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A wry, witty account of what it is like to face death and be restored to life. After being diagn.......

Title : A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781426216336
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer Reviews

  • Rebecca Foster
    2019-04-09 19:38

    “SPOILER: I lived,” Salon journalist Williams begins her bittersweet memoir of having Stage 4 metastatic melanoma. She was first diagnosed at Stage 2c in August 2010, when she had a several-millimeter scab on her head surgically removed at New York City’s celebrated Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. When the melanoma came back a year and a half later, this time in her lungs as well as in a tumor on her back, she had the extreme good luck of qualifying for an immunotherapy trial that straight up cured her. It’s the kind of encouraging story you don’t often hear in a cancer memoir. On the other hand, her father-in-law’s esophageal cancer and her best friend Debbie’s ovarian cancer simply went from bad to worse. This book presents a whole range of cancer experiences, emphasizing how severity depends on the type but also on the individual.As the title suggests, Williams’s tone vacillates between despair and hope, but her writing is always wry and conversational. “I wonder if I will finish a canister of oatmeal, or if my bottle of Tabasco will outlast my presence in this world,” she writes; she and Debbie exchange joke T-shirts, including a “F*** Cancer” one she’ll wear to every check-up. “Don’t think of it as losing your hair,” she advises Debbie. “Think of it as a fullbody Brazilian.” And then there’s her idea of making a killing by opening up a bar across from Sloan Kettering called “Terminal.” But there’s also plenty of heart-rending stuff here, including Williams’s desperate hope to stick around for her two daughters and partner Jeff, with whom she’d recently reconciled.Don’t let the cancer theme fool you: this book is by no means a downer.Bonus: 5% of the proceeds go to Gilda’s Club, a New York City support group for children with family members with cancer.

  • Jeanette
    2019-03-24 19:34

    Very personal and intensely clear recital of all the events which turned her life around and nearly out since her diagnosis. It's at least 3.5 star. It taught me much about this type of cancer and its treatments. Her voice is honest and the support groups and others' stories told in detail. Although it is very sad, the "eyes" of her cognition during these periods are well told. You will learn about Sloan-Kettering and NYC life from the eyes/ mind/ heart of the patient who wants to live to see her daughters grow up. Dire and real problem path by a gutsy human within a 1st world life is worth the read.

  • Anne
    2019-03-28 16:33

    Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought this book would change my life; it did. My mom had Stage 3c Ovarian Cancer and lived 18 months. It metastasis to her liver, lungs, stomach, and her brain. it was everywhere. I don't feel like they did much for her, to be honest. She was only 57. When I read this book, I laughed, I cried, I related. I have a lot of survivors guilt, despite not being the one with cancer. I was the main caregiver. If I could go back, I would have done it differently. They gave her nothing for her immune system, she constantly had infections, even had to receive a trach because an infection ate her epiglottis away. You are so right when you say, "Not every ones cancer is the same." A cure - is a bit of a far reach for anyone to say, because that would mean we have a cure for everyone's unique cancer. If that day ever happens... I hope I'm alive to see it.

  • Jill Booth-clibborn
    2019-04-08 21:44

    This book actually got my ass to the gym - both so I didn't have to put it down, but because of the inspiring content - LIVING. Wow. An honest account of dealing with the shock, SHOCK! of realizing your day-to-day life in the sun fucked up your body and caused staged 4 melanoma. I enjoyed Mary Elizabeth's stunning report of receiving this news, juggling her family, her career and all of the other annoying things that happen to us when we have ailing parents and young children. Could have been anyone of us. I was in awe of some of her poetic and theatrical word choices (which gave meaning and love to her dark experience - and often humor) as well as the rundown of the info on immunotherapy. I am excited by this amazing development in modern medicine. FUCK CANCER. Looking forward to our future without it. Highly recommend this memoir.

  • Carole
    2019-04-02 14:43

    Is generous a word people use about memoirs? Because that is the word that best describes "A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles" for me. Mary Elizabeth Williams unflinchingly describes the raw emotion that blindsided her time and again, from her own diagnosis and recurrence of cancer, to the losses of her close loved ones, through physical pain and uncertainty and frightened children and even the gross stuff like oozing wounds and a horrifically timed (shudder) lice outbreak. She is beyond generous to let us into her thoughts and feelings, a beacon to anyone going through similar trials.But it's not all gloom and doom, as the spoiler that opens the book proves. She lived. There is humor in here, so much of the humor that helped her and her husband and her best friend retaliate against the onslaught. There's fascinating research about the immunotherapy treatment that saved her, its history, and the doctors who are pushing it forward. And there's so much wisdom and insight. I dog-eared many pages to refer back to, to words that brought me, a widow with two children struggling to get through day after day, a lot of comfort. There's one passage early in the book that took my breath away, because it mirrored my own experience in grief counseling. It happens just a couple of days after Mary Elizabeth's cancer diagnosis. "I'm already grieving for the person I was on August 10. Her unquestioning ability to plan things far in advance, her unshakeable certainty of her own future existence, her ability to walk down Broadway on a bright summer day with no hat and no fear. She was obliterated in the span of a phone call. I wish I'd had a chance to say goodbye." There's a reason they call them "life-changing experiences". When our lives are changed, we are changed. We miss like hell the person we used to be. We hate it, but we have to deal with it and get on with the business of living. Mary Elizabeth Williams teaches us that we can do that with humor, with grace, and with love.

