When Dan Shapiro was 20 years old and a junior in college, he was diagnosed with "nodular sclerosing Hodgkin's disease." Thus began a five-year ordeal of chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and a bone marrow transplant that failed. But this memoir, which recounts diagnosis, treatment, and two relapses, is more than a narrative of illness. Woven in and out of the subjective experience of physical and emotional trauma is the author's life as an adolescent, a family member, a young man who falls in love with the woman who eventually becomes his wife, a graduate student learning to be a clinical psychologist.

Sequences of ordinary life are carefully juxtaposed with sections on illness and treatment, emphasizing the author's determination to incorporate his illness into his life, all part of one continuous fabric. Even though disease was enormously disruptive, "[l]ife doesn't stop when something horrible happens" (158). Part of that life was a mother who decided to grow marijuana plants in her backyard ("Mom's Marijuana") so that her son would have an antidote for the terrible nausea that accompanied his chemotherapy. It is Mom who learns in a waiting room conversation that it might be advisable for Dan to bank his sperm for the future-- and who then proceeds to make the arrangements. As the memoir ends, Dan's mother finally disposes of the dry marijuana leaves that have been hanging in her attic for several years.


When this book was published, the author was only 34 years old. Disease-free, married, a father, and on the faculty in Integrated Care and Psychiatry at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson, he reflects back on the events of his early adulthood, basing his narrative on notes that he made during those years and afterward. "I understand the why and how of things after I write them down" (84).

This is a well-written and entertaining narrative. Shapiro has a sense of humor and the insight one would hope to find in a psychotherapist. He makes astute observations about the training, work, and demands on physicians--based on his illness experience as well as on what he knows of medical practice through his profession. The memoir will be of value to any who must contend with life-threatening illness in young adulthood, as well as to those who are interested in psychotherapy (as patient or as therapist-in-training), cancer care, or medical practice.


First published in 2000 by Crown: Harmony.



Place Published

New York



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