Cancer touched the life of Rebecca Whitehead Munn at an early age. Together with a wide circle of cancer patients and family members, she created All of Us Warriors: Cancer Stories of Survival and Loss. As often happens with cancer and other illnesses, this group of survivors shares moving and inspiring stories.
Munn’s mother received her first cancer diagnosis when Munn was in college. Following a further diagnosis many decades later, Munn nursed her during her final days. These experiences became the basis for her first book. And just after that was published, two friends were diagnosed with cancer. Munn then put her writer hat on and gathered stories from cancer patients as a way to help newer patients and their families cope.
Each story follows the same structure—starting with diagnosis, then treatment, and concluding with advice. Even so, there’s great variety among this group of patients. The types of cancer they faced are different, as are their ages at first diagnosis. Some patients are men and others are women. And Munn also includes two stories from the spouses of patients who didn’t survive their battle with cancer.
This is a challenging book, mostly because no story fully spares the difficult details. And yet, each journey with cancer is condensed to about ten pages. In some cases, a story stretches over decades. These focus primarily on the patient’s early experience with diagnosis and treatment. But in every case, I felt connected to each patient. Munn gives readers the chance to listen to the heart of the matter, directly from the patient.
This group of patients has many advantages. For example, their health insurance is either adequate or excellent. Quite a few can afford to hire household help and even travel out of state for treatment. There isn’t much talk about losing a home, struggling to afford food, or needing GoFundMe donations. So, these cancer stories represent one type of experience, but not those of financially struggling families.
Another caveat will be a positive for some readers, but not every reader. The patients in this book are predominantly people with a strong Christian faith. Prayer, church, God, and Bible study are significant aspects of their experience fighting cancer. Different stories approach this in their own unique way. But if you aren’t a Christian, it might be difficult to swallow in story after story.
As a chronic illness patient, I found plenty of parallels to my own life. A lifelong illness is different from an illness that may take one’s life. Still, I related to patients searching for the right oncologist or surgeon. Choosing the best kind of treatment is also part of both chronic illness and cancer. As is the need to sometimes ask for help from our families and community. Anyone whose life hasn’t been touched by illness will learn plenty from each story.
I recommend this book if a friend or family member has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Some aspects may be too raw for families already experiencing cancer. Nevertheless, Munn and the people in this book deserve kudos for their strength and their openness.
Pair with Cancerland: A Medical Memoir by David Scadden, MD, which focuses on the medical history of cancer. Reading Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick by Maya Dusenberry might also fit as a more cautionary tale.
Many thanks to Books Forward, She Writes Press and the author for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.