Cancer on $5 a Day – book club

By now most readers will have taken the hint and googled “Robert Schimmel” to learn of last year’s scandal. But before we delve into that issue and how it should or shouldn’t effect our appreciation of the book, let us just examine the last few chapters.  The scene in which the author is experiencing the chills and rigors, the beginning of a neutrapenic fever, is reminiscent.  He is home alone and needs to get to the hospital.  He is living in Arizona where the outside temperature is 114.  And yet he needs a sweater and ski jacket to feel warm!  At the hospital all is a daze, voices disembodied.  He eventually feels so wretched that he at least voices a desire to kill himself by jumping out the window.  A visit by his children brings him back from that brink of despair.

Once again we have a book by a survivor whose family hisotry includes experience with the Holocaust.  This story involves a forced march.  Anyone who falls behind or strays is shot.  A German soldier advises Schimmel’s father “If you want to live, keep moving.” Advice that the son, Robert, can now take to heart in his battle with lymphoma  This memory and the appearance of his kids at a crucial moment energizes the author into redoubling his efforts to fight.

In making an assessment of this thiungs in life most important to him, Robert finds himself spelling out the name of the girlfriend he had left at the beginning of his cancer journey – Melissa.  He coerces his mother into taking him for a drive, breaking him of of the hospital.  When she balks at driving him to Los Angeles, they head for a phone booth.  During the call, we realize that six months before he had broken up with her, told her to “move on” without revealing his cancer situation.  She reveals to him that she is dating someone, that, in fact,  she has slept with this man for the first time just the day before.  After the conversation, he is determined to fly to L.A. to see her, returning the same night.

The scene that follows is pure Hollywood.  It is raining, he sees her silhouette in the upstairs window.  She is kissing her new boyfriend.  Schimmel leaves her a note under her windshield and returns to his apartment.  A dumb idea he thinks.  But soon he receives a phone call. The new boyfriend went out to get some food, finds the note, and returns with it upstairs.  A dumb idea it turns out.  They are reunited.  Schimmel is cured.  He and Melissa marry and have two children.

Schimmel leaves us some advice.  His message is straightforward, as is the style of his book.  This, I think, is the reason for its popularity and success. ~ Keep your sense of humnor, no matter what~ Create a purpose, a focus, and never take your eyes off of it.  ~ Figure out what’s important to you.  ~ Be open.  Try anything.  You never know.  ~ Love.  You need love.  Tons of it.  A shitload of love.  ~ Sometimes you need to be selfish.  ~  You need support.  You’re in this alone, but you can’t fight alone.  ~  The most precious thing you have is time.  Don’t waste it.  ~ You are ony human.  ~ And,  finally, once again – laugh.

In early 2009 Robert Schimmel is arrested at his home for domestic battery.  He and Melissa later divorce.  Cancer sometimes make heroes of us.  It cannot make us saints.

Next Book: The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan.  First discussion in two weeks.  Questions will be posted next Monday.  Order from Amazon: The Middle Place


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.


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