4 out of 4 stars
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It is not often that one can describe a memoir about cancer as ‘uplifting’, but the book Six Years and Counting stands apart as an optimistic and hope-filled account. Peter Gordon tells the story of the tests leading to his diagnosis of leukemia, of his journey through chemo, radiation, and a bone marrow transplant, as well as the long and rocky recovery that has followed. Obviously, as he is alive to write and publish the book, we know that the outcome is generally positive, but the author’s optimistic outlook is one of the core elements of his journey right from the start.
As we meet Peter, he walks us through the early steps of discovering his illness, including the agonizing questions and slow reveal of information after a series of tests. Peter also tells us of his life leading up to the diagnosis. He is an active middle-aged man, recently married to his second wife, and living in a beautiful rural mountain home where he teaches skiing part-time. He appears to be at his peak in life when the shocking diagnosis comes through after some questionable bloodwork, and suddenly Peter’s days transform into a jumble of medical appointments, insurance worries, and uncomfortable treatments.
Because he had kept a blog during his treatments and early recovery, and included several of the entries within this account, we are able to experience some what he endured. However, Peter’s focus is never on the tedium or difficulty of the treatments themselves. In fact, he describes the various procedures succinctly and factually, avoiding any tendency to dwell on pain or discomfort. Instead, his primary focus is the support he received during these difficult weeks, primarily from his wife Mary Ann, but also from his mother, close friends, and coworkers. As Peter’s recovery gains traction, Mary Ann experiences health difficulties of her own, and suddenly Peter finds himself in the caregiver role shortly after having been the one being cared for. This shift in perspective solidifies many of the lessons he had begun to learn from his experience and opens gateways to empathy that he did not previously have.
This book is written in an open and easy conversational tone. Though the timeline slips from present day to the past (when outlining the day-to-day events of his diagnosis and treatment), the passages are organized in a straightforward way, and it is easy to keep track of the story. The writing style is detailed but does not lose focus, and those details are chosen well to keep the reader interested in progressing through the story.
The major themes explored in the narrative include the fact that life can change in just an instant, the challenge brought about by uncertainty (especially when dealing with health-related questions), as well as the significant impact made by social support from friends and family. It is this social support that serves as a light during some of the author’s darkest days, and his gratitude and awareness shine through his words. It is also inspiring that he continues to pursue his active outdoor lifestyle despite the new challenges that arise from the side-effects of his treatment, which often render him exhausted and out-of-breath. Rather than giving up and accepting that his life has to change, he continues to push himself to get as close to full recovery as he can.
Though I noticed a small handful of typos, they were very minor and did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. The author’s humble attitude and his ability to balance the good and the bad within his narrative made for a pleasant reading experience. I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars, and recommend it not only to folks searching for information on fighting cancer, but also anyone who enjoys hope-filled accounts of people overcoming difficult circumstances. This book is a good reminder to all of us to focus on the joy we have before us now, rather than waiting for some hypothetical future circumstance in which we will be happy.
Six Years and Counting
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