Everything Happens for a Reason
And Other Lies I’ve Loved, by Kate Bowler
Listening to Kate Bowler’s interview on Fresh Air earlier this year intrigued me about her book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. For someone with a less deadly brain tumor (or its remnants), she spoke as a charismatic, funny and wise prophet for me to listen closely to.
This week I read Everything Happens for a Reason and I highly recommend it for everyone. I can’t imagine a better teacher about the preciousness of life and how to support and care for those with health challenges than Bowler, an accomplished professional with a wonderful two year old and dear husband. We can all learn from the way she talks about her path and the loss she faces.
I was saddened to read about her two terrible journeys seeking help from the medical system as a woman, first for a debilitating problem with hyper-mobility and then with stomach pain from an emergent cancer. It reminded me of my experience seeking medical help in the lead up to my tumor discovery in 2015 and earlier in 2006, though her doctors’ decisions will likely prove fatal for her.
Bowler’s appendices are must read guidelines for both what not to say to the suffering and what often works well. I especially appreciated “show up and shut up.” In our culture, we often try to relate by sharing the experiences of other people we know but, especially while my tumor treatment was acute and I was talking with someone, I didn’t care to hear about their own health experiences or of brain tumors in people they know.
Limits of the Known by David Roberts
I also had time to read David Roberts’ Limits of the Known. Roberts is also facing death from stage 4 cancer.
Although I’m not a climber (though I’ve tried) or traditional adventurer as he describes within, I love reading about them. He tells the stories of inspiring adventurers, often the lesser known ones, intermixed with anecdotes from his journey. (It’s possible I met him briefly when his Mungo Park team visited Microsoft’s campus and likely the MSN and MSNBC teams.)
I especially loved his writing about the Anasazi cliff settlements (link to his Smithsonian piece). Many archaeologists seem to have overlooked the incredibly unfathomable skills of the Anasazi in climbing and constructing their settlements. As a climber, Roberts highlights their accomplishments and shares discoveries he made about their efforts. Additionally, he highlights other cultures who possessed great climbing skills and lived in the cliffs.
I also appreciated the way he spoke about his wife and their life together, especially as his comes to an end.
His experience with radiation highlighted for me how incredibly fortunate I’ve been with my own Cyber Knife experience (though really it was the location and type of my tumor that favored me). For example, his saliva glands were decimated and he has to sip water all the time, and more recently to spit it out after as his overall fluid intake is tightly limited on a daily basis.
Roberts is an incredible writer, easy to read but in depth. There were at least a dozen words I didn’t know the meaning of … unfortunately, I was off grid and didn’t note them to look them up later.
Roberts has strong opinions and I appreciate his willingness to share them and speak them, especially now. But, I definitely 100% disagree with Roberts on his assessment of the Apollo astronauts as basically well managed, highly instructed placeholders. The Apollo 1 launch test fire and Armstrong’s LLRV training crash demonstrate the life threatening risks these men took on their own exploration.
As a bold adventurer, Roberts shared frustration with obituaries that describe those who lost their “battle with cancer.” This echoed my late journalism instructor, Jeanne Sather’s own complaint which she describes on her “Soapbox” in Running with Fear.
I’m grateful to both Bowler and Roberts for finding the energy and resources to create these works as they deal with their chemotherapy and losses. Both books are amazing accomplishments and worthy reading.