A professor offers a painful recollection of the path she and her husband traveled during his battle with cancer.
Shelton (Literacy Policies and Practices in Conflict, 2014, etc.) stepped away from her academic writing to pen this memoir. She’s an avid note taker, and her coping mechanism for dealing with the barrage of medical information and treatment options for her husband, Jack, that seemed to be always in flux was to write everything down as it was happening. Her book, written primarily in the present tense, brings readers along with her on this arduous journey. From the first crisis on Dec. 27, 2011, “Terrible Tuesday,” when Jack suffered a sudden seizure, until his death 5 months and 13 days later, Shelton records everything—the details of the disease (Stage IV lung cancer that metastasized to his brain and, it turned out, to his hip), the prognosis for “longevity” (three to six months), the various phases of treatment, and the author’s own fragile emotional state as she helped Jack navigate this onslaught. She never left his side. Whenever he was in the hospital, she was living there with him. Shelton is a literacy professor, and her narrative is lucid and graphic: “My face is wet from my tears and I can’t control my sobs. My chest is jerking. My hands are shaking.” As grim as the story is, there is also respite during the quiet moments when she reflects on the many special moments in their relationship, beginning with their first meeting in 1977. At these times, the narrative becomes a love story. Constantly trying to balance that fine line between reality and hope, Shelton struggled to understand every detail of the treatments and recommendations that came rushing at the couple like a tsunami of opinions, tactful and otherwise, while terrified of the upended life that lay ahead of her. Ultimately, she must, of course, learn to live again, without Jack physically by her side: “But my brain had been injured by the stress of Jack’s illness and death. Grief continued to impair me cognitively. I had to find a way to heal.” And she does: “I eat well, drink very little, exercise daily, and laugh as much as I can.”
A poignant memoir delivers a powerful tribute to love and grit.