Friday Review – The Fault In Our Stars – and the memories it dredged up

I know I’m a little behind the times with reading and reviewing this book. I’d put off reading it because I was afraid that, given the subject matter, I’d never get through it, having lost many friends and family to the dreaded ‘C’. On a whim, when I saw it on the bookstore shelf and after reading so many wonderful things about it, I bought it. As I read the story, I was reminded of my time with a good friend with the same name as me, who I met about 6 years after her battle with breast cancer.

We were introduced when my son became a school chum of her daughter. She and her husband wouldn’t let the two teens be alone together until they had vetted us. When we finally met, we immediately hit it off. She and I had so many things in common besides our names. We had two kids, our eldest being girls and our youngest were boys. We were married in churches with the same name, although the churches were in different cities. We both worked as educational assistants, but in different school divisions. We both took care of other people’s kids when ours were little so we could stay at home instead of going out into the work place, leaving our children in someone else’s care. We both enjoyed a competitive game of Canasta when we were with our Hubbies and Cribbage when it was just the two of us. It was as though we’d been friends for decades.

We’d only known each other a couple of years when she began to experience back pain. Having had chronic back pain for years, I thought I understood what she was going through and tried to help ease her pain with the usual methods, but nothing seemed to help. Finally, after seeing her doctor several times, he discovered that her cancer had metastasized into her bones. It was hard not to burst into tears when she told me the cancer was back – and in her bones. I knew the prognosis was not good. It seemed a shame that I would lose such a close friend, even though we had not known each other very long. Fortunately, I was only working on a part time basis, so I was able to drive her to her chemo appointments. We’d play cribbage and laugh while other patients sat stoically in their chairs reading or watching TV . . . alone.

For me, 2005 was a particularly tough year right from the start. On New Year’s Day, our 5-year old kitty was experiencing such excruciating pain expressed with the most mournful sounds an animal could ever utter. We rushed him halfway across town to the nearest veterinary clinic that was open that day and was told he had a blockage caused by urinary crystals. We had two choices; put him through a surgery to widen his urethra or put him down. My daughter was so distraught, we didn’t have the heart to put him down so paid for the expensive surgery. While he didn’t have cancer, it was just the start of things to come.

My mom, for about a year or so, had literally been withering away because her vocal folds, which had taken massive doses of radiation in 1979 because of throat cancer, were failing to close when she ate or drank anything. She aspirated a bit of everything she tried to ingest and eventually gave up the battle, passing away in mid-February. Late in August, my father-in-law was rushed to the hospital because his lungs were filled with fluid. He’d had emphysema for years because of heavy smoking and his lungs could no longer function. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and the doctors gave him only a few months to live. He died the first week of September. Shortly after his funeral, I was asked to take over for a co-worker, with whom I’d worked for many years, because she was not feeling well. She was rushed to hospital for tests, but died in October before the final results came back. She had been riddled with cancer.

During that whole time, I was still helping Sue through her illness, taking her to chemo and taking her to her appointments. Her treatments ended about the time my co-worker died, which was a good thing, because I ended up working that position until Christmas when they finally found a full-time replacement. Just before Christmas, Sue was rushed into ICU because of fluid in her lungs. She developed pneumonia and died New Year’s Eve. We were able to spend a few hours with her before the end, but her death marked the end of one heck of a year.

Now you know why I hesitated to read The Fault In Our Stars.

Although it did bring all the memories flooding back, I am not sorry I read the book. Despite the grim subject matter, John Green managed to suck me into the lives of his two main characters, Hazel & Augustus. I could not stand to put the book down, because I was so quickly invested in the lives of those teenagers. I couldn’t wait to get back to the story to see how they dealt with their cancers.

John Green ran me through the gambit of emotions. I laughed, I cried, I was touched and I was angered. It was such a wonderful portrayal of people, not just the teens who were forced to face death not knowing just how much time they had left, but also those who loved them. I empathized with them all. A lot of Hazel’s feelings and observations were similar to things that I’d seen Sue suffer. Augustus reminded me of a boy from the local high school, a football player, for whom we created a fundraiser to help his mom cope with her finances when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He’d been a vibrant young man until then, just as Augustus had been playing basketball. The parents of the teens each dealt with their children’s conditions in different ways. I could feel their pain and understand why they did what they did for their children.

For those of you who haven’t read The Fault In Our Stars, I highly recommend it. John Green dealt with a difficult subject with humour and grace, just like his characters.

Oh, and one other thing, if you ever have a friend who is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, please do not feel intimidated and ignore them during their final days. They need your support at a time like that more than ever. It’s tough, I know, but I watched many people in the Cancer Care Unit who had no one with them. It’s a scary time. Although Sue shared her fears and we shared tears, that’s to be expected. The main thing was, we focused on her getting well, even though we both knew the end was closer than we wanted. As with everything in life, no one can be certain of the ‘when’, so make the most of the days you have with them.

I think that is the main point to Green’s book. By the way, while looking for a book cover image, I discovered that they will be making it into a movie, so here’s the link to John Green’s book page so you can check out a behind-the-scenes video:

Enjoy! 🙂