“Cancer can put you on an emotional rollercoaster, where you can be confident and hopeful one week, then sink down into despair when you receive a setback.” This erratic journey is the path for cancer patients and one reason this disease is so devastating. Morganville, New Jersey resident Ruth Levine in her new book, Cancer Warrior, takes us along for the ride. Daring to be honest and open about a very hard time in life, Levine gives to us a saga of courage, fear, and determination. Not for the faint of heart, it is a tale of suffering and victory. Levine has been my patient throughout her disease, and it was remarkable to read her impressions and view illness in her eyes.
Cancer Warrior is the diary of Levine’s six-year “war” with metastatic colon cancer. It is a story of battles in diagnosis, tests, treatments and surgery. Warrior does not expound on medical detail, but rather on Levine’s experience. She discusses chemotherapy and its side effects, but not the medicines themselves. The same is true of radiation and surgeries, where the focus is on the personal process and the effects. Levine takes the reader inside the life of a cancer patient, with its unpredictability and complexity. For other patients there will be an easy empathy with her travails. For those who have not been ill, such as caregivers or family members, there is an opportunity to understand how patients perceive and react to medical care.
Levine describes how she built a cancer care team and maintained it. She gathered multiple doctors, family, friends and supporters. She used not only conventional medicine (internist, oncologist, surgeon) but placed a heavy emphasis on exercise (trainer), diet (nutritionist), alternative medicine (complementary medicine physician), Reiki (Master) and religion (Rabbi). She tried to balance their influence on her care, as well as their advice. Levine was not afraid to get apposing views at key decision points and work to resolve them. She was at times angry or frustrated with caregivers, but usually returned to them, recognizing their value. This is not the story of one patient and one doctor but of a whole team of people working together to save a life. She does not hesitate to use her team when she feels like she may be losing her way, and thus, she rises above.
Levine pushes the envelope of the sick role, taking an aggressive approach to fighting malignancy. This is her warrior mentality. She uses anger as an anticancer weapon. She talks about “slaughtering all the cancer cells with a machete…. There’s going to be a blood bath.” She constantly pushes to be stronger, to be more in control and to heal. When set backs occurred, she worked hard to rise above them. Levine strives to be emotionally tough, confronting cancer as an evil to scorn and destroy. She is the General of her own army.
Cancer Warrior is not a sophisticated study of the biology of cancer or of its treatment. You will not learn a lot about colon cancer or discover new cures. It is the story of one woman’s soul. The subtitle of the book is “Where the Mind Goes.” In this heroic story Levine tells us that while hearts and minds may be attacked and we may be ready to surrender, that by fighting, working with others and just moving forward we can overcome. This is a tale of personal victory. Warrior is a story of hope.
Cancer Warrior, Ruth Levine, Quill House Publishers, 2011, p150