Excellent Interview and New Book

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

FEBRUARY 15, 2018

  It is always a pleasure to discover a new author who writes eloquently, thoughtfully, and well about life in Cancer World. Sometimes the writer is a clinician, more often it is a patient or family member who shares her experience in a particularly good way. I was delighted to hear an interview on NPR with Kate Bowler about her new memoir: Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I've Loved. Ms. Bowler is a young wife and mother who has been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Somehow she is managing to use this sadness to help the rest of us--and, I hope, herself. 

  The book is not only wonderful, but also has some good, practical suggestions for the people around us. I often suggest to my patients that one way to manage the stupid or hurtful remarks that come their way is to keep a real or, at least, a mental list of them. Then, when someone says something like: "Oh, my cousin had that same cancer, and she died....", there is someplace to put it. And this is another opportunity to share my best all purpose response to those comments: Pause a moment, and then, in a puzzled, not an angry way, say: " Why did you say that to me?" This very effectively puts the responsibility back on them, and usually leads to some squirming and apologies. As well it should. It is not your job to protect others' feelings in this situation.

  Many of us do find that writing or journaling (or, I suppose, doing this daily blog) is an excellent way to process our feelings and thoughts and better understand ourselves and our world. She does this with grace. Here are some excerpts from the interview. I strongly recommend that you at least read the conversation and, hopefully, are then motivated to read the book. (Note: this is a tragic situation, and you are excused from any further reading if just thinking about it makes you too sad.)  

What Not To Say To The Terminally Ill: 'Everything Happens For A Reason'

Kate Bowler's new memoir, Everything Happens for a Reason And Other Lies I've Loved, is a funny, intimate portrait of living in that nether space between life and death. In it, she shares her experiences with incurable stage 4 cancer and gives advice on what not to say to those who are terminally ill.

Bowler is also the host of Everything Happens, a new podcast.

She writes that sometimes silence is the best response: "The truth is that no one knows what to say. It's awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward. People's weird, suffering bodies are awkward. But take the advice of one man, who wrote to me with his policy: Show up and shut up." (note from Hester LOVE this advice!)

 

On why she wrote Everything Happens For A Reason

Suddenly at [age] 35, I get this stage 4 cancer diagnosis, and it's just like a bomb went off and everything around me is debris. And I'm thinking, "Oh my gosh, did I actually maybe expect that everything was going to work out for me?" And so I wrote the book more like a theological excavation project, like I was just trying to get down to the studs of what I really expected from my life. And I think I was a lot more sure than I realized ... maybe that I was the architect of my own life, that I could overcome anything with a little pluck and determination.

On how a cancer diagnosis changed her outlook on life

I kind of pictured my life like it was this life enhancement project, and like my life is like a bucket and I'm supposed to put all the things in the bucket. And the whole purpose is to figure out how to have as many good things coexisting at the same time.And then when everything falls apart, you totally have to switch imagination, like maybe instead, life is just vine to vine. And you're like grabbing onto something, and you're just hoping for dear life it doesn't break.

Read more: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/08/583774624/what-not-to-say-to-the-terminally-ill-everything-happens-for-a-reason