Book Club: Brave Enough, Chapters 2-5

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Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club! We are reading Brave Enough by Kati Gardner!   Catch up on Chapter 1.

Week 2: Chapters 2-5

Commentary by Dana M.:

Chapter 2:  It’s appropriate to start Cason’s story with her first day of chemo. For many cancer patients, it’s not until treatment starts that the severity or impact of cancer begins to hit you. Up until treatment begins, there’s a lot of talk about what to expect, and options for treatment, but you probably haven’t self-identified as a cancer patient or person with cancer.

One thing that Cason describes is her feelings toward her oncologist. It’s a difficult relationship since you want to trust your medical team, and there is usually a level of respect, but they are also someone who delivers terrible news sometimes. On page 28, it says “Dr. Henderson had looked at Cason and as delicately as he could, had destroyed her life”. A couple of pages later, it also says “She knew he wasn’t responsible… but it was like her brain couldn’t help but hate him” (pg 33). I have definitely felt this toward my oncologists at times, where there is a gut reaction to hate this person who is delivering bad news, or causing you pain with treatments like chemo or surgery. Sometimes I’ve had to remind myself that the oncology team wants to help you and that is their job; they don’t want to watch you suffer. You just need a reminder not to kill the messenger.

At the end of Chapter 2, there’s an interaction between Cason and her mother, where her mom describes Cason as tough because she’s a dancer. “Cason thought that was the most idiotic thing she’d heard lately. Cancer and dancing… could never be compared on the scale of toughness. It was obvious that Natalie Martin was not the one with a disease or she would know this.” (pg 34) I loved this bit because I completely agreed with it. Until you’re the one fighting to live, you have no idea how strong you can be or how much you can handle. Some people cope well with their illnesses, and others don’t, but it has nothing to do with your day job. Many people will say things like “you’re so strong” or “you’re so brave”, and you’re sitting there thinking “my choices were basically to go into treatment or do nothing. You wouldn’t call me brave if I wanted treatment for a broken bone.” Also, as much as some people want to help, or think they’re helping, they may say the wrong thing.

Chapter 3:  This chapter sums up how I often feel when thinking of friends with cancer or other illnesses. On page 39, Amanda, Davis’s mother, says “it’s out of our control… we can send out good thoughts.” Like Davis, I sometimes think that’s a load of BS. “It never felt active enough… he wanted to be able to do something” (pg 39). Sometimes I think it’s harder to be a supporter than it is to be the person who is ill. As a supporter, you can only do so much to help the other person, but prayer and good thoughts aren’t active enough and you often feel helpless in terms of what you can do.

Chapter 4:  This chapter explores the dichotomy of wanting support as a cancer patient or supporter or wanting to disconnect more and avoid support groups. Cason seems to be more interested in finding support, while her mother’s attitude is to keep pretending that nothing is wrong and that they don’t need support.
I think that I was lucky as shortly after diagnosis I was introduced to a cancer support group for young women, which offered free, overnight retreats. With my oncology team, we were able to plan treatments so I was well enough to attend a retreat. I don’t think I would be coping as well with my diagnosis without that support and other support I have. I’m guessing that later in this book, Cason will be going to a support group.

Chapter 5:  This was the chapter where I related most to Davis so far. While talking to his friend, Jase, he seems to be protective of Cason, though they’re not very close. I have found myself in similar situations where I have become something like a mentor to other young people with cancer. As you become more familiar with your diagnosis and the intricacies of the medical/hospital systems you can help new cancer patients and introduce them to different supports. Some of the best advice given between Jase and Davis is to listen to Cason, or whoever else is coming to you, needing support. Lots of times people really just need to get things off their chest and vent to someone. I have also found that some of the most helpful moments I’ve had with friends are when they’ve just listened to me explain whatever issues it is that I’m having.

Commentary by Zeba T.:

These 4 chapters really set the stage for the book with the introduction of Cason and Davis who meet each other at the hospital – one recently diagnosed with cancer, the other in remission and struggling with addiction. These first few chapters gave a glimpse into the lives of the two characters by narrating their points of views, and how they were deeply affected by life’s events. Cason is a ballerina trying to make it when she finds out she has cancer, and Davis a cancer “survivor” completing community service. There is an interesting framing around the stories of these characters as Cason’s seems to be falling apart and perhaps Davis’ as well, but he is learning to pick up the pieces from his past and move on. The vulnerability expressed through Cason’s character as she begins to wrap her head around her diagnosis, is one that struck me.

Although I was diagnosed almost 14 years ago, I remember exactly what I was thinking and how I was feeling trying to comprehend everything. Nothing really made sense, but those around me were trying to comfort me and pretend that everything was okay without a regard for how I was feeling. Below are a few quotes that really resonated with me:

“She wasn’t Cason Martin, prima ballerina, anymore. She was Cason Martin, number T7654908, cancer patient.” p 28

“Anxiety filled her gut, tingling and skirting around her abdomen before chasing signals and making its way up her nervous system, attaching itself to all her nerve endings. She took a deep breath, refusing to let it get the better of her. She would stay calm. She would not scream and cry like her soul begged her to do so.” p 28-29

“He always greeted her first. She would have preferred he forget she existed. Maybe if he only talked to her mom about all of this, then it wouldn’t be real. She wouldn’t be sick. She wouldn’t have cancer.” p 33

Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on chapters 6-8!

We will talk about a few chapters each Monday until the book is done. If Monday happens to be a holiday, then the post will publish on Tuesday. Once we finish the book, we’ll use one more Monday to talk about general feelings from the book and anything else you’d like to discuss. We’ll also have a video chat book club discussion at the end! Join in, in the comments every week! Also, there will probably be spoilers so read along with us!  Excited about the young adult cancer book club?  Have any suggestions for future reads?  Let us know!