In a nut shell this is about Jim, Joyce and what they learnt as they travelled the weary path of battling pancreatic cancer.
Within the early stages of this book we are initially taken for a wander down a memory lane that shares with us the tender love story between Joyce and Jim, two independent, successful people who fell in love in their late 50’s. It’s the story of the changes made in the couple as they learn to lean on each other and support each other through what were trying, harrowing times.
Jim and Joyce found each other later in life. Joyce was determined to not let love and the institution of marriage change who she was as a person. If she wanted something, she didn’t discuss it with Jim, she just went ahead and did, from unimportant things as her work schedule to buying a house, sight unseen on the other side of the country. Jim was a lawyer who very much enjoyed the good life that such an income could afford for him. On paper it would seem that they weren’t a match, but real life is tricky and plays games with us and sets aflame the heart’s desire. They married each other in a romantic setting surrounded by love and family.
A year into the marriage Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Of all cancers, it’s one of the cancers that you really don’t want. This then covers the bulk of the story, in which Joyce describes the journey from denial to acceptance and then the actuality of death over the course of nineteen months. It is heartbreaking and searing in its honesty. It is, however, an indictment to the American health system and how the rich can afford health care. It would have been a very different story if they hadn’t been rich and able to afford travelling from one side of the country to the other seeking out the best surgeons and medical treatment money could buy.
This story is more than the journey Joyce and Jim travelled as they fought to preserve his life. It shows clearly the journey Joyce took in becoming a better human being, committed to another person’s welfare ahead of her own whims and fancies. It reveals layer by layer the desperation she felt as she watched helplessly as cancer stole her husband away from her. It shows her growing dependence upon and need for her husband and further when he couldn’t fulfil the role he wanted to for her.
It is a moving tribute to a once in a lifetime kind of love story. It examines both the tribulation and the trials of bad news and it celebrates whole heartedly the good news and the moments of success against this creeping killer. It never strays into sugary sentimentally and yet it truly reveals the agonising hell that cancer is. This is not a romanticised look at cancer. It’s raw and painful and the journey is a weary one, and it doesn’t end with a happily ever after. It is well worth the read.