The latest from McDonough (8 Steps to Getting Real with Cancer, 2016) charts what she calls “a simple path for a complicated journey,” aiming a series of insights and observations squarely at people undergoing cancer treatment.
Newly diagnosed patients face a bombardment of tasks: mountains of information to be digested (much of it involving quite literally life-or-death decisions), appointments, follow-ups, and lots of independent research, etc. As McDonough notes in this pithy, uplifting new work of nonfiction, this can often distract patients from remembering that, as she puts it, hope does not exist without vision. The guiding principle of the book is that a positive, life-affirming vision is every bit as important as all the practical care tactics new patients are given. Cognizant of this, McDonough, herself a cancer survivor, concentrates on offering strategies to give readers sources of strength for the long-term process. “You are in charge of your own journey,” McDonough writes. “It belongs to you and no one else.” In short, incisive segments, she reviews many of the emotional aspects of dealing with cancer, from feelings of shame or weakness (“shame and embarrassment don’t belong in the cancer journey and are of no help whatsoever”) to isolation from friends and family to the passivity that’s often an instinctive reaction to the diagnosis. Throughout, the author contends that developing emotional coping strategies is every bit as important as making informed medical decisions.
By succinctly breaking down a series of “myths” commonly associated with cancer (like patients must blindly follow doctors’ orders or continuously maintain composure), McDonough very skillfully manages the difficult trick of categorizing typical patient reactions without criticizing those having the reactions. She recommends being a “proactive” survivor who isn’t embarrassed to advocate for themselves, and each section of her short but powerful guide includes inspirational quotes and open-ended questions designed to help readers examine their own feelings at each stage of their journey (“Feed your fears and your faith will starve,” goes a sample quote from Max Lucado. “Feed your faith, and your fears will”). McDonough is a practicing Christian and often addresses such issues for her fellow believers, but her counsel is broad-based and compassionate enough to appeal to secular patients as well. Cancer treatment, she concedes, is “a necessary evil” that can be better endured by paying serious attention to one’s mental attitude, one of the last things most new cancer patients consider. With concise frankness, McDonough offers encouragement and advice (“today: I will obtain treatment details in advance to minimize surprises and approach treatment with realistic confidence”), infusing practical optimism into every stage of the process, from the shock of the initial diagnosis to the enduring depression that often accompanies surviving. Patients are urged to hold onto their health like a pit bull and to make wise lifestyle, sleep cycle, and nutrition choices. The chapter on dealing with all the real-world stresses (financial, work-related, etc.) of a cancer fight is particularly useful.
A short but comprehensive inspirational handbook that helps cancer patients focus on their emotional well-being.