This is a tale of and by two cancer sufferers: one, the patient; the other, the principal caregiver, her brother. The tale is told through honest, witty blogs that begin on 27 May 2013, when Clare Wise hears, “Go home and prepare for the worst” and thinks to herself, “…no one…should ever say this unless a meteorite is about to hit the Earth and neither Will Smith nor Bruce Willis is available to save us.”
A vibrant, loving, professional woman who writes with courageous honesty about physical pain and with humor about psychological pain, Clare Wise takes the reader with her from the time she learns she has breast cancer until 23 July 2016 when her birth and spirit brother Greg continues the story. Staggered by the first diagnosis she writes that she had no idea what the doctor was saying, but “…when I saw that her mouth had stopped moving and she asked me if I had any questions all that I could think of was, ‘Where did you get your dress?’”
Using her familiarity with films, thanks to her family as well as her profession, she addresses such side effects as hair loss in short chapters titled “Bald: The Final Frontier”, “The Bald and the Beautiful”, “The Good, the Bald, and the Ugly”. Despite her wry take on all the tests, the machines, the poking, probing and worse, she does not sugarcoat any procedure. She tells us when it really hurts. As for “side effects” she unambiguously states ,“They are full frontal, not side issues”. Even so, after describing a treatment that involved a kind of “internal nipple piercing” she wonders, “Imagine explaining that at Heathrow security”.
Throughout her experience Clare is supported by a cadre of close friends and family, especially her actor brother. Almost since his birth 18 months after hers, the two had shared a twin-like
relationship. Greg accompanies her on almost every hospital/emergency room visit whether for consultations, chemo and radiation therapies, or side effects gone amok.
In June 2015, a year and a half after her final breast cancer treatment, she begins to hear repeated misdiagnoses of rotator cuff syndrome to explain pain in her shoulders—first left, then right. Next, strange aches in her ribs are misdiagnosed as a tropical disease. She and Greg return to the Macmillan Cancer Centre where her original surgeon orders a CT scan. The next day, the only day Greg couldn’t accompany her, she hears the correct diagnosis —incurable bone cancer.
The road is downward from then on except for her trip to India. Clare sends her last blog in June 2016, handing over the computer to Greg—another entertaining writer who spares no detail about
the gradual deterioration of his beloved sister. His world becomes consumed with caring for her, bedridden and in pain. He leaves his nearby home and family to stay with her, dealing with
challenges from the intricate steps of getting her into a shower to the often fruitless efforts at controlling her pain. “We are still in the time of the caveman when it comes to dealing with pain—it’s a sledgehammer approach, unfocused and just sedating”, sending the patient into lala land.
He finds gentle humour in odd places: whether searching for non-rinse shampoo or the problems of wheelchair showering. His blogs are full of memories of life with Clare, their shared family and friends, and Grably Puss, the very important cat in the story. Brother and sister collaborate in giving the drugs nicknames: Effentora, an oral painkiller that acts as fast as an injection, became Nora Ephron, named for the comic screenwriter (also a cancer victim) of such films as “When Harry Met Sally” and was simply called a “Nora” when it was needed.
Finally he discusses “Compassion Fatigue” which he renames “Reality Mortality”. He feels isolated during conversations with Clare which become only “…brief exchanges…about either domestic [matters] or slightly drug-filled” and guilty about feeling “grumpy” about his “dying sister”. Greg admits, “I have to start making unilateral decisions which seems unfair as she is desperate
for a sense of control—at the same time unwilling to participate in the conversation.”