  • Megan
    2019-04-04 21:39

    It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect.

  • Benita
    2019-04-15 16:22

    I'm not sure what to say except it wasn't exactly what I expected. While I felt sympathy for this lady, I felt even more so for the other patients in the book, not just because some of them died, but what they all had to deal with. Cancer is prevalent in my family so it isn't like I haven't seen these events play out before - the ups and downs of a disease that plays havoc with both emotions and body tissue - maybe it was because I have seen more stoicism that what she projected in her own illness. The most beneficial parts for me were those that went into some of the scientific issues of disease and cancer itself. I feel both sympathy for everyone with cancer and yet, it also dredges up my own fears of someday having the disease itself. The treatments can be horrific.

  • Connie
    2019-03-28 16:22

    Oh my. I couldn't put this down. I was not prepared for a cancer story because within 6 months 3 dear friends have entered their own world of cancer. When my daughter passed this to me as a must read I did so reluctantly. I am so so glad I did. Well written, easily understood page turner that makes you an intimate part of a sweet and salty, bitter and beautiful story. I am better informed, better prepared to support my friends and thank MaryElizabeth for this gift.

  • Vicky Griffith
    2019-04-07 21:26

    I read this book just before picking up When Breath Becomes Air and while this story was interesting enough, it really suffered from that comparison. I'd recommend picking up the Kalanithi instead.

  • Ronya Misleh
    2019-04-24 16:44

    I'm not sure how to review this other than to say that it really moved me. It was really honest and really real. And the realness is what invoked the feelings I felt--sadness at the cruelty of this horrible and terrifying disease; hopefulness for science and the doctors who are working toward cures and for the patients participating in trials; awe at the strength of the people going through this and for that of their families and friends and caregivers. While a memoir of the author's "journey" (like her, I hate that word to describe something like this) it was really also a story of love and friendship and strength.

  • Jackie
    2019-04-19 14:36

    So sad and so optimistic too. I want to recommend this to so many people!

  • Sara Strand
    2019-04-12 15:36

    I remember when my mom told me she had melanoma and she was going to be having surgery to remove it and then a skin graft to basically give her new skin in the area of the melanoma, I (like a really terrible daughter) assumed it would all be fine and it wasn't a big deal. It's not that I didn't take skin cancer seriously, but I am that person who just assumes this kind of stuff won't happen to MY parents (let alone me) and I really put a lot of faith that doctors know what they are doing and everything will be great. Fortunately for her, it did turn out OK but now that I've read more about melanoma and learned that she had not just melanoma but also all three skin cancers you can have and she has the gene which could be a genetic worry for my brother and I, (source) I am terrified. We spent out summers as little kids shirtless, sometimes naked, running around in the Florida sunshine. I am literally covered in moles and freckles, I've already had a suspicious one removed when I was in middle school, so the reality that I actually need to be extra cautious is drilled into my head. So long story short, as soon as I saw this as a book review option, I was all over it because it hits so close to home. It's a true story of Mary Elizabeth and her weirdo scab on her head she thought was just a nuisance but turned out to be a very deadly form of melanoma. She has the initial reaction that any of us would upon hearing we have cancer- we'd calmly finish what we were in the middle in, and then breakdown. Look at our children, freak out on the inside, and do whatever it was that we had to do to beat this. She does it with honestly, humor, real tears, and you find yourself relating to her as if she's your best friend. Throughout the book there is not just her real account of what surgery, post surgery, lingering pain, cancer treatments, and repeat is like, but she also talks about how people around you react and treat you. Sure, you get the pot pies and the lasagnas, but beyond that people fall into the "ignore it and it isn't a big deal" category, the "overly invasive, in your business" category, and then the "we have no idea what to do but we want to do something" category. I'm ashamed to say I was in the first with my mother and it's not because I didn't care, but because it was really the first time I had ever seen my mother in that light- scared, but trying not to be, so I felt like if I made a big deal out of it, it would scare her more, or stress her out. And frankly? I am terrified to lose my mom. I have friends who have lost theirs and they always tell me how awful it is, how I'll never be the same, and what a difference it makes in the rest of my life and none of that sounds like something I want to deal with. I really need my mom still. A lot. I can't even imagine what I would do if I couldn't call my mom to vent or to ask a question or to ask for help. She's literally the only person who never makes me feel stupid when I don't know something, or make me feel bad when I need help. So as I'm reading this book, I was emotional and terrified that this could have been, could still be, the reality for my mom and I. I also liked how the book gives us actual history and information about cancer, cancer treatments, and it's just a really brutal look into the cancer industry and what it means for real people. You can take a treatment that is $120K for four doses or you can buy a house. You can't buy both but what do you want- to live or be homeless? It's that kind of decision that millions of people are making out there and it's just... it's a lot to think about when your body is effectively trying to kill you. I found myself connected with the secondary characters, the friends and family around Mary Elizabeth, who are fighting (and sometimes losing) their own battles with cancer. It's just such a great book. I think cancer scares us all because it isn't forgiving and even if you "beat it" you live with the threat of it popping up somewhere else the rest of your life. Like a cruel carnival game you think you won but oh look- there it is again. Please, whatever you do, put some damn sunscreen on, stop going to tanning beds, wear a hat, and the sun is not your friend so stop trying to party with it. And buy this book.Sara's Organized Chaos

