All of Us Warriors: Cancer Stories of Survival and Loss
by Rebecca Whitehead Munn
She Writes Press

"I started to question why this was happening to me. All of a sudden, my life had changed forever. I had so many questions."

Conjure the image of waking up one morning to the rays of the sun shining through the crevices of the curtains in the bedroom window, representing a vast and expansive future waiting to be experienced and conquered. Then, in one moment, a bump or another symptom changes the dynamic of life itself. Cancer, for most, comes out of left field and leaves the individual no better than a deer in the headlights, entirely unsure of what to do and how to operate. The feelings of isolation and loneliness that come with the stark reality that one must face their own mortality are downright harrowing. While this book is effective in many ways, its strength lies in the ability to provide companionship, hope for a bright future, and, most importantly, dignity and normalcy in the direst of situations.

From the outset, Munn's path to conceiving the idea and bringing the book to reality revolved around the stories of patients and survivors in her own life. The level of openness and vulnerability undoubtedly makes for an authentic glimpse into the lives of the patients and the impact cancer can wreak on their entire support system. More than anything else, the collection of stories demonstrates one reality: no experience with this devastating disease will be the same. It is imperative to be informed and comfortable in asking for help without feeling like a burden.

Part of what makes this compilation on coping with cancer so intriguing is its ability to cater to any personality type. For Robyn, a friend and a primary catalyst in bringing this book to fruition, the journey out of the darkness of cancer is predicated upon faith. Another friend, Melissa, shares her story of ignoring one warning call after another, chalking it up to a hectic lifestyle. Helen's story centers on discovering meditation and breathing consciously as a means to handle the stressors of treatment and the great unknown. While each story brings an aura of familiarity and understanding for patients and their families, they are just as integral to educating the greater population. Terms like HER2 cells, tumor-shrinking drugs like Carboplatin, and a "full-body positron emission photography (PET) scan" add a lot more transparency to the diagnostic and treatment processes. In the case of many patients, even the unlikeliest symptoms, such as backaches and vision in frames, can point to an underlying cancer diagnosis.

Through words, Munn has created an environment of support and solidarity. A cancer diagnosis is earth-shattering regardless of how calm, composed, and Zen one may be. To potentially allay some of the fears and avoid common pitfalls, the author has included a "Helpful Tips" section whose name underscores just how valuable the section is. From the impact of certain food smells on patients to learning more about the viability of stem cell transplantation, the section is filled with uncommon tidbits of knowledge that will provide a path to tackling resistance.

If readers only take one thing from their experience with this text, it should be the understanding that cancer is extremely prevalent, especially if a parent has had it. Regular check-ups and not burying a visit to the doctor if any remotely worrisome symptoms exist is essential regardless of age. Warriors, as Munn describes the community of patients, is an undeniably appropriate classification to depict the resilience and mindset of living in the moment each individual has in their fight to survive. Whether describing the use of exercise, music, or something else, the patients' stories demonstrate the importance of staying engaged with daily routines. That in its own right can be therapeutic. Overall, Munn's text is nothing short of a vital roadmap that helps patients and their loved ones as they navigate uncharted waters. It is a source of faith and hope, resilience and spirit, and, ultimately, being human and living with ferocity regardless of the situation.

Winner of the 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award Health Category

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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