that recall the shifting up-and-down dynamics of her long relationship with Michael. These sections, despite the periods of great turmoil, offer readers respite from the grueling medical drama. As she worked toward physical, psychological, and emotional recovery, the author meticulously documents how difficult it was for her, a self-described “control freak,” to let go of the past and find “grace and kindness inside the unexpected.”
An engrossing, informative, and sometimes-frightening medical account that ends on an inspirational high note.