A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope
Posted by nliakos on October 18, 2015
by Tom Brokaw (Random House 2015; ISBN 978-1-4000-6969-9)
NBC news anchorman Tom Brokaw has chronicled the year that he was diagnosed with and treated for multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. He describes the back pain that turned out to be compression fractures of the spine due to the cancer. While hiding his condition from the public and most of his friends and colleagues, Brokaw continued to accept projects for NBC even as he embarked on a year of fatigue, pain, chemotherapy, and learning how to live his life with cancer (Myeloma is treatable, but it is not curable.). He kept a journal which eventually became this book, which is divided into sections by season (summer 2013, fall 2013, winter 2013-2014, spring 2014, summer 2014, fall 2014). Interspersed among the descriptions of hospitalizations, doctors’ appointments, time spent with family, and professional projects accomplished during the treatment year are recollections of career high points, memorable interviews and encounters, and unforgettable news stories (such as September 11, 2001), with some name-dropping thrown in. (Brokaw, who grew up in the West, spends a lot of time fishing and hunting; sometimes it seemed incongruous to me that while fighting for his life against cancer, he suffered no qualms about depriving animals of their lives.) Eventually, of course, Brokaw can no longer hide his disease from the world; during the winter, he is “outed” by a digital news organization and finally admits publicly that he has cancer.
For me, this book held a special significance; a friend of mine is being treated for multiple myeloma, and Brokaw’s simple but clear descriptions and explanations helped me to understand what she is going through.
As the title indicates, Tom Brokaw has in some ways led a charmed life, and he frequently expresses his gratitude for his wonderful luck. But for all of us mortals, luck eventually runs out. Cancer, as he reminds us, becomes more and more likely the longer we live, and no one lives forever. Brokaw is also acutely aware of how lucky he is to have access to the best doctors and hospitals, to work for an organization that is supportive and has excellent benefits, to have enough financial resources to pay for whatever he needs, even to have a daughter who is a doctor and can participate in his treatment plan and interpret medicalese for him. So few people have all of these advantages in the fight against cancer or whatever disease is ravaging their body and/or mind.