To be honest, this book was not what I expected. For some reason, I read the description of the book and thought it was a fictional story about a husband who walks through his wife’s battle with cancer and how he mends and copes through the struggle. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying attention or what but this isn’t a fictional story at all. It is the true story of one man’s honest battle against a deadly cancer that was attacking his family. Letters for Lizzie (published by Moody Publishers) is “memoir” of sorts. It is a collection of the letters that James O’Donnell wrote to friends and family during his wife’s battle, filling long-distance relations in on the details of the O’Donnell journey and requesting prayer. There are thirteen letters total and each is prepped by O’Donnell who shares with his readers how he was honestly feeling during each particular phase of their journey through cancer.
He wrote this book to encourage other people who are facing a similar health struggle. He writes brutally and honestly about his own feelings of despair and anger at what was happening to his family. Although a man of faith, he shares about his doubts and discouragement with the path that they were placed on and forced to deal with. Parents to three boys (two teenagers and a six year old) at the time of Lizzie’s diagnosis, he faced living life as a single parent on more than one occasion. He fought anxiety, insomnia, helplessness, etc. Yet they walked through this journey and did all they could to fight the disease and win the battle. (They do end up winning the battle, btw. I checked the official Letters for Lizzie website after I completed reading the book and I have no reason to believe she has lost her battle to cancer.)
Honestly, this book brought forth a lot of emotional memories for me. You see, just a couple years into our marriage, my husband’s mother passed away from cancer. My youngest sister-in-law was just ten years old at the time and the circumstances being what they were, my husband’s sisters came to live with us for a few months after my mother-in-law’s death. My mother-in-law was a strong Christian and in many ways her reaction to cancer was the same as Lizzie’s — she downplayed its relevance and focused on joy and the freedom she had in Christ. She longed to bless people in life and has even managed to do so in death. It has been a rough journey at times, sad often and infrequently very emotional. You never really quit missing the person you loved. You just learn to go on and readjust. With God all things are possible and our family has chosen to trust His perfect plan for our lives.
I understand that O’Donnell wrote this book intending to share honestly and I’m so glad he did. You can’t, I don’t think, ever really understand the pain until you’ve been forced to walk through it yourself. But if you are at the beginning of a journey through cancer, or at the end of it, I would think you might find this book encouraging in some way. Every family and person reacts and handles the situation differently but there is one thing we all have or want to have in common: hope. Hope for a bright future and a good tomorrow. You know about the weeping but you trust that joy is coming in the morning. My own family can testify that it does — even though we “lost” the battle to cancer and still face challenges that came about as a result. We trust God for ultimate victory. I do not begrudge the O’Donnell’s their victory and I think the approach they had to building a support team and taking one day at a time was most excellent. They have much to share; others facing such a disease have much to learn.
This book certainly fixates on a rather unpleasant topic but it does so in such a heroic and uplifting way that I was moved by beyond words. Or, perhaps I still found some words but I don’t feel like I can adequate do this book justice. It is tender and tough at the same time. It blessed me and I appreciate it’s existence. That being said, don’t rush out and buy a copy for anyone that you know who is facing cancer. I don’t think O’Donnell himself would encourage you to do that. But perhaps if you’d like to understand a person or a family who is struggling through this circumstance, you could read it for yourself and apply some of their lessons to you and your interactions with the person in question. Something to think about.
Carrie comes by her book obsession honestly, having descended from a long line of bibliophiles. She blogs about books regularly at Reading to Know.