Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Surviving With Grace


I Survived Cancer But Never Won the Tour de France
by Jim Chastain

I happened on this book by chance, actually through Facebook. I have never met Jim Chastain, but he is married to a friend of mine from high school. After reconnecting with L. on Facebook after more than 20 years, I learned that her husband had written this book about his experience with cancer. Jim writes with extraordinary honesty, clarity, pathos and (incredibly) humor about the aggressive cancer that attacked his tricep muscle seven years ago. Doctors performed three surgeries trying to save his arm, but eventually had to amputate his arm at the shoulder.

Jim wrote his book after the third surgery, and then an epilogue shares the news that the cancer returned yet again and the doctors at M.D. Anderson believed that their only choice was to amputate the arm. After Jim lost his arm, he was cancer free for about three years. Sadly, there is now another postscript that is even more grim. About a year and a half ago, the cancer came back - this time in Jim's liver. Stage IV. He has been given months, not years, to live. I knew this later information by the time I read the book, which I think made his strength and courage all the more apparent and touching to me.

I Survived Cancer... is excellent reading for people who have cancer, people who work with cancer patients, and people who love a cancer patient. Jim brings in the spiritual perspective without being overly pious or expecting God to just swoop in and cure him. With compassion and good humor, he talks about the wacky things some people say in their efforts to be helpful; but he also appreciates the heartfelt concern behind those efforts and recognizes that people often stick their feet in their mouth because they just do not know WHAT to say. Without resorting to platitudes, Jim puts out there for our benefit what he has learned about living life to the fullest, savoring the small details of life, and accepting what we cannot control. At the same time, he lets us in to his own times of despair, depression, and regret, demonstrating that he is not some kind of super cancer dude - he is a real person coping with fear and loss and grief.

For those who are interested in following Jim's situation, he has started a blog called "Life is Real," in which he shares with us his experiences during this process of facing cancer and, in all probability, the end of his earthly life. My heart goes out to Jim, his wife L., and to their two beautiful children, and I keep them in my prayers daily. I thank him for writing a beautiful book. His wise and courageous words are a wonderful legacy that he leaves and from which we all can benefit.

Reverent Reader

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