Looking at the cover of Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20’s and 30’s, I made an assumption that it was just another straight forward how-to guide on dealing with cancer. But was I ever wrong.
Everything Changes is not just a how-to guide (although there is heaps of resources and information that anyone dealing with governmental and medical red tape will find tremendously useful). It is, instead, a highly personal journey through the maze of having cancer and receiving treatment in a society that seems to think that cancer is reserved only for the old.
Seems that the mostly common phrase that Kairol and others interviewed in Everything Changes heard after being diagnosed with cancer was “But you’re too young for this!”
In reality, there is no such thing as “too young” for cancer. Nearly 70,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer every year. But thanks to the misconception among people, including physicians, that younger people don‘t get cancer, they are unfortunately often diagnosed later and at more advanced stages of cancer.
Kairol accounts her own slow steps to thyroid cancer diagnosis in a matter of fact and almost humorous way from the initial discovery of a lump…
“I had long thought that chiropractors were quacks: if they gave you one wrong crack, you ended up a spoon-fed paraplegic for life. But after wrenching my neck in dance rehearsal, I was in pain, and a friend who was a receptionist at a chiropractor’s office slipped me into the doctor’s schedule. After five seconds on the table, the chiropractor pulled me to my feet and hauled me in front of her mirror. She pointed to a lump on my neck, demanding , “How long has this been here?” The lump was huge, and I was stunned that I never noticed it before.”
From here, you would think, a direct path to diagnosis would ensure.
But Kairol was young, single, and while employed, was on a minuscule income with shoddy health insurance that limited her to “…a series of ten-minute urgent-care appointments with four different doctors who declared that I had a cold, allergies, or swollen glands…” .
It wasn’t until six months later, when her employer improved their health insurance coverage and switched HMO’s that allowed Kairol to choose from a pool of doctors, that she received a diagnosis of stage II thyroid cancer that had metastasized to nineteen lymph nodes.
I’d like to think this wasn’t the norm, but once you start reading the stories of the other cancer patients that Kairol interviewed for Everything Changes, it’s glaringly obvious that this, unfortunately, is the norm. Young cancer patients are mostly diagnosed at later stages of cancers due to lack of health insurance and because doctor’s are often quick dismiss their symptoms.
Having battled her own cancer treatment, Kairol took to the road and interviewed other twenty and thirtysomething cancer survivors, providing them with a sounding board and a forum in which to vent their frustrations, their joys, their pain, and often revealing more about their cancer experience than they had ever done before.
The result – an amazing collection of compelling, gut wrenching, honest, and even funny, stories that, individually, connect you emotionally to each person, and, collectively, make you wonder where they all get their strength from.
Each chapter features not only one person’s story in their own word (from the initial diagnosis to employment and family challenges, to the never ending health insurance red tape) but also focuses on a particular topic – money, God, dating, self advocacy, sex, fertility, and end-of-life issues – subjects that someone young and sick probably doesn’t want to talk about but often thinks about. Kairol intersperses her own thoughts and experience throughout each chapter, a blending that allows the book to have a natural and easy to read flow.
And at the end of each chapter, there are resource notes. From health insurance and financial guidance to clinical trials, dating, employment issues to working the system and alternative medicine, this part of each chapter is full of information, tips, and addresses and contacts to help people navigate through living and dealing with cancer.
There’s nothing candy coated about Everything Changes. It’s gritty, blunt, frank, and impossible to put down once you start reading it. It might make you cry but it will also make you laugh – often at the same time.
A must read for anyone dealing with cancer or who knows someone with cancer, or for that matter, anyone dealing with chronic illness, not matter what their age.