Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s, by Kairol Rosenthal. John Wiley & Sons, 2009. 247 pp. 978-0-470-394902-4.
...in which we hear stories from a variety of young adults on various topics related to cancer in young adulthood.
This is a book I read over a year ago, when it was first released. I'm reviewing it now because a) the last few weeks have been really busy for me and I haven't had time to get any new books finished up and b) it's a useful book, if you are in a position to take advantage of its advice.
Useful (or not so useful) statistic: there are roughly 70,000 adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States. Despite this, cancer remains a family of diseases that most people associate with old people, middle aged women, or young children. When the available support groups and advocacy groups are either geared towards children, the elderly, or pink-ribboned-women, it's easy for older teens and young adults to get lost somewhere in the middle. Kairol Rosenthal, the author of this book, traveled around the US to hear the stories of young people with cancer, in order to fill this void.
The book is divided into chapters representing different relevant topics. Each chapter is dominated by one person's story with a different focus. Rosenthal follows each story with a list of resources pertinent to that chapter's topic. The different topics addressed include financial issues and insurance, religion and spirituality, love and sex, fertility and family, employment and careers, mortality, optimism, etc, each presented in a unique context by someone between the ages of 20 and 39.
It is a credit to Rosenthal that she chose to present each person's story in their own words, editing them only for the purposes of length. I think a lot would have been lost if the stories were paraphrased; reading each story with that person's unique style of storytelling gave it a much more personal feel. Many of the stories aren't easy to read; a lot of these people fell through the cracks of the modern medical system. Because they were young and otherwise seemingly healthy, their doctors would initially assume that these young adults were imagining their symptoms and there wasn't anything really wrong with them. As a result, a lot of these people didn't catch their illness and didn't get treatment until it was too late. These are not always stories that are easy to read. These people are often angry and they don't pull their punches, though some maintain some level of optimism. Rosenthal waits til the end of the book to reveal which of her featured storytellers had passed away, and which of them continue to survive.
The strength of this book is really in the stories, but the advice that concludes each chapter is also really useful. She provides helpful links, organization contact info, and other resources that people can turn to for help in each topic presented. Some of the topics, like employment, money issues, sexuality, fertility, etc are going to be very different for people in young adulthood than for people in middle age or older.
I would recommend this book to just about anyone with an interest in cancer, or the modern medical system in America and its weaknesses. Even if you yourself have no personal connection to cancer, it's an interesting peek into an isolated subculture.