Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club! We are reading Finding Balance by Kati Gardner! Read our participants’ reactions and follow along with us each week as we read through the book! Caution, spoilers below!
By Brandie L.:
So … I don’t know about you, but I went into chapter 42 thinking “please let it just be panic or something simple. Please let it be panic or just something simple!” As if a mantra in my head will change the outcome of a book already written, printed, and distributed. As if, if I just really believe I can change the outcome for Jase! Because I want Jase to be happy and healthy. But maybe, just maybe, if my brain can affect the outcome of the fictional character, my brain can affect the outcome for other people.
And therein lies the gross truth that we all know much too well. We can not think away cancer – ours or anyone else’s and sometimes that just feels so unfair. And as Mari reminds us “Cancer doesn’t care how old you are.” Nor does it care how well-loved you are. Or how many friends you’ve got. Or how much goodness you spread. So no matter how unfair it feels, it doesn’t matter. Cancer is just a thing – without thought or feelings or emotions or rational thinking.
But back to Jase – we quickly learn while the cancer isn’t back (phew!), the cancer he can’t even remember is rearing its ugly head anyway and could be affecting his heart (ugh). Anyone else wonder if his heart issue is also causing him to act like a jerk sometimes? But also, isn’t it refreshing? Like, a person with cancer who didn’t have a life-changing epiphany and suddenly become a kind, caring, giving soul who never sweats the small things because they have the perspective of cancer to just knock all that stuff out of them? Because somehow cancer talk becomes inspiration porn. And I don’t know about you, but I’m over here dropping balls, saying the wrong things, getting angry and yelling – sometimes justifiably and sometimes (ahem, more times than not) unjustifiably. I can have a petty argument as well as the next person depending on the day! And I’m so tired of people who don’t even know me gasping in horror if I don’t act all saintly because I had cancer.
Um, I had cancer. It did not remove my humanness or my ability to err. Nor does it seem, to have done the same thing to Jase. Who is breaking Mari’s heart! And I’m ready to go with her brothers and teach him a lesson. Oops. There I go again, being mean, even though I ::gasp:: had cancer!
But oh my Mari. I love her mom and I love how her mom talks to her. Like yes, Mari, you are whole! And yes, Mari, you are a force! And yes, Mari, you are strong! Not because of cancer. Not because of having your leg amputated. She always was – and cancer and surgery and car accidents and nothing – is going
to change that about her. I wanted to be in that bedroom with her and her mom and just group hug them both. I felt that conversation in my heart as a mom and a daughter and a cancer patient and just as a human.
So, I’m going to end today with my mama side showing and quote Mari’s mom. To all of you, each and everyone one of you, “Don’t change who you are to fit in the world,” <insert your name here>, “Make the world change for you.”
By Sri K.:
Chapter 42: Jase goes off to get his x-rays while his mom and Davis wait for him. As usual, the procedure is somewhat cold and impersonal, and Davis is gone by the time Jase returns to see his mother in the lobby. However, he is called again to have an echocardiogram done. His mom is anxious and worried, with Jase wanting to lighten things up as always. Austin does his echo and then Jase and his mom head to the clinic to see Dr. Henderson. It is here that Dr. Henderson hands some unfortunate news to Jase. Because of the treatments he had undergone for his cancer as a child, he was experiencing a long-term effect of surviving childhood cancer: his heart was fatigued. Many of the symptoms Jase had been experiencing recently finally made sense. Dr. Henderson prescribes Jase to wear a Holter/event monitor and that he has to take it easy for the next month, i.e. no swimming. At the end of the chapter, as Jase heads in for his EKG, he’s experiencing disappointment, frustration, and fear about what has just happened.
Chapter 43: Mari is at The Grind and realizes that something is happening with Jase since he hadn’t returned her messages. When he does appear, Mari hugs him only to notice that he now has a Holter monitor and electrodes connected to his chest. While Jase lets her in about the latest news, he is still focused on trying to keep his diagnosis and health status secret from his team. Mari is trying to stay patient and supportive for him. Still, the way he sees her embracing her cancer and its effects as something similar to rolling out the victim-carpet hurts her. As she tries to convey how his directing his pain towards her hurts her, they slide back into an earlier narrative of the time they met at AP Chem, a time when Jase refused to acknowledge her. The chapter ends in a fight.