  • Chris
    2019-04-02 18:46

    A quick and highly readable read. Also, a nice bookend to "When Breath Becomes Air"--but Williams also shares the stories of a handful of not-so-fortunate cancer patients among her family and friends, which keeps this book from being A Tale of a Modern Medical Miracle. Immunotherapy worked for her (and how) but it still isn't an option for most cancers. I'm glad she was so fortunate--and I'm glad that she didn't keep the focus exclusively on herself and thereby give a false impression that we're on our way to "curing" "cancer."

  • Janet Elsbach
    2019-04-06 17:38

    I like to combine a durable commitment to magical thinking (wherein 'if I allow myself to think about that bad thing, it will happen' does constant battle with 'if I force myself to think about this bad thing, it can't happen because karma likes to surprise you') with sturdy, reasonable, pragmatic thoughts more characteristic of a sane adult. Actually, I don't LIKE to do that. It's just what I do. Other things I do: I try to avoid reading terrifying fiction (life is scary enough; why invent imaginary frightening things?), and I try to make myself read scary true things, reasoning that if someone had no choice but to live through that war or illness or trauma, the least I can do is not flinch from electively reading about it in a comfortable chair. This book was a challenge, with its 'gritty front lines of cancer' parts and its 'standing right on the double line confronting mortality as it hurtles towards you' parts and its stealth introduction of a central character with my sister's name who dies of the same cancer that my sister died of, but Williams has a dark humor that is made of very similar stuff to that which has always sustained me, and her writing is crisp and solid and smart and I am glad I read this book, which will undoubtedly dwell in my head as I think about care-giving and care-receiving going forward.

  • Melinda
    2019-04-01 18:33

    Visit The Discerning Reader for more reviews & giveawaysWilliams gives great detail in telling her own story of cancer along with opening the door wide in regards to her very intimate thoughts and emotions, love, family, caregiver, friend, medical and science. Whether you have been touched by cancer directly or indirectly you’ll find Williams’ journey, experience and insight a wealth of information, educational. Her journalistic gift allows her to delve into clinical trials and cancer research without the explanation being complex or boring, she breaks it down for civilians to easily grasp. Williams participates in a clinical trial drilling the importance of breakthroughs and all the challenges associated with trials. Her positive attitude, humor, and determination helped her along the way with her survival and the profound losses she personally experienced along the way while fighting for her life. I appreciated her candor and openness. Bittersweet story with a wonderful uplifting ending for Williams.

  • Susan
    2019-04-15 19:29

    The author has stage 4 melanoma. She is lucky to live close to Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC. She is lucky almost beyond belief at what happens as a result. If you have cancer or are a caregiver to someone who does this is a meaningful story. Though it is cliche I will say I both laughed and cried at this book. The author's dry sense of humor and honesty make reading it easy even with the dark subject matter. What touched me most was her relationship with her friend Debbie. The only thing I think people might not like about her story is the fact that it is obvious she and her friends have money. Not everyone with cancer can afford top notch care and still have money for fabulous vacations. But that's just sour grapes on my part. (To be fair, she is in a clinical trial) Immunotherapy is giving many people hope and this book will shed some light on it.

  • Caroline Mcphail-Lambert
    2019-04-16 21:32

    Amazingy! Wonderful crisp clean, clear writing. I laughed. I cried. More of the same, laughing & crying. Learned a great deal about love, relationships, humour, Cancer in general and melanoma in particular, science, chemo, immunotherapy, and drugs with names that make no sense! Mary Elizabeth shared a journey no one wishes to take, yet far too many do. Thanks for doing so in a way that helps makes some sense of a senseless disease.

