Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club! We are reading Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler. Catch up on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, and Chapter 6.
Let’s get started!
Chapter 7: Certainty
Commentary by Mary Clare B.:
“The horror of cancer has made everything seem like it is painted in bright colors. I think the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.”
The chapter Certainty is overflowing with moments of joy meeting the madness of rationalizing death and dying. Kate is in treatment and is spending her time writing about her experience and on a whim submits a piece to the NY Times and is published. Her work is seen and reacted to my many readers with divergent perspectives on her role as a cancer patient. Those that write to her are often sharp with their words and come with a message. She neatly places them in three camps: The Teachers, The Minimize-rs and the Solutions People. The Teachers are looking for a lesson in her suffering, the Minimizers are comparing her suffering to those in far worse circumstance, and lastly, the Solutions People are prescribing positively at shrill volumes. But there are the scant few letters she receives which don’t fall neatly into a box– often people sharing their own experiences with cancer or life-changing events. These people simply wish her well and bring the comfort that our struggle is universal.
At this point in the book, I was hungry for reflection and to have the narrative slow down. I struggled with this book because I am not particularly interested in the prosperity gospel. The writing style is lacking something I cannot easily put my finger on but it comes down to rushed prose and a lack of depth. To be completely honest, I am also wildly jealous of her large family and seemingly never-ending supply of friends and colleagues at her side. This chapter changed some of that for me and I was fascinated by her depictions of the letter writers and her feelings of floating on gratitude and joy. I remember so well those days of feeling so cared for, loved and if this was the end, then okay.
Commentary by Jessica B.:
This chapter focused on Kate’s life as she started going through treatment. This is when first writes about her cancer experience for the New York Times and faces a flurry of responses from the public, some seemingly helpful, but others, not so much. It doesn’t really benefit anyone to hear how someone else’s life went so much better than their own. From these responses, Kate finds 3 life lessons that people seem to be trying to teach her.
The first lesson comes from a group of people she dubs the “Minimizers”. These people seem to want to teach the lesson that she shouldn’t be upset about her diagnosis because the significance of death is relative. They think she shouldn’t worry so much about the end of her life because there is a larger picture that is more important. I can’t say I ever personally encountered anyone who tried to react in this manner, but I also didn’t write an article about my cancer that was published in the New York Times.
The second lesson comes from a group of people dubbed the “Teachers” who want to teach the lesson that this experience is supposed to be an education in mind, body, and spirit. They think, somehow, she’s supposed to end up learning from this experience, when really all she wants is a straightforward response about how much this all sucks. I also didn’t really encounter anyone who expected me to learn any great life lessons from having cancer or to have any great revelations from the experience.
The last group of people is dubbed the “Solutions People”. These people seem disappointed that Kate isn’t saving herself. They talk about how attitude is all she needs to make it all better. While I don’t necessarily agree with this 100%, I do think it helps to have a positive attitude. If you just give up, then even if your time is limited, you won’t be able to make the most of it.
It certainly makes sense that none of these “life lessons” are particularly helpful, but even while she was being flooded with unhelpful letters from strangers, Kate felt like she was floating on all of the love and prayers of the people around her. All of the advice she was receiving was nowhere near as helpful as just having the people she cared about around her as she went through treatment. I think that’s probably true for a lot of people. A cancer diagnosis has the ability to either bring out the best or the worst in people. Sometimes support comes from unexpected places. I received messages of support from high school classmates that I hadn’t seen in almost 15 years. My coworkers at a job I had only had for 2 months when I got my diagnosis were quick to jump in with offers of rides to treatment and grocery shopping trips when I needed them. They even organized a meal train when I wasn’t expecting it. All of the different types of people may think they know best, but really, when it comes down to it, sometimes just being there to show support makes all the difference.
Commentary by Krista L.:
I think after a cancer diagnosis everyone experiences the well-meaning neighbor, friend, or even health provider who makes some sort of statement close to, “everything happens for a reason.” Even if it’s something I believe, I don’t think it’s something others should tell me. Even if they don’t know what else to say. Kate’s husband answers this head on with the great line of, “I’d love to hear it…the reason my wife is dying…” And for that, I loved Chapter 7.
I think it also hits the nail on the head about a few things, but even generally speaking, once I was diagnosed with cancer, I started getting lots of different comments like these. Not to the extent Kate does, but I think she talks very well about the things that people said and wrote that helped her and the things that did not. Also, it sheds some light on something that I have had a hard time putting a finger one. Once I was diagnosed and started telling people, I felt like I was thrust onto this stage where people were giving me lots of advice and stories to make me feel better, and then watching my every move to see what I did with it. It’s a strange feeling and I think Kate does a good job of explaining why these advisors and stories didn’t necessarily help her personally. “My problems can’t be solved by those formulas-those cliches-when my life was never generic to begin with. God may be universal, but I am not.”
Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on Chapter 8: Restoration!
Thanks for joining us for Chapter 7: Certainty of Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler! Join in next Monday for the next chapter!
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!