After writer Allison Winn Scotch lost a close friend to breast cancer, she began a novel to help manage her grief. The resulting book is The Department of Lost & Found, available at http://www.amazon.com/Department-Lost-Found-Allison-Scotch/dp/006116142X/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1210713797&sr=8-1.
This is the story of a driven, not always likable young woman whose successful career, life and values are shaken by breast cancer. As a fellow cancer survivor tells Natalie, the novel’s heroine, “It’s funny, isn’t it? How the thing that cancer changes the most isn’t your breasts or your hair or anything at all on the outside. What it changes is everything else instead.”
Scotch’s novel is serious and funny, probing and intuitive. Her heroine longs for her untouched “old” life till it becomes clear that that life doesn’t exist any longer — and neither does the older version of herself who would have done anything to advance her career.
If the novel falters at all, it’s from wrapping up Natalie’s life too neatly and quickly after she finishes treatment and goes into remission. This is a time many cancer survivors — including me — find themselves depressed and helpless. They’ve spent months concentrating on brutal treatments, counting the days till they return to “normal,” when their hair grows out and their scars and radiation burns fade.
Don’t underestimate what a hard time it’s going to be after treatment is over. I was fortunate enough to have two friends to warn me about that. Otherwise, I would have been even more bewildered after the rest of the supportive world that had brought casseroles and flowers to my front door moved on, since everything was over and I could be happy and healthy again.
It’s never that easy, quick or uncomplicated. Difficult as chemo and radiation are, they’re also distractions from fully realizing you’ve had a deadly disease that can return at any time. That’s the realization that slams you in the face just at the time everybody else is relieved that you’re still alive and healthy and that life can go back to what it was before. Except you can’t get there from where you are.
Still, Scotch has written a good and valuable novel about how cancer changes your life — and of the odd and lasting benefits a stay in that dark and frightening place can bring.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)