  • Annette Bowers
    2019-04-10 14:19

    Like the author Mary Eluzabeth, I am a cancer patient with no current evidence of disease. Like her, I never say I am cancer free. I've read a lot of cancer books, and this is one of the best. She tells a compelling story of how a a cancer diagnosis changes everything, irregardless of the treatment outcome. It's an uplifting yet realistic look at the cancer landscape.

  • April
    2019-04-11 17:37

    really liked her sense of humor through a really difficult part of her life

  • K.J. Dell'Antonia
    2019-04-02 19:27

    I wrote about this in the New York Times, here: In short, I loved it.Here's part of what I wrote: “A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles” chronicles the way ordinary life goes on as the cancer recurs, steadily progressing until she’s invited to join an immunotherapy trial that’s successful for her, but also brings about the unexpected challenges that come with winning a treatment lottery that so many others lose.It’s clear what the marquee miracle and catastrophe are, but in the book’s smaller moments, the good and the bad blend. One old friend disappears at the news of her cancer. But she tells the story of new friends who send their children to her door bearing a cake. It has a distinctly profane anti-cancer message spelled out in candy.“Our moms made you something,” the 6-year-old explains. “It has a bad word on it.”“Sometimes in life you need a bad word,” Ms. Williams responds.Family life, treatment plans and biopsies become inseparable. First, a birthday party, next, a call announcing the return of the cancer. She walks in the door with that news, but her daughters have news of their own: They have lice.

  • Shelley Thompson
    2019-04-06 19:31

    A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer...tragic and hilarious with the perfect first line, "I Lived". This book does a good job of explaining the conflicting emotions that come with a life threatening illness. The author's dry humor is fantastic and I was laugh crying throughout the book. I took away several great quotes for life: "Why? Because. Why Me? Why Not You?", and "The gift of cancer is a terrible gift. The best you can do with it is try to make it count for something." Of the many cancer-related books I've read, this is the one I'll be recommending to those going through it and those who have loved ones experiencing it. "Life is Circular."

  • Anna
    2019-03-30 21:44

    A thoughtful and real experience with deadly cancer and treatments on the cutting edge of science. Mary Elizabeth Williams tells the story of her survival, the science behind it and the reality and emotions of living and dying from cancer as her story intersects those of friends and relatives. The science is fascinating and well explained, and her story reveals as much as possible the upheaval of life which cancer brings to life, to someone who has not yet had to experience it first hand.Strong language throughout.

  • Barbara Pearlman
    2019-04-08 22:34

    The author writes this introspective book about her experience with melanoma and her eventual cure after taking part in a study of a new drug combination. That is the miracle in this book. The book is also a memorial to her father-in-law and her best friend, neither of whom survived their cancer. It is beautifully written but it's also a difficult read because of the subject matter. There are many details about immunotherapy.

  • Susan
    2019-03-26 17:32

    This was an amazing story of one woman's path through the hazards of melanoma, as well as her loved ones. Mary Elizabeth had a great outcome; she responded to an immunotherapy that appears to have completely killed her cancer. While she was undergoing treatment, one of her college roommates was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and eventually died. She contrasts her experience with that of her friend.

  • Beckie
    2019-04-08 19:46

    This was so well written and so enjoyable to read, even through all the emotion it brought on. This was recommended by my best friend Lisa Schild who read it after her cancer experience. I didn't expect it to be as good as it was, but I truly enjoyed how she described her love for her children, the scientific pieces of treatment and ongoing research and dealing with cancer itself.

  • Madge
    2019-04-15 20:40

    I checked before I read this to see if she was still alive and was happy to see yes! A story of a science miracle. Great advertisement for Optivo. A whole new way for your own body to help heal itself with immunology. Soon this method will be used to stop other cancers as they figure out how it helps some and not others. Eventually I hope it will help every type of cancer.

  • Christine
    2019-04-07 15:29

    I loved the authors perspective on cancer. Very much appreciated her scientific approach to the topic. I just wish more people had stories like hers. I'd prefer it to be the rule rather than the exception.

  • Amanda
    2019-04-20 18:39

    I loved every second of this book. I had the audiobook version and it was read by the author herself, and with this subject i wouldn't want it any other way.Do yourself a favor and read this book or better yet listen to it.

  • Carolyn Miner
    2019-03-25 14:35

    Interesting to learn about immunotherapy as a treatment for cancer. The emotions and experiences Mary shares are raw, at times LOL and gut wrenchingly sad.

  • Sue
    2019-04-04 19:29

    Personal story of a cancer patient.