BOOK REVIEW: “Would You Like Your Cancer?” by Ottawa’s Megan Oates
COURAGE, MY LOVE
In sickness, and in health…
“I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat, I’m all ready you see, now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!” ~Dr. Seuss
Would You Like Your Cancer (WYLYC) documents the heartfelt and spirited journey of young Ottawa author, Megan Oates, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 17. At a time when she should have been playing teenager preparing for college or university, she was being wheeled down hospital hallways to surgery to have her thyroid gland cut out. Now in her mid-twenties, Oates penned the memoir to tell the story of her battle against cancer and how, testament to being a “fighter,” she won both renewed life and love in the end.
A chronicled exposé of discovery to recovery, WYLYC is a poignant and instructive tale for teenagers and adults alike, cancer survivors and their supporters, to remind us that in sickness and in health, all we need is love and gratitude—and, maybe even a bit of skateboarding…
Not her Grandmother’s death from cancer, nor a shitty boyfriend were going to separate Oates from her will to achieve her goals. This fierce determination, energy and spunk make WYLYC a compelling and candid recollection of a persevering teenager who in 2012, at 24 years-old, is now six-years cancer-free.
The legacy of courage was passed on to Oates by her Grandmother, who died from cancer in 1996, and to whom the book is dedicated. Oates recounts in the memoir how on her sickbed, her dying Grandmother hands her a figurine of two teddy bears—a little girl bear on a wooden fence facing a little boy bear holding flowers behind his back. “I think that figurine and what it portrayed was my Grandmother’s way of telling me to ‘never settle’ since she would never have the opportunity to talk to me about love,” she writes.
Oates’ Aunt Gail is also a source of strength: “When the cancer ordeal had subsided, the disease continued to be a part of my life,” she writes. The fight was now part of her, and she self-identifies with her Aunt Gail who had been diagnosed twice and lost a leg to cancer. “It takes someone with a strong sense of character to battle cancer.”
Fighting all the way, she goes from several appointments through to post-treatment with helpful doctors, friends and family by her side. She invokes her own bravery and heavy emotion when she writes about the chilling experience of the fine needle aspiration biopsy where one of her fathers (she has two), beside her, “with his hands to his mouth,” had to look away. Holding her breath as the needle enters her neck to poke at the potentially cancerous nodule in her thyroid, she writes:
“I could not move and I could not breathe. I wanted to go home, so badly. I read a booklet on the fine needle aspiration biopsy. It informed me the test was fast, safe and usually caused little discomfort. Well, they lied. Before this whole thing, I had been a tough girl. …I wasn’t afraid of dying and I knew that one day, life as I knew it would end. Having the procedure changed my thought process to a degree. I began to think more seriously about the severity of the situation.”
What follows from her diagnosis are new routines, including several rituals to keep her secluded from others because of the radiation in her body from the treatment. She must juggle her hours at her job at Music World and face skeptical coworkers who scoff at why she gets so much time off. The experience clarifies for Oates, in the end, what was worth worrying about and what was not.
For the prom, a tailor over-chopping two feet off her prom dress, which had been ripped at the edge by the cat, and totally ruining it? No problem. Footwear? “I told everyone they wouldn’t catch me in heels at the prom. …Sure enough, I showed up in my green and blue checkered Vans slip-ons.”
It’s that character that prevails when the asshole, cheating ex-boyfriend breaks up with Oates at the kitchen table reminding her: “I only stayed with you because you had cancer, don’t forget that.”
She wins in the end with her new boyfriend Joshua. “I never thought I would have someone to love me unconditionally, to be there through the good, the bad and the ugly,” she writes. “He was there when I was sick, when I had hospital appointments, when I had good news and when I had bad news.”
Provocative as a young woman, this author crafted a must-read memoir that is never boring, and always entertaining in its boldness or captivating in its softness. WYLYC is a quick read with an easy narrative style. Structurally, it’s peppered with quotes to introduce each of the eighteen chapters. While conversational in tone, the text is cleverly crafted, setting up poignant memories that will have you laughing out loud or balling your eyes out.
Read rhetorically, Would You Like Your Cancer? supposes that no, the reader would absolutely not want their cancer, thanks! Read inquisitively, it prompts the philosophical question of how disease can be a learning experience. Either way it is read, the title challenges the reader to reflect on the topic—deeply.
Oates hopes to raise awareness of the disease among young people with the same excitement she understood of Rob Dyer, the young skateboarder who created Skate4Cancer.com and skateboarded across the United States and Canada to raise awareness for cancer and to reach his personal goal of turning the loss of his mother into something positive. Two years and a month after Oates’ diagnosis, she had “s4c” tattooed on the inside of her right wrist along with a skateboard deck, and the word ‘hope’ written on the inside of her left wrist. While she’s never met Dyer, she says “his positivity, drive and determination are so inspirational.”
Oates’ desire to connect with human beings is strong: “If you take a city bus and take a good look at the people around you, you’ll never know their story. … If you never saw the three and a half inch scar on my neck, almost connecting my two collarbones you would never know I was ever sick. … I wish you could look at someone and just know everything; know all their fears, thoughts, and their stories. I think people would be much more understanding of each other.”
Learning about this girl’s story increases the reader’s understanding of what cancer patients go through. How they fight to stay themselves instead of becoming a cancer label. WYLYC teaches about perseverance in real ways, through the aspirations of young Oates:
“I always thought it would be wonderful to have a fall wedding. In my mind, visions of bright orange and fire red leaves on a white wedding dress were breathtaking. After having a successful surgery, I could go on wishing and hoping for those simple things in life.”
WYLYC demystifies the ominous “journey” of battling cancer and gives meaning and shape to the words “courage” and “hope.” Courage to keep on dreaming, and hope to keep on truckin’. Through one Ottawa girl’s personal story, the experience of cancer is all the more real, invoking compassion and inspiring conversation and awareness, accomplishing Oates’ purpose in scribbling a memoir in the first place.