“The Unexpected Gift, Profiles in Courage from Cancer Survivorship” by Novant Health, 2020.

This book contains twentyone first-person essays that profile courageous men and women with various forms of cancer. From diverse backgrounds, ages, and cultures, they tell of their personal journey and the importance of staying connected to one’s faith, family, and community. This review may be difficult for some to read, as it was for me to write. It may have you revisiting painful memories you thought were long hidden. What I wish for you to take away from this review is that those memories bring a renewed sense of healing to your heart and comfort to your soul as you continue to move forward with your lives.

My breath caught when I opened the package containing this book. This truly was an unexpected gift from Krista Rolfzen Soukup of Blue Cottage Agency, who had mailed this to me with another book asking for my review. As a retired RN and Nurse Practitioner turned author, I’m also a voracious reader and enjoy writing book reviews. Opening this book, opened memories I thought I’d laid to rest from thirty plus years past, to within one week of receiving it.

I began to cry.

No one wants to hear those dreaded words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” A non-refundable, non-returnable gift you didn’t ask for. Those words numb your body, numb your mind, and numb your soul. Yet, cancer transforms lives in more ways than can ever be imagined.

You see, like many, I had lost too many family members to this devastating disease:  my two grandmothers, my father and uncle [within two weeks of each other], my aunt, one year later, and my mother, nine years ago. Yet, blessedly, I have family and friends that have survived and continue to grace the world with their amazing presence.

Sadly, five weeks ago, a dear friend of mine had just been diagnosed with inoperable metastatic colon cancer. She knew me well as a person and nurse and felt comfortable turning to me for support. I felt honored and blessed. Yet, looking back over the past few weeks, I knew well the mounting tension I was experiencing. I’d been here before. I felt like I was about to peel back layers of an onion as I navigated through my memory bank. I wouldn’t open this book again until I came to the core and revisited the reason for my turmoil.

“Even cancer can be redemptive. In other words, I am being healed, though I may or may not be cured. I can live with that for sure.” Rev. Brad Smith

Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘gift’ as “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” I’m still searching for how cancer can be a gift. I may never truly understand it. But who am I to question?  Like most gifts you would look forward too with great anticipation and excitement, cancer is not one of them. Unfortunately, at some point in our lives, we may personally experience or know someone close to us who has been dealt with this devastating diagnosis.

Finally, able to read this book, I moved through the very personal exposés when a small part of my mind and heart began to understand the book’s title. It wasn’t just about the diagnosis of cancer. It was about the people whose lives changed after their diagnosis and the struggles and achievements they went through with varying and often painful treatments to come out stronger. Through love and understanding, they share their stories within this book.

I found a common thread in each individual’s personal stories.

  1. Each person’s personal [cancer] journey is different.
  2. They have learned to be more tolerant of things that are challenging. [Something we can all hope to be]
  3. They focus on each day they are given.
  4. They have a greater understanding of what others are going through [in life].
  5. Knowledge is powerful.
  6. Be a participant in your healthcare, not a bystander. [Something I always encouraged my patients to be].
  7. Most importantly, we are [all] here for a purpose.
“Cancer has shaped how these survivors understand themselves view the challenges of their daily life, and treasure their relationships with the important people in their world.” Dr. Opehlia Garmon-Brown

Reading through these testimonials, I found that they each encouraged others to stay focused on [their] individual journeys. I find this so true no matter what health struggles one experiences. Negativity only feeds the vicious cycle of illness, where focusing on even the tiniest bit of positivity can prove to be life-changing and life healing.

“Everybody’s individual journey with cancer, no matter what type, is different. Doctors are only human, and nobody truly knows when your time is up, except God. I don’t want an ‘end date’ stuck in my head.” Julie Carr

I found this book to provide a catharsis so-to-speak, of [personal] emotional pain that had laid stagnant in the back of my mind for far too long. Pain that I unknowingly held onto as if keeping the memories alive. Through this release, I can honestly say that this book was truly a gift. My strong faith leads me to believe that cancer is not something God wants anyone to have. But, God is present when we’re faced with life’s challenges no matter what they are. This book is a testament to our individuality and how we face life, not only cancer.

“Everybody is here on loan; we’re here as God’s children. Nothing is promised.” Tanya Stewart Blackmon, sister of the late Dario Stewart

I commend these individuals for sharing their heartfelt stories. This book will open doors of encouragement and healing and should be read by all healthcare providers, patients, families, friends, and clergy, who are, or have experienced cancer in some form in their life. Or, for those who wish to understand the awakening behind this diagnosis.


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