BEFORE I GO: Why I don’t read cancer books (until now) & why you should read this one.

Tissues required.
Tissues required.

I was 30 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was also vegetarian, active, healthy…cancer was a shock. Unexpected. Unwelcome. But, undeniable.

Now, nearly 12 years later, I have a couple of rules about this whole life beyond cancer thing. One, I’m grateful for every day past my diagnosis — I celebrate my “cancerversary” the way one might a wedding anniversary or birthday, often with cupcakes. And two, I don’t watch cancer movies or read cancer books – a rule I broke for my fellow Deb Colleen, and her amazing debut novel, BEFORE I GO.

Yes, BEFORE I GO is a book about cancer. It’s about a 27-year-old woman, Daisy, who is facing cancer for a second time – and this time it’s terminal – and decides to use the last six months of her life to find her husband, Jack, a new wife. So yes, it’s sad. SAD. But it’s also about so many other things, too: marriage, love, hope and possibilities, and living the best life you can in the time you have.

So here are 5 things that will happen to you when you read BEFORE I GO:

  1. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. (And probably at the same time, more than once)

One of the main reasons I don’t read books about cancer is because I’ve lived it. It sucked. And reading about it, even in fictionalized form, brings all that bubbling to the surface. So if I’m being totally honest, BEFORE I GO was tough for me to read, particularly the opening chapters, where we learn Daisy’s cancer is back. However, Colleen has NAILED (in my opinion, anyway) what it’s like to be a cancer survivor – the fear of it coming back, the anxiety about how to prevent that from happening (kale wasn’t hip when I went through treatment, but if it had been I likely would have guzzled it daily like Daisy does in a morning smoothie), the realities of life AFTER cancer. While I read Daisy’s stream of consciousness about telling her husband, Jack, the cancer is back, and how much she loves her hair and her “perfect” breasts, I nodded…and cried for her, imagining it all. But I also laughed — like when Daisy realizes why her organic, cancer-fighting kale has disappeared (Jack fed it to the guinea pig). Colleen is one skilled writer – to balance the reader so effortlessly between tears and laughter, well, that’s talent.

  1. You’ll remember sometimes it’s about the little things, like socks beside the bed.

When I was going through treatment one of the things my then boyfriend, now husband, promised was to make me laugh every day – which he did, and for which I was very grateful. But while he gave me laughter during a tough time, he also did a few things that drove me crazy – like this strange habit he had of leaving the kitchen cupboards wide open after he took something out of them (he has since cured himself of this, thankfully). Jack has a thing about leaving his dirty socks discarded by the side of the bed – a habit that makes organized-to-a-fault Daisy nuts, but it’s also a habit that threads throughout the story and closes out the book in a way that made me smile through my tears.

  1. You’ll rethink your priorities.

There’s a point where Daisy talks about how she once answered the question: “If you knew you were going to die in one month, what would you do?” Pack a suitcase, book a transatlantic flight, rent a house on the Amalfi Coast, and stuff my face with loads of authentic Italian pasta and wine, Daisy says. And I love what Colleen wrote next, because it’s so true: Now all I can think is: how naively ambitious of me. I’m a little embarrassed of that self-assured twenty-one-year-old who didn’t let the prospect of death get her down. She’ll just carpe diem! over a bottle of red until she draws her last breath. Silly girl. Cancer put my priorities into perspective – family, friends, health, purpose. You can certainly find happiness and clarity in a great bottle of red in Amalfi (I know, I’ve done it), but a gingerale shared with those your love in your living room works too.

  1. You’ll wonder what you’d do in the same situation.

When I got my diagnosis I had been dating my husband for about a month. What a way to start a relationship, huh? So while we weren’t married, and thankfully my disease wasn’t terminal, I did have moments where I wondered, worried, that I could end up breaking his heart in the worst possible way. I love that Daisy makes finding Jack a wife her final project, and her honesty around it – yes, she wants Jack to be happy and not be alone forever. But she also knows that means his happiness won’t be with her, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow – a push and pull decision Colleen beautifully crafts across the pages.

  1. You’ll cross your fingers and hope for a happy ending.

Go read the book. That’s all I’ll say about the ending, okay?

Congrats, Colleen!

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Karma Brown is the author of COME AWAY WITH ME (MIRA/Harlequin, September 2015), an emotional story of one woman’s discovery that life is still worth living, even if it’s not the life you planned. Karma is also a National Magazine award-winning journalist, and lives outside Toronto, Canada, with her family and their mischievous labradoodle puppy, Fred.

This article has 10 Comments

  1. First, Karma, I’m so sorry you had to face cancer (I write for The Breast Cancer Society and, unfortunately, have too many close family members who also have been through it). What a great testament to your friendship that you were able to read –and enjoy — Coleen’s book. It sounds fabulous.

    I got a real kick out of the “socks by the bed” comment. This is MY husband!

    1. Thanks, Melissa! Most of us have been touched by cancer, and it’s a brutal, nasty disease. And yes, the book is FABULOUS. (Also, the socks thing — ah, we all have the ‘socks’ thing 🙂 )

  2. NAILED IT! I can’t imagine reading it from the perspective of a survivor as it was tough enough without that experience. Colleen did a great job weaving the emotions together!

  3. Karma, this means so much more coming from the viewpoint of a breast cancer survivor. And I, for one, am so glad that you’re a SURVIVOR. Couldn’t imagine this world without you (and your writing talents!) Thank you so much for loving the book and for your support!

    1. Thanks Colleen 🙂 Though not a breast cancer survivor (mine was non-hodgkin’s lymphoma) so much of the cancer “journey” (what a terrible word, but it’s all I can come up with this morning — I’m undercaffeinated!) is universal. You really captured what it’s like. So thank you for that 🙂

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