A man recalls his college battle with leukemia in this debut memoir.
February 1990. College junior Brown was enjoying a year abroad in Lancaster, England, when he felt uncharacteristically winded after a mile-long jog: “It’s been at least the past few days—or maybe closer to a week, I don’t know—that I’ve been feeling more beaten down than normal. Nothing obvious, nothing specific, just steadily higher levels of crushing fatigue.” Then the bruises started appearing on his body: on his calf, his thighs, his right hand. There was blood in his spit and then in his urine. A visit to the school infirmary turned into a trip to the local hospital, where samples were taken and tests were done. After a few days, he received the news: He had leukemia. He was quickly flown home to Seattle to undergo treatment—his condition, acute myeloid leukemia, was particularly fast-acting—including chemotherapy and bone marrow biopsies. Then more chemo. As this happened, Brown was visited by his family and friends from high school, causing him to look back on his memories with renewed gratitude for what he had seen and done. Throughout, he had his doctor’s words on his life expectancy at the front of his mind: “Your odds aren’t ten percent, or twenty, or even fifty. You either survive or you don’t. Period.” Brown’s writing is lively and lyrical, with moments of intense description offset by humorous ones. He often imagines his life as though it were being made into a film: “This brief hospital stay in London is as good a place as any for a rapidly-edited montage. No words necessary, saving the cost of paying actors and actresses portraying the hospital staff for speaking lines in what, ultimately, will be a cameo appearance in my life.” The author’s bout with leukemia was relatively compressed (though subsequent brain infections required a second hospitalization), allowing him to methodically document each development, treatment, and result. For those interested in seeing the toll leukemia can take on a young, healthy person, Brown’s account offers the details in searing prose.
An intense, deftly composed cancer narrative.