"But the reality is that, at my core, I am who I was. And cancer has not changed that."

If a dear sister or best friend wrote a memoir about their unexpected confrontation with a malignant brain tumor, this might be the book. O’Connell immediately captures attention with her open-hearted narrative and her appreciation of family, friends, and the medical team involved in her sojourn with stage IV glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) that began in April 2006. O’Connell’s determination to live a decade (GBM has a median survival rate of fourteen months) is a tribute to her matter-of-fact attitude. She exudes compassion for herself as well as others. Despite the heavy emotional toll that a GBM diagnosis exerts on patients and their families, she remains, for the most part, in the moment, accepting her fate with grace.

Accompanied by family photos, medical reports, and recommendations, this poignant memoir predominantly spans the 2006-2007 encounter with GBM. She triumphantly visits Italy in 2007, a lifetime dream postponed by her illness. Eventually, her monthly MRIs are reduced to biannual excursions, but a second tumor becomes visible in 2016, just after the ten-year anniversary of her original surgery. O’Connell’s commentary ends at this point, and it’s clear her ability to communicate becomes more difficult. Still, her last words are uplifting and hopeful: “I’ve done this before. I can do it again. Wish me luck.”

O’Connell allows us to laugh and cry with her as she muses about cancer and her future, and it is natural to mourn her passing in 2018 because, by the end of the book, she’s clearly no ordinary stranger to us. As her daughter states in the epilogue, “. . . she never gave up, she never stopped smiling, and she never quit loving life.” There’s nothing more ordinary—and more extraordinary— in a survivor’s tale than that.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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