Settling into the middle third of Kelly Corrigan’s cancer memoir, the balance of back story and current events seems to be shifting toward the cancer story. At this point, of course, the narrative devotes itself both to Kelly’s breast cancer as well as her father’s cancers – his bout with prostate cancer years earlier and the discovery of his bladder cancer, occuring concurrently with Kelly’s chemo treatment. One flashback, however, sheds new light on Kelly’s character. She travels alone to Australia, works as a nanny, making side trips to New Zealand, Thailand, and Fiji. Only later do we, and she, discover that during her trek, her father is diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. Not wanting her to alter her travel plans and return to be at her father’s side, the family decides not to tell Kelli until after she is back home. There is also the suggestion that her presence during this crisis would negatively add to the family drama
Later she makes another trip, a real trek, to the undeveloped wonders of distant Nepal. These travels may reveal the more positive and reaffirming aspects of her relationship with her dad, “Greenie” or the “Green Man”, the moniker he has bestowed upon himself. The confidence that must enable a young, middle class American woman to travel remote areas of the globe can surely be tracked back to her upbringing. As we discussed last week, she is keenly aware of the effect of her father’s magnanimous personality on her eventual identity. “He defined me, as parents do.”
With much of the drama being focused on her involvement with her father’s illness, chapters about Kelly’s own battle almost fade into the background. There are not without eloquence. She discusses the particular difficulties with chemo therapy, describing them as a combination of pain and fear. In a scene in which her younger daughter awakens crying at night against her own pain of teething, Kelly’s mother/survivor instincts emerge. She lifts the child from her crib to comfort her. “…when you are in pain, and you see someone else in pain, there is really nothing as satisfying as giving them comfort in the night. I hold her for a long time, in the dark, like sisters in a forest.”
If this is Kelly’s strongest instinct, it sheds like on her later frustration and angst when her father is diagnosed with bladder cancer. The author is restrained in California by the necessities of her treatment plan. Her aging father is across the country, the family there seeming to wander the medical morass without a sense of direction or advocacy. Kelly’s urge is to rescue, to orchestrate her father’s care by telephone, email, and the internet. Her anxiety swells. “I am at odds with everyone, and it is making me lonely. My most special person is dying, and no one is doing anything right.”
This sets the stage for the last section of the book. Dare we judge Kelly’s emotional dependence on her father? As presented Greenie is one of those rare individuals that people gravitate to. His gift was “making people feel irreplaceable.” No one else in her life quite compares with her father, not even her husband, Edward, as he himself confesses one lonely night. So coupled with her strong paternal bound is also that special feeling of comraderie that we cancer survivors feel for one another. This is part of the impulse and strength of the whole cancer blogging phenomenon, different perhaps than the more general blogging community that might be seen as more “self-focused.”
Reading Assignment: finish reading “The Middle Place”. Focus on Kelly’s relationship with her father and her identification with his cancer struggle.
The Middle Place from Amazon