Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review - Promises to Keep

I have received a couple of perks as a result of writing this blog, aside from the nice comments I've received from the people who are sharing my experience with me.

For example, one day I opened up my email to find a letter from a publishing house. Naturally, I immediately figured they had come across my blog and were going to offer me a book deal. After all, there are zero books about breast cancer out there and few bloggers have tried to cross over into the publishing world. Why wouldn't they be out searching for unique people like me?

Reality has never been my specialty.

But, after reading the email, I was offered something a lot less work than a book deal. I was offered a copy of the book Promises to Keep, by Jane Green.

I love to read and I like free stuff, so I was super happy.

I was chosen to receive this book because my topic is about breast cancer, and the book is about a family who ends up dealing with breast cancer. The book is not released yet - it will be out in mid-June.

Not only was I given a copy, but I can offer a copy to one of you.

It arrived a week ago but I was in the middle of both Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance and Between Here and April. (I liked both)

Sunday, as I was flying back from a quick trip to Chicago (where I discovered I was weaker than I thought), I opened the book. And, I read the entire thing on the flight back. It was a quick read, one of those fantastic summer pool books - that is, if you don't have breast cancer.

If you do, it's slightly disturbing.

It is the story of three woman and their families, initially told from each of their perspectives. There is Steffi, a free-spirited chef who has not settled down yet. Her sister, Callie, is a photographer who is married to the love of her life and who has young children. And, there is Lila, who is Callie's best friend and who at 42, just now finds a man to marry. The book alternates between the lives of these three women and finally comes together when Callie has a metastatic recurrance of breast cancer.

And dies.

This is the disturbing part - the story takes place four years after Callie was declared NED, which means No Evidence of Disease. Suddenly, she finds that her cancer has spread to her brain. (Apparently, we breast cancer patients don't go into remission - we are NED. I haven't quite managed to understand the distinction but NED is a more fanciful word, so I'll stick with it.) Those of us who are "dancing with Ned" may not enjoy a story of somebody who gets run over by Ned.

It's a character study and not a mystery, and while the jacket doesn't tell you what happens in the book, the publishing materials and the author's blog does. So, I don't think I'm giving secrets away when I tell you Callie dies.

Interestingly, the author chose not to tell the story from Callie's point of view after the diagnosis except in a few brief conversations. From that point it's just her sister and her friend - effectively killing her before she even dies. But it does soften the impact of the tale just a bit if you are a reader with cancer.

After reading the book, I have to wonder what went on in the mind of the publishing house marketing team when they decided who should get free promotional books. "Hey, lets find some bloggers who are trying to survive the diagnosis of breast cancer and stay positive about their prognosis, and who are sharing that positivity with others, and give them a book about a breast cancer patient who dies! Her readership are probably breast cancer patients looking for answers, and they may want to read a book about a woman who dies of cancer too!"

It's an interesting marketing tactic.

But, I guess it worked because I'm writing about it.

Okay, if you haven't guessed, the book depressed me. It did bring home the fact that there are many who don't survive this disease. It can come back at any time, especially HER2+ cancer. There are no guarantees that in four years I won't have to start treatment all over again. The possibility exists that I could end up with metastatic disease, and being HER2+, if I do get it, it's also possible it'll show up in the brain. Herceptin doesn't penetrate the blood/brain barrier.

Those are things that I am aware of but have chosen to believe won't happen to me. Although my oncologist won't give me statistics, everything I read says I have a fine chance at a long life, and I believe that.

But, when you read a good book you get inside the heads of the characters. And, inside the head of a family dealing with the death of one of their own from a disease I have, isn't a place I want to be right now. Even though the family missed her daily but survived without her, which is what I'd want my family to do - it's still not something I would typically want to focus on at this phase in my life.

On the up side, the book is mostly told from Steffi's point of view, and being a vegan chef, every chapter closes with a delicious and healthy recipe. I imagine these are the kinds of foods we breast cancer patients should be concentrating on, and I will be making some of these dishes.

I thought this was a good book and a fast-read. Despite the heavy subject matter, it was actually a pretty light book - the cancer stuff didn't happen until the end. It's not high literature, instead it's perfect for sitting by the pool on a hot summer's day or for taking your mind off a plane crash when flying from Chicago to California.

I am allowed to give away a book, and I'm not your mother to tell you what will affect you negatively or won't. If you want a copy, feel free to post a comment below. I will number them all in order of posts, put them in a hat and draw them out. The winner will get the book. You will have to share your address with me, and I will pass it along to the publiser. You can't post anonymously unless you are willing to post something in the text that tells me who you are. First name, last initial should do.

Let's put an end date on this: comments must be received by midnight Cali time May 30st. Maybe I will video the winning results and put it on YouTube and then you can see how awful my hair is.


  1. The book sounds interesting but I can definitely see how it may also be depressing. I might buy it anyway, as I always need a good airplane (or otherwise) book.


  2. Probably a book I should read. Your reflections today were right on. I too am HER2+ and plan to be around for a long time, but worry and doubt and "what ifs" have a way of showing up now and then............

  3. I just finished reading Bookends! It was great and like you said a great pool read.
    Hope your hair is getting long enough to dye!
    E. Trybus

  4. Um, I found that it took me a long time to reach books with people with my cancers. There are so few books about thyroid cancer that I run into fewer there. But there are so many damn breast cancer books that are highly recommended. I read a few that depressed me. Now I am very cautious about them. I dont need to know what its like to live with cancer. I could write that damn book.

  5. I know just how you feel, because I'm also HER2+. I just passed my 4 year anniversary with NED. And statistics are only numbers, and no one knows what our lives will be like or how long we'll be here. Good thing God knows, though, and that's one thing we CAN count on. :)

  6. Yikes, you're brave! I've been reading all fluffy beach-read type books. (Okay, I guess I did just start reading Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor but I already know that she beat her stage iv breast cancer..)

    My mom is reading Her2 and I can't even think about reading that!

    Looking forward to seeing how your hairstyle is progressing :]

  7. I think I'd like to give it a shot :)

  8. Book sounds great. Unfortunately we do know lots of people who have lost their battles with cancer, and while we all plan to avoid that fate and live long NED lives, we can't neglect the fact that some of us weren't that lucky. I try to honor their fight and their memory rather than dwell on the "what ifs" when they arise. I would highly recommend a book by Debra Jarvis titled "Its not about the hair". She's counsels people with cancer then develops it herself. Well written and realistic...a definite upbeat book.

  9. I would love a chance to win a copy of this book. I don't typically look for books about women who DIE from breast cancer but I know it COULD happen to me too. My worse fear obviously is that I could also end up with metastatic breast cancer. Might be an eye opener for my sister to read also to prepare her for the reality that not all sisters survive.

  10. I would love a copy! It was so great meeting you in Chicago and I look forward to now reading the rest of your blog here! I already love what I've seen!

  11. Okay, you are all in. A little later today I will do the drawing, post the results and the winner can email me with their address. :)


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