Posts tagged cancer

My Cancer Story


From Parents’ Magazine, November 1977


I am Andy Carstairs.  Okay, I’m not.  But that was the name given to me for an article that was written in 1977 about childhood leukemia.  I knew this article existed–I saw it growing up, but only recently did I try to find a copy.  Thanks to the good people at Parents Magazine, I now have a scanned copy.  (And no, that’s not me in the picture below.)

It’s interesting to read about my story so many years after my diagnosis with acute lymphocytic Leukemia (now more commonly referred to as acute lymphoblastic leukemia or ALL).  From my diagnosis in 1972 at age three to when I stopped taking my chemo pills at age seven, I never knew the pharmaceuticals I was taking.  I only knew I had two white pills to take on Monday, one long one on Tuesday, six little yellow ones on Wednesday, etc.  I now know what I received, and I can compare that to what the standard therapy is today.  We’ve come a long way, baby!  The article mentions, and I certainly remember (WAY too many) bone marrow aspirations and a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) or two (or three or a dozen).  The article even said I had intrathecal injections!  I don’t remember those, but hey, while they were drawing fluid out, they probably put some drugs back in without even telling me.

The article states some statistics, which are pretty scary looking back.  I was lucky to have been enrolled in the clinical study for which much attention was paid to the treatment and outcomes. In fact, the article says that due to successful results in one arm of the study (not my arm), the patients in the other arm were retrospectively given additional treatment.  It’s for this reason that I was given radiation treatment at age six.  I didn’t question the additional treatment.  I knew I had Leukemia, so I took the medicine (treatment) my doctor and mother told me to.  Now I know why I needed radiation therapy.  I accepted it unconditionally.  Although, the permanent marker lines on my face that were used to line up the x-ray machine for each session, to avoid nuking certain critical parts of my head, were a drag.  I was called “Indian” on more than one occasion that year.  That hurt.

The relationship between me and my doctor was also explored in this article.  From my perspective, the role Dr. Dvorak played was very much understated in print.  Dr. D. was the most valuable member of my support team, second only to my mother.  I will forever be grateful to Dr. D. (and to Mom, Sara, and Pasty & Dick).  The role of a support group for a cancer patient, of any age, cannot be minimized.  The patient’s team is critical.

Forty-four years after my diagnosis, I’m very thankful to have this personalized summary of my treatment.


If you are interested in reading the article in full, please send me a message through the Contact Me page and I’ll share a PDF copy with you.


Leukemia Breakthrough Page_1a




Another Good Cancer Book


Please read Zac and Mia.


I recently posted about good and not good cancer books.  For me, a good cancer story is one that inspires, where the patient fights to win, and hopefully does win.  On my list of must-read books are Radiate, Touched by Cancer, and The Fault in Our Stars.  I am now adding Zac and Mia to that list of must-read books.  You can read my full review here on

What I like best about the book is that the two, Zac and Mia, fight their cancers and treatments.  They get busy living.  And they are there for each other.  The two are not always bubbly and happy. Each has dark times of despair when they want to shut out everyone and everything, and there are times when they resent knowing the other person.  But at the bottom, when Mia needs inspiration from someone who doesn’t pity her for her leg, Zac refuses to let her run and offers her a place to stay.  And when Zac refuses another round of treatment, Mia pushes him, convincing him to continue.

The story is realistic; the author, although not a cancer patient, definitely knows her subjects.  She is a teacher on an adolescent cancer ward.  The details of the care and treatment were believable, not glossed over for lack of understanding.  And most importantly, I got to see and feel the emotions of Zac and Mia throughout their journeys while apart and together.

I highly recommend you read Zac and Mia.

Cancer Books


Please allow me to rant.


A while back I read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Many reviews lauded the story, but I gave it one star.  You can read my review here.  Why so harsh?  I read this “cancer book” expecting a story about the cancer patient, her emotions and experiences.  I got none of that.  In fact, Rachel is a minor character who has simply given up.  I could not accept that she, at her age, would not fight her leukemia, a treatment that has a high success rate these days.  I was generous to give the book one star.

Why the rant?  I am a cancer survivor–acute lymphoblastic leukemia, diagnosed in 1972 when I was three years old.  When I read a book about a cancer patient, I expect to learn about the character’s emotions and experiences.  I want to see the ups and downs, the denial, the fear, the strength to fight.  When an author writes a book to tell the story of a cancer patient, I expect to read about the patient.

I just finished another book that fell short of meeting my expectations: Side Effects, by Amy Goldman Koss.  You can read my review here.  The book tells the diagnosis and treatment of a 14 y/o girl and her reaction to it.  But because the author is not the patient–she’s actually the mother of the cancer patient, the true emotions and experiences of the patient do not come through.  The book is more about snarky dialogue between a girl and her family/friends.

Bottom line; if you write a cancer book, either (1) be a patient yourself and tell your story with your own emotions, or (2) be intimately involved with the patient and share the patients emotions–all of them–with your readers.  Readers want to feel the emotions of the main character.

A mainstream book that hits the mark is The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. You can read my review here.  I liked this book because we saw the emotions the main characters go through.  I wasn’t happy as I read, but that’s because I could feel the same emotions they experienced.

Two lesser known books that I think are worthy of high praise are Touched by Cancer, by Teri Rose and Radiate by Marley Gibson (related post).  These stories pull the reader in and share the main character’s emotions and their experiences.  If you’re looking for two good (real) cancer stories to read, I suggest both of these.

Please feel free to share your favorite “cancer books” and why you recommend them!

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