People don’t like reflecting on their mortality, nor do they enjoy thinking about just how little control they have over their lives. These are topics Mary Dunnewold – lawyer, teacher, mother, and wife – confronts head-on in her memoir FINE, THANKS: Stories from the Cancerland Jungle. In January 2010, her mammogram was clear. Several months later, doctors found six tumors hidden in her breasts. So began Dunnewold’s two-year trek through what she dubs “cancerland jungle” – a peculiar reality that’s just one diagnosis away from our own.
Her initial experience is almost surreal: not only does the deadly disease strike seemingly out of nowhere, but there are also no outward symptoms. As treatments begin and her health deteriorates, Dunnewold experiences all stages of grief, from denial to acceptance and back again. Her memoir doesn’t shy away from dark details: there are humiliating medical exams and grisly aftereffects of surgeries. But Dunnewold’s most devastating observation is that, even as she confronted possible death, ordinary life around her continued as if nothing happened.
And yet, while this book isn’t a light read, it’s not a downer either. Dunnewold approaches the difficult subject with warmth, eloquence, and wit. She humorously debates the pros and cons of using wigs, shawls, and hats to bide baldness during chemotherapy. She stresses the importance of finding a competent and compassionate nurse. She warns against eating your favorite food on the day of your first chemo treatment. Throughout her prolonged ordeal, Dunnewold bravely soldiers on, supported by her family, friends, neighbors, and medical staff. By far the most encouraging message of this book is its very existence. Dunnewold takes all the fear, pain, and humiliation that cancerland throws at her and transforms them into a life-affirming message.
Due to its theme, many readers will shy away from this book. This is understandable. It takes courage to write about cancer. It takes almost as much courage to read about it. But there are valuable lessons here. As someone who saw a loved one suffer the indignities of cancer, I can confirm the truth of this book’s observations. While reading it, I frequently nodded in agreement. FINE, THANKS: STORIES FROM THE CANCERLAND is a humorous memoir about a subject many people scarcely dare to think about. Funny and sad, this book reminds us to treasure the everyday things we take for granted.
Despite its dark subject matter, Mary Dunnewold’s FINE, THANKS: Stories from the Cancerland Jungle is an eloquent, poignant, life-affirming and surprisingly witty memoir well worth reader’s time.
~Danijel Štriga, for IndieReader