Ah, books. My one true love in life. There seems to be a book that I can neatly attach to every stage of my life. Whether it be having Dr. Suess’s Green Eggs and Ham read to me in class as a six-year old while I sit braiding the hair of the girl in front of on the carpet, or laying in a hammock at a friend’s cottage one summer at age 11 or 12 reading Judy Bloom’s Summer Sisters and thinking how much the character Vic reminds me of myself.
There were books that changed my life in high school and made me want to study philosophy, like Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, or classics such as George Orwell’s 1984 that inform my views of politics and government today.
There were books for entertainment, books for education and books for escape.
But for the last year of my life, there were no books at all.
One year ago today, on September 20, 2012, after 10 months of feeling terribly ill and seeing doctor after doctor and having test after test performed on me, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. At just 24 years old I was completely overwhelmed with this diagnosis.
So I left my job and my life in Ottawa and returned home to Toronto for the support of my family and friends and to receive treatment, which began in November. Those months were a whirlwind of learning about my illness, meeting with new doctors and dealing with the new reality of having cancer.
With all the new found free time on my hands, and feeling pretty lonely, I thought to myself, ‘well at least I’ll do some reading.’ ‘Yeah, it won’t be so bad. I’ll finally get to all those books I’ve been meaning to read and haven’t had time for.’
Boy, was I wrong.
There would be no book to get me through this stage of my life, no escape and no comfort to be found in those binded spines that lay lifeless on the shelf.
Little did I know what plans chemotherapy had for me and my bibliophile brain.
I went through six cycles, and six months of ABVD chemotherapy. The A, B, V and D stand for the four different drugs I received intravenously every two weeks at the hospital.
These drugs made me tired, tired beyond belief, but often unable to sleep. My brain felt foggy and I started forgetting simple words for things, or people’s names that I had know for a long time.
Reading was simply out of the question, and that was a devastating realization.
I would try to pick up a book, but get a few sentences in and realize I hadn’t absorbed anything I’d just read. I reverted to magazines and tabloids that friends would bring over, but found even they were too difficult to concentrate on.
People have talked to me about feeling the same way, about going through phases where they just don’t feel like reading very much or are too distracted to get into a good book.
Well, my problem wasn’t that I didn’t feel like reading, and it certainly wasn’t that I was too distracted. I actually couldn’t read.
And all the while, a fear was planted deep in my heart. How long was this going to last? Would I ever be able to read again? I’m a journalist by training and a writer at heart and the idea that I might never again be able to sit down and get through a whole book or pick up The Globe and Mail on a Monday morning at work just terrified me.
My family and my doctors told me to be patient. They said the effects of the illness and the treatment wouldn’t last forever.
And so I waited. And one day, I found myself picking up The Great Gatsby and getting through not just one page, but many. It wasn’t easy, not at first, but slowly I began to read again. And with each novel I finished, I grew more confident; more self-assured.
This cancer wasn’t going to take my life away from me and it was no longer going to deprive me of the things in life that I loved. I was going to get better and I was going to read books and go back to work. I would feel healthy and one day I’d wake up and be happy and have this whole cancer thing just be a distant memory.
And that brings me to today. I’m in remission and I’ve moved back to Ottawa and have started working again.
When I got back to the city I sent a message to Julia to see if she had any openings in her book club. I knew of the “Unputdownable” Book Club for a long time. It’s kind of famous among Carleton Journalism grads and I’d been following her blogs for years.
And lo and behold, there was room for a new member.
At my first meeting I was nervous. None of these people around me knew what kind of a year I’d had. But we all share something in common. We all have a similar love of books and passion for reading and I quickly learned how wonderful and welcoming this extraordinary group of women really is.
So now you know why I joined the UBC. I joined to meet new friends. I joined to return to some sense of normalcy after a year of living hell. But most importantly, I joined to get back my love of reading, a love that has stayed with me through some terrible challenges, and a love I hope I never have to fight for again.