Abrams reviews book written by Scituate cancer survivor

Abrams reviews book written by Scituate cancer survivor

Ken Abrams, a teacher and music writer, offers the following review of “This Unfamiliar Road,” a book written by fellow Scituate teacher Jill Fague about her cancer journey.

Fighting cancer is the battle of a lifetime. The war against the disease is one thing, but the battle to maintain normalcy in one’s life is even greater. That story is told in a new memoir, “This Unfamiliar Road,” by local author Jill Fague, an account of her recent struggle with breast cancer.

Fague’s is not the first cancer memoir, but her account is a reminder that each survivor’s experience is unique. Like many, her cancer struck in the prime of her typical suburban life, one filled with two young children, a loving husband and the family cat. She recounts the challenges she faced over a year-long period, when she went from disbelief to acceptance.

The book details her year of hell, starting with the completely unexpected discovery of a lump and her diagnosis. No one deserves cancer, but here was a woman who exercised, ate right, didn’t smoke – only to be one of the arbitrary victims.

“I had never felt helpless,” she recalled.

It was an unfamiliar feeling for the busy school teacher. The first time she entered the chemo ward as a patient she recalled, “Nobody made eye contact, although we were all part of the same club where membership costs more than we can afford. It felt real, but at the same time, it did not … I did not see myself as one of them, a cancer patient. I wasn’t sick, or bald, or a victim of homicidal breast cells, lying in wait to consume my organs from the inside out. Denial can be a woman’s best friend …”

As with many patients, Fague had a strong support network led by her husband, Matt. She points to his heroism throughout the ordeal, recognizing the physical and emotional toll it took on him.

He ferried her to and from appointments, took over with the children, and kept reporting to his job as a police officer.

At one particularly low point, she reminded him that this wasn’t what he signed up for. He responded, “My vows have not changed. In sickness and in health, I love you like no other. You are my world.”

She details support from family, especially her in-laws, and friends, such as her fellow teachers. She looked to the “ABCs,” cancer survivors Anita, Betty and Christine, who gave her strength during her ordeal. She desperately wanted to avoid being a victim, but learned to accept help from those who cared about her, not an easy thing for the self-reliant type.

Of course, there were the well-intentioned, but failed attempts to cheer her up.

“I loathed each time I heard, ‘Take it one day at a time,’ or, ‘Be positive.’ Those feeble attempts at advice were trumped only by the stories people told me about illness and/or cancer, like the story someone shared about a relative who had undergone a double mastectomy. Did I need to hear that?”

Beyond the medical issues, Fague’s biggest challenge was dealing with her fears, not so much about her own mortality, but that all-encompassing dread of not being there for her children.

At Christmas, she remembers the family tradition of unwrapping ornaments, while wondering if some other woman would one day be doing the unwrapping.

This book is a story about trying to carry on with your daily routine, even when that’s impossible. We’re talking about a woman to used to meet her husband with the kids for the “side of the road switch off” as she drove home from work and he drove to his job.

Fague, a middle school English teacher in Scituate, tells her story with humor and grace, in a refreshing matter-of-fact style. It’s a solid first effort told valiantly in a confessional style, with more than a few well-earned tears along the way.

“This Unfamiliar Road” is published by Stillwater River Publications based in Glocester. It is available in local bookstores.

Fague will be signing copies of her book on April 7, from noon to 2 p.m. at An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Mass.