A journalist recounts his brother’s fight against leukemia and the pioneering doctors who worked to prolong his life.
As Wendel (Writer in Residence/Johns Hopkins Univ.; Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time, 2014, etc.) writes, his younger brother, Eric, seemed much like the rest of the family: outdoorsy, “in motion, always up to something.” But when a bruise refused to heal, his parents became worried. Blood work revealed that the 3-year-old had a shortage of red blood cells and an “alarming platelet count.” Further tests determined that Wendel’s brother was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of childhood cancer that was, in the mid-1960s, “a death sentence.” Interweaving memory, research, and interviews conducted with some of the doctors assigned to Eric’s case, the author documents the struggles and triumphs his brother and family faced during the seven years that Eric was in treatment at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, New York. Doctors had initially given the boy 18 months to live. But the author discovered that members of Eric’s treatment team had been specialists on the cutting edge of childhood cancer research and that Eric himself had been part of clinical trials overseen by pioneering doctors like James Holland, Lucius Sinks, and Donald Pinkel. Eric learned to navigate a path through recurring bouts with cancer with quiet resolve and preternatural courage. Meanwhile, his parents and siblings (including Eric) learned to sail on Lake Ontario and bonded over their efforts to navigate its unpredictable waters. By the time Eric died at age 10, he had showed the family what it meant to rise above the “pain that could be upon us, that could overwhelm us.” Both informative and compassionate, Wendel’s book celebrates his brother’s life and serves as a testament to the commitment of doctors who went above and beyond expectations to transform a death sentence into a survivable disease.
A sensitive and thoughtful excavation of a painful period in the author’s life.