When illness undoes us

Deanna Thompson's book about cancer takes us where we don't want to go but must.

For months I let my review copy of Deanna Thompson’s book sit on my desk, stacked in the middle of a pile of less threatening books. Did I want to read a work of theology written from inside the crucible of stage IV cancer? Was there not more pleasant work I could be doing, such as cleaning the bathroom, rewatching Scenes from a Marriage, or punching myself in the face?

Before I even began it, my relationship with this book had fallen into the precisely the sort of pain-avoidance that Thompson de­scribes so well in her fourth chapter. “Could it be,” she asks, “that those of us whose lives bear some degree of wellness will go so far as to experience hatred toward those who are seriously ill” because of the threat they pose to our orderly lives?

Indeed we do. We avoid, cancel plans, send our regrets, lose touch, even as we may be drawn to other forms of suffering, those we know how to fix. Each of us is someone’s memento mori, a walking reminder of that single weakness that one lives by ignoring.