Saturday, March 8, 2014

ARC Review: "Hurdles" by Michael G Kesler

I was contacted by the publishing company to see if I would want to do a review of this book and was sent an ARC.

"Hurdles: When Cancer Strikes a Family" centers around the Kesler family. It's a pretty short read at about 175 pages, and it also includes a "reflections" section in the back. Be sure not to skip the prologue (though the prologue is written in the wife's voice and then the rest of the book is written from the husband (author's) perspective, keep that in mind).

Michael and Regina had survived a lot by the time that they arrived in America. Both had been through terrible things at the hands of the Soviets and the Nazis, both narrowly escaping death many times. They both made it safely to America and worked incredibly hard to achieve the "american dream". Michael was an engineering student at MIT. Regina fought for many years to get into the Harvard School of Medicine and became a pediatrician. (She was one of five women in her class when she entered in 1952). They own a house in the 'burbs (out of which Regina practices) and have 4 children.

In the prologue, Michael and Regina discover a lump in her breast. But Regina puts off going to the doctor for a long time because as we know, sometimes doctors make the worst patients. She also is having a hard time juggling kids, and a house and a busy practice. (Though they do have a maid, which is helpful). When Regina finally has an operation they find out that the cancer has spread and they have to do a mastectomy. Not much longer she finds a lump in her other breast, the cancer had spread. Regina throws herself into writing her memoirs while Michael decides to start a computer training school (remember, this is 60s and 70s we're talking about.) Not long after this Regina falls and beraks her femur while dancing. They assume that it's osteoporosis, which runs in the the family. A doctor that they randomly meet on a Caribbean vacation encourages them to get x-rays done because he thinks the cancer has spread and weakened the bones, not osteoporosis.) The doctor from vacation was correct. Regina is given about 6 months to live. Michael shuts down his computer school, Regina all but shuts down her pediatric practice. She actually ends up living for another three years, really defying the odds but she is in extreme pain almost the whole time.The kids are going through kind of typical teenage angsty problems (pot use, bad friends, weight problems)during this time and I think they are pretty angry about feeling like neither of their parents are there for them. After Regina's death there are several blowout fights about this.

One thing that I couldn't believe is that they never told their four children about the cancer diagnosis. They didn't find out until about 10 days before their mother actually died that she had cancer. It was pretty obvious that she was sick, and that the medications had changed her appearance but they were told that it was due to different things. She did have shingles, and when she fell and broker her femur the children were told it was osteoporosis. (Which really was the diagnosis, until the x-rays showed that the cancer had spread). Even after her mastectomy pretty early on in the book they weren't told.(It's not a critique of the book, but I would have been really angry for not being told if I was one of the kids.)

The last for pages of the book recount the families struggle to go on: kid's anger issues, financial strain, etc. etc. But it has a redemptive ending, Michael finds happiness and the kids turn out alright!

Qualms I Have:
-This is a short book as I said before. I was under the impression, given the book description, that most of the books content would be about what happens after Regina dies and how the family keeps going. This wasn't really the case. Regina dies on about page 135, and only the remaining pages are about the families struggle to continue. I don't know if the book description is unclear or I just misunderstood it.
- I feel like this book gets bogged down in unnecessary details. There's a lot of descriptions of flights, drives to the airport, that kind of thing.
- This book is very much centered around the author. This isn't surprising because, well he's the author and he wrote what he was going through. However there are longish streaks of him talking extensively about work and a lot of times I feel like this made the story lose it's primary focus in parts.

Things I Appreciate:
-It really makes you appreciate how progress has been made with cancer research and studies since the late 60s and early 70s.
-It's an honest portrayal of a family that is struggling. I think it's fair to say that things weren't perfect in the Kesler home before the cancer diagnosis and post-diagnosis/Regina's death those problems weren't magically fixed.
-I like how honest Regina was (through conversations with others and her diary enteries) about how angry she was about being sick. She had struggled a lot, and she thought it was unfair to have this cancer after all she'd already been through and she was pissed. I appreciated that she had a very human reaction to her situation.

Here is the book info provided by the author:
Hurdles presents true episodes in the lives of my wife, a pediatrician; myself-the author-a chemical engineer; and of our four young children. Having survived World War II, we arrive in this country and achieve professional prominence and an enviable lifestyle. When, however, my wife's breast cyst turns malignant, I stumble, losing my business as well as sanity. I soon recover and muster my strength to help my children overcome the hurdles posed by their mother's illness and death. My intensely personal story addresses the scourge of women's breast cancer from a husband and father's viewpoints. The book offers a heartrending story of a family's distress and resilience, love and devotion, and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. It should be of particular interest to the 200,000 women afflicted with the disease in the United States each year. 

About the Author Michael G. Kesler, Ph.D., is a graduate of MIT and NYU. Since his retirement in 2006, he has written of his experiences during World War II. His recent book, Shards of War-Fleeing To & From Uzbekistan, has won praise from a number of academics and was listed among the bestselling e-books in Europe. He is completing a screenplay of Shards of War and writing a novella, Hope-My Year in a DP Camp. The author and his wife, Barbara S. Reed, Ph. D., live in East Brunswick, New Jersey, and proudly head a family of six children and 11 grandchildren. Contributor Howard Paul, Ph.D., ABPP, FAClinP, an internationally prominent clinical psychologist, has spent 47 years in academia and private practice. He has authored a book and numerous papers in behavioral sciences. He resides in North Brunswick, New Jersey. 

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