Pros: Absolutely gorgeous, if heartbreaking, memoir of a woman with cancer; unflinchingly honest
Cons: Tough to read!
Rating: 5 out of 5
Carrie Host’s Between Me and the River is the memoir of a woman who discovered she had a particularly slow-growing, and difficult to treat, form of cancer. It took me until halfway through the book to fully realize that unlike a Hallmark movie, this book wasn’t necessarily going to have a happy ending, and I had to flip to the author bio at the end to at least reassure myself that Ms. Host was still alive at the time the book was published. There’s something very raw and tough about realizing that this person you’ve grown in some ways very close to over the course of such an intimate book is still facing something so difficult.
It came as a shock to Carrie when she was diagnosed with carcinoid tumors. She had several children—one of them still very young—and the idea of facing cancer treatment as a young mother was terrifying. Even worse, it turned out that carcinoid was slow-growing (a good thing) but almost impossible to treat (a very bad thing). She faced many dangerous surgeries, invasive tests, and, most likely, a very short lifespan.
What makes Between Me and the River both amazing and incredibly difficult to read is the manner in which Carrie takes us along on all the intimate steps of her journey. She shows us her strength and stubbornness, but she also shows us the times when she whines, feels sorry for herself, and wants to give up. She dwells equally on the moments of hope and the moments of despair. Most amazingly of all, whether you’re a cancer patient yourself who wants to understand better what you’re going through (and realize you’re not alone), or you want to be able to understand those with cancer a bit better, you’ll find she deftly places you in her shoes throughout all the highs and lows.
Carrie, in addition to being in the position to tell us all about the aspects of cancer we might not think of or be aware of (from the effects of treatment, to the effects of the disease on friendships and family), is also a lovely writer. She has a poet’s sensibility and a lyrical style. Even the second time that I go back to read through some of the details of her reaction to her diagnosis, I start to cry.
If you know someone who has cancer—and the odds are high that sometime during your lifetime you will—you owe it to both them and yourself to read this book, and get a spare copy for them. It’s a beautiful way to help you both understand and cope with what’s happening, and maybe it’ll give you a common ground from which to discuss such a difficult subject.