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Finding Balance Week 3: Chapters 12-17

woman laying on bed while covering her face

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!

Catch up from Week 1 and Week 2.

By Kat H.:

In Chapters 12 – 17, Mari is torn, constantly wrestling with the disconnect between Camp Jase and School Jase. Mari is already frustrated with the fact that she does not have the option to appear “normal,” but then to have one of her best camp friends and positive aspects of camp treat her so coldly and negatively when at school, is confusing and disconcerting for her. In these chapters, she flips through emotions nearly constantly: sadness, anger, indifference, and then the cycle repeats. I feel very fortunate that in my own cancer experience, my friends and family were amazing. I was very communicative about what I wanted and needed from my circles, those close to me and farther out. But I think what I relate most to in these chapters is the internal cycles and frustrations that Mari has. I had many full-blown conversations in my head about why did this happen (physically), why did this have to happen (emotionally), how had I never even heard of tongue cancer, being terrified of all of the treatment options, etc. I had never even had an IV before my diagnosis! So I appreciate the internal challenges that are so prevalent with Mari in these chapters and definitely see that cycle within my own story.

By Jeannette S.:

First, this is a super compelling story of what I am interpreting ups and downs of the cancer diagnosis. Even though I was not diagnosed at a very young age, there is much that I can relate to.

In my interpretation of Jase in these few chapters, he is much very much wanting to be a “normal” kid and has been because his secret of his cancer diagnosis has been kept. Zeke knows that he has been to camp, however, has been generous to keep his confidentiality. Zeke appears to be super mature and most students might do the lesser. To me, the Jase character has been much of my family reactions…wanting to keep everything back to “normal” and not wanting to admit to the cancer diagnosis. The support has been lacking at times, much like Jase in his school life.

Mari has been a super strong character, although we see her express her frustration and sadness at the lack of support from those on the outside of her family group. She appears to always be able to come home to family and express her “secrets”/ school issues with Jase, especially to her brother. Mari, like many of us, has been “forced” (not sure if this is the right word) to grow up or become more mature looking at money problems and problems with the overall society and looking at illness/disease — being it cancer or mental illness, etc… Watching Mari going through her many ebbs and flows reminds me of what I have gone through with survivorship. One of my favorite parts was when she was visiting Davis in the cafe and comparing a cancer diagnosis with alcoholism because you never know when it will come back. For me, it is so true. Having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it can be very likely for its return. However, the trust in the doctors, just like the trust Mari has with Davis to maintain his sobriety, seems to be my connection.

We are beginning to see the two different worlds/lives Mari and Jase are from. Jase also keeps waking up at night having difficulty breathing and cannot seem to get back to his rhythm of swimming. Some of this may be because of his choice in relationship discord with Mari or could it be his cancer coming back? Since I have not read further, I would think it be quite ironic if his cancer recurs again since he has been treating Mari so poorly. In many ways, Jase does not know how to deal with someone so openly dealing with their survivorship. This represents many of those around me who do not like to talk about it or those just wanting me to be “ok.” Much like Mari, I am open to questions and the education of others. In my mind, if I can help someone to catch ovarian cancer early, I know that provides them with life for a little longer.

By Rachel M.:

Chapters 12-17

I can relate to Jase. As annoying as he’s getting and how terrible he’s being to Mari, I can see some of myself in him. His need to hide his diagnosis because he’s afraid of what people will say hits close to home for me.

I was diagnosed at the end of my freshman year of college and am currently in complete remission and in my senior year. When I was done with treatment and ready to return to school, I had no clue how to go back and live like a college student anymore; I felt like all people would see in me was my past of cancer. I was afraid that would become my identity. My hair was just starting to grow back when I returned to campus in the spring of my sophomore year, and the hair I had just after treatment was thin and slow-growing. I felt that just by looking at me, people could tell that I had cancer.

To me it was obvious. I had spent months getting chemo and radiation; that had been my reality for half of a year. After experiencing that season of my hair coming back in, I can relate to Mari in a small way from a short season of my life to how she feels: wishing she could keep her past diagnosis a secret like Jase can.

Just as Jase asked Mari to pretend not to know him, I was afraid that friends of mine would ask me to pretend the same because they didn’t want to deal with the heaviness of a friend with a cancer diagnosis. And for some, that heaviness was too much, and our friendships dissipated.

I can’t imagine being in Mari’s shoes, though. To have a cancer friend, who understands the crap I’ve been through, just decide to cut ties to try to be “normal” would break me. I wouldn’t accept help in chemistry from that person either.

Being cut off by a friend who knows the hardest, most painful parts of my past who suddenly decides they don’t want to be my friend or acknowledge our shared pain would leave me spinning. It would make me want to put cancer behind me too and completely forget about it.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. At least for me.

Like Mari, I still feel like I owe my story to people sometimes. Just like Mari says, “I hate that people feel like they deserve to know.”

However, my diagnosis has formed such a big part of who I have become, that sometimes I’m the one who thinks people deserve to know, not the other way around.

When I got back to school after treatment, I didn’t stop to consider whether I actually wanted to share my story. I just felt like I owed it to people. I believed that word of my cancer would get around anyway, so I might as well start sharing, whether I was comfortable with it or not.

I would explain my medical history to people, and a wave of anxiety would hit. That should’ve been a sure sign that I was not ready to share.

Everyone shares at their own pace, and as I continue reading, I hope Jase learns to share his story again and can put his fear of others’ responses behind him.

Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on chapters 18-23!

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!