Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Finding Our Strength

So at the suggestion of my therapist, I've been trying to read more.  As in actual books, not blog posts.  I'd forgotten how much reading really does relax me.  I love it.

I've been reading some great stuff!  I highly recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (which will blow your mind!) and The Wilder Life.

I was browsing the clearance section at a used book store, when this book caught my eye:

And I was immediately excited!  Let me explain.

My junior year in college, my roommate walked in, set a book on my desk, and said, "You have to read this."

It was a book she was reading for a class.  It was this book:

I had never heard of Richard M. Cohen, but he was soon to become one of my personal heroes.  Blindsided is Cohen's personal account of living with Multiple Sclerosis for 30+ years, as well as dealing with two bouts of colon cancer.  His story is truly and utterly amazing.  I cannot do his story justice in such a short space.

When I first read this book, it was long before I found the Diabetes Online Community.  Long before I knew such a thing even existed.  And I knew no one else living with any kind of chronic condition, let alone Type 1 Diabetes.

But in Cohen's story, I saw elements of myself.  Now, I have no idea what it's like to live with MS. Absolutely none.  I do know what it's like to live with Type 1 Diabetes.  And I saw some of my own emotions and struggles reflected in Cohen's.

I know how it feels to have your body betray you.  I know how the future can seem very scary and uncertain.  I know what it means to feel like a burden on your loved ones.  I know the mental and emotional turmoil that comes with living with a chronic condition.  If you live with any chronic condition, the similarities sometimes outweigh the differences.

Later that year, I had the opportunity to hear Cohen speak.  He and I share an alma mater, and he spoke at commencement that year (not the year I graduated, unfortunately).  I wish I could have talked to him, to thank him for sharing his story, because it had helped me. 

And so when I saw Strong at the Broken Places, in the clearance bin, I snatched it up, and started reading it as soon as I got home.  The book is the story of five different people living with five different chronic conditions.  A guarded woman living with ALS.  A college kid living with Muscular Dystrophy.  A deeply passionate man living with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  A young woman living with Chron's disease.  And a man living with Bipolar Disorder who seems larger than life.

Cohen spent several years corresponding and interviewing the five people profiled in the book.  And I want to have a big group hug with all of them.

I'm not going to lie.  Reading the book was an intense emotional experience.  I cried more than once.  And again, though I have none of these conditions, there was so much that was the same.  I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.  It is truly incredible.

And I found my new favorite quote.

"The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong
at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

I am strong at the broken places.  And so are you.


  1. I think it's so important, mentally calming, to get wrapped up in a good book. Unfortunately I'm easily distracted, and the constant allure of the world-wide-web on my phone in my front pocket keeps me from turning too many pages in sequence. It's so wonderful that you haven't lost the passion for a good book.

  2. I need to find this book. Not just because of my own chronic illness, but also because there are two people in it living with the diseases we cover at work. It sounds amazing! Thanks!

    1. I read that book a few years ago and loved it! I didn't know Jess was looking for book recommendations or I would have told her so!

  3. Brilliant review Jess, I don't think anyone who reads it will not try to find this book!

  4. I LOVED The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I'm sure people at work are tired of me forcing it on them.

    Great review, and great Hemmingway quote. That guy sure knew what he was doing with cats and words.

  5. Damn it. I misspelled Hemingway.

  6. This will be my next book purchase! Thank you!

  7. beautiful quotes! thanks for the recommendation!