Must read 🏆 5*
“A heartfelt and insightful memoir about love, family, and the tides of cancer”
“Standing at Water’s Edge” is a story about a cancer nurse who becomes a cancer mom when her four-year-old son is diagnosed with leukemia. He survives, and yet she dreams of his death, which forces her to face her fears or be haunted by them forever.
While her son Brennan draws pictures to process his emotions, Post-White buries her feelings and juggles her roles as nurse/mother/daughter along with cancer teacher and researcher. On a trip to Paris, she lights a candle in Notre Dame, praying for her son to get well, while back home in Minnesota, Brennan draws a candle for the headless horseman “to help him find his way.” Together they navigate through changes in identity and roles and find strength and courage to face their fears and learn what facing death teaches them about living life.
Readers will reflect on their own experiences to gain perspective and clarity as well as inspiration to face their own fears, let go of expectations, and be present in the moment.
This was a heartfelt and insightful memoir about love, family, and the tides of cancer.
The author’s expertise as a cancer nurse ultimately fails her when her own son is diagnosed with leukaemia. Her upbringing was shaped by her mother’s emotionally stunted responses and her father’s stoicism — typical of that era — which influenced her own psyche, and she bottled up her feelings:
[…] this history of buried emotions, unexpressed grief, and learned self-sufficiency […] accompanied me into the hospital when Brennan was diagnosed. Logically, I understood. Emotionally, under stress, I regressed.
Though her family all loved and supported each other, as Brennan’s mother she bore the bulk of the burden of responsibility on her own shoulders, always having to put on a brave face for everyone else, even her husband who withdrew into his own thoughts rather than sharing his fears with her:
We inhabited our own emotional orbits and just kept marching along. It was a time of getting through. The road map directed our actions but advised very little. I knew how to lead the army into battle, but I had no idea what to do with the effects, my responses and feelings.
As Brennan’s treatment progressed, she saw the light in him fade. Still, his drawings and conversations with her showed maturity beyond his years as he found his own ways to process what was happening with him:
I’d never imagined that I would lament the absence of his fiercely independent and tempestuous attitude. As I watched him, I pleaded with myself to find something, anything, in this boy that I recognized and loved. […] Chemotherapy was saving my son, but I felt I was losing him.
As she struggled to ensure Brennan’s protocols were followed despite his resistance, her own health suffered both physically as well as mentally, but there was little respite. Her workload seldom abated, and her health worsened. Nevertheless, she took on the mantle of leading a “cancer family” and tried to make their lives as normal as possible, with family vacations, sports, and activities scattered around hospital visits.
Fortunately, Brennan survived — but the shadow of doubt is always there. She was always acutely aware of his other “cancer peers” who relapsed and eventually died, and there were even instances of unexpected non-cancer-related deaths that rattled her even more. To this day, she still dreams of Brennan’s death.
This was a powerful and difficult read, as the author’s frankness and insightful honesty is gripping from beginning to end. The language and style of writing are engaging and thoughtfully executed, and it also includes a significant amount of research. I can see how this memoir was not only part of her own healing process, but also a roadmap for other parents or children that may be in the same situation.
I loved and enjoyed this journey that this memoir took me on, and it was truly moving. I am amazed at the trials she endured, and that she was able to manage a successful career despite her own family issues she was dealing with at the time. What also resonated with me were the moments that she took pause and said “Enough”, focusing on herself and her family for a short time to maintain that balance. At times raw, at times painful, overall this message is one of triumph and courage. I thank the author for sharing her story, and look forward to more of her writing.
Written by Sacha T.Y. Fortune