Book Review: We're in This Together

Screen shot 2013-01-26 at 6.29.54 PM.png

Tracking 21 years of a bone-chilling journey through two bouts of cancer, this powerful caregiving chronology reads like the most compelling fiction. It’s a thriller. A medical drama. And, at its core, as the title implies, a deeply felt love story.  Bonus: it’s all true.

As the book opens, the author, Rob Harris, is jarred awake by the angry ring of a hotel telephone. It’s 5:30 AM. As everyone knows, that is never a good sign—and it is harder when you are a transcontinental flight from home. We follow Rob and his wife Cindy from the terror of her diagnosis through the hunt for the best treatment to the tedium of long hospital stays and the complexity of juggling two small children, a household, a job that requires travel, and the all-consuming chemotherapy regimen. Finally, the cancer is vanquished, and life returns to normal.

Flash forward fifteen years. A new cancer appears—and it is far more vicious. As Harris puts it, he moves into Caregiving 401, and we move with him.

The return of cancer, the trauma of the treatments, and the severity of the complications may make this book particularly tough reading for those currently undergoing a cancer-caregiving mission; nothing in this book implies that cancer is going to be easy or end well, in the traditional sense.

However, it does offer a brilliant blueprint for all caregivers who are shouldering responsibility for someone who is hospitalized, and indeed the interstitial “Caregiver Tips” will be useful to anyone on “hospital duty.” They address:

  • How to get a medical team to work together on your behalf
  • How to navigate both the healthcare system and the hospital system
  •  How to add joy to each day
  •  How and why to keep good records yourself
  • How to advocate  on behalf of your care recipient—graciously when possible, forcefully when necessary
  • How to care for yourself
  • How to provide sustenance to a nauseous patient
  • How to be the favorite patient room

Critically, the book illustrates why the family caregiver is an essential part of the medical team, not simply someone to fetch ice chips and provide entertainment (though those are crucial roles, too). At the book’s climax, it is the author who notes that his wife’s blood pressure, while well within “normal range,” is not within her normal range, something the med tech would have no way of knowing.  Both because Harris asks to know the reading and because he ignores the med tech’s assurances, by the time his wife’s heart stops there is literally a doctor next to her with a syringe full of atropine.

We’re in This Together is told with passion, compassion and a good deal of common sense. But be sure to have a box of tissues handy; it’s a ten hanky read.