Chapter 44: When Jase goes home, he runs into his dad. They both have a very poignant moment, as his dad shares how he regrets the advice he gave to Jase about pretending the cancer was done and resolved. They discuss how it’s not healthy to forget what happened to Jase, or to pretend it didn’t happen. At the end of the day, cancer is only a part of Jase, not the entirety of Jase.
Chapter 45: Mari isn’t able to focus in AP Chem because of what just happened with Jase…wait…Jason. Mrs. Yother delivers the horrid news that the way things are going, Mari is going to fail first semester AP Chem, which means she can’t take second semester AP Chem. While Mrs. Y acknowledges that Mari is an inspiration and that her grade suffered because she had to transfer and miss school, it all lands flat since she doesn’t seem to truly understand all the exhaustion and recovery that Mari had to go through to be there, let alone all that happened with Jason.
Chapter 46: Jase comes back to school despite taking off immediately after the last bell to give Mari a ride like always. He finds Mari and they have another argument where Mari finally breaks about the way Jason has been treating her, his attitude about cancer and disability, and how she would rather be by herself, alone, being open and honest about her cancer than to deny what has happened to her in order to fit in with everyone else. Jase makes the horrible statement, “You use your cancer and amputation as a crutch,” which leads Mari to tears as Leo comes to pick her up. Jason is left standing watching them leave, worried about how his fear about his cancer is costing him Mari.
Chapter 47: Mari is back at home and super-mama Karen picks up that something is going on with Mari. Mari shares about what happened with Jase and the complexity of what her life might be like without cancer. Her mom reassures her that Mari is already whole and is an inventive warrior, though Mari counters with the fact that she’s had to get inventive because of the lack of choices and lack of accessibility. At the end of the conversation, Mari realizes she doesn’t want a prosthesis and conveys that to her mom, even as Karen encourages her to try but only because they care. Mari enjoys how her family loves her as she is and not for what she’s “missing.”
REFLECTION: I loved these chapters because, while Mari experienced so much anguish, I saw Mari come into her own power, holding Jase accountable for how he treats her and how he hurt her despite how much she loved him. She understood how embracing her cancer, embracing her amputation, displayed her strength to face her diagnosis and her survivorship head-on; she didn’t run away from what caused her pain and fear. I also appreciated seeing how Jase’s worldview and his approach to pushing his pain down, pushing the cancer away, wasn’t just his worldview but one that his dad strongly advocated for because he thought it would be better for Jase.
I struggle[d] with Mari’s and Jase’s relationship because I understand so much of how Jase reacts to his diagnosis; I did something very similar in terms of wanting to hide my health issues and health status from others, to pretend to the outer world that all is okay. However, whilst I turned my fear inwards, Jase turned his fear outwards in a way that hurt loved ones like Mari [which I don’t appreciate at all]. I’m now in a space in my life where I’m more like Mari, where I’m embracing my cancer and my consequent disabilities. That also means I worry, just like Mari, that others might see me as someone using my health as a crutch rather than as a way of learning to love and accept my body in each present moment. I worry that some loved ones in my life with Jasonian personalities might judge me like he judged Mari.
These words from Mari deeply resonated with me from pg. 283: “I don’t want your help. I don’t want your friendship. Because all it does is make me feel less-than…And I am not less-than.” I loved these words because no one who loves us should make us feel less than; we are all enough and deserve to be loved and appreciated just as we are.
Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on chapters 48-53!
We will talk about a few chapters each Monday until the book is done. If Monday happens to be a holiday, then the post will publish on Tuesday. Once we finish the book, we’ll use one more Monday to talk about general feelings from the book and anything else you’d like to discuss. We’ll also have a video chat book club discussion at the end! Join in, in the comments every week! Also, there will probably be spoilers so read along with us! Excited about the young adult cancer book club? Have any suggestions for future reads? Let us know!