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 Briana G.:
Jase is finally telling his teammates about his heart condition, obviously omitting it may be due to his previous cancer diagnosis. As the coach walks in, he instructs the team to start practice and calls Jase aside. The coach tells Jase to be open about his medical history in the future and tells him he is not allowed back for a month. As Jase leaves, he remembers about Mari, and instead of heading to class; he drives home.
Jase is at home with his worried mother, Olivia. He asks her about her journals from when he was in treatment. She mentioned how he was always sick, and each doctor thought he just had a cold. This was until a resident requested a CBC and they found his diagnosis. At the time, his father was in Germany trying to fly back home. His grandparents had traveled to care for Jase while his mother spoke with doctors and tried to learn all the medical terminology. Jase asked his mother if she had been scared during his treatment. Olivia explained how terrified she had been. Bone marrow aspirations, blood transfusions, religious faith was mentioned as Jase finally realized that he could have died. Olivia feared that her son could die from the treatment, infections, or side effects. She went and grabbed a photo album and journals she had made of the experience. His mom showed him a photo of the family when they found out Jase was in remission. He recognized his parents, but not the pale, bald boy in the photo. Jase began reading his mother’s journals but felt like he was reading a story of someone else. However, there were some passages that triggered some memories. He remembered some interactions with the doctor, when the doctor announced his retirement, and when he started going to camp how he felt like his own person for the first time.
Mari is in the lobby of her ortho waiting to get her cast. She thinks about how it’s been a month since she spoke to Jase. She is called in to get x-rays on her arm. After, she is taken to a room and requests her brother and his girlfriend to join her. The doctor comes in and tells her she will get the cast removed, but shouldn’t walk for at least another week. The doctor saws off the cast, and Mari was able to move her arm.
Jase is getting his echo done with Steve. Jase asks him questions on the echo, but it’s against policy for Steve to tell him till the radiologist sees it. Time passes and Jase is with his parents in the lobby anxiously waiting for results. Davis comes in and reassures Jase he doesn’t have to be there alone (without friends). To distract him, Davis asks if he wants to play video games. While playing, Davis asks about him and Mari. Jase reveals to Davis how he was a jerk when she first transferred and that he screwed up. Then John comes in and tells Jase they’re ready to go in. While Davis was still shocked at how Jase treated Mari, he offered his support by saying whatever happens it will be okay.
Mari is with her mom and Giselle at a secondhand shop trying on formal dresses. While asking for a fitting room, the sales attendant sends her to a non-accessible room. Mari requests an accessible one, which ended up just being a bit larger with three mirrors. Mari asked for a stool or chair to sit on. The saleswoman returns with a paint-chipped metal chair. As Mari sits in front of the mirror, she mentions her insecurities. She tries on her first-choice dress which ended up being unflattering on the top and emphasizing her missing leg on the bottom. Her mom tries to reassure her, it’s just the wrong fit. Let’s try again. She tries on a red dress that fit better but did not have the same embellishments as the first dress. She tries on the last dress. This dress fit her perfectly, and they envisioned the accessories she could use with it. When checking out the sales lady gave them a big discount. Mari knew she just felt pity towards her but didn’t care since her salary from the bookstore was being used. Then she gets a text from Jase.
Jase is sitting on Maris’ porch swing waiting for her to get home. As Mari enters Jase begins to apologize. She asks how he’s feeling, and about how his appointment went. Jase tells her the news that he will need to take daily medication and monitoring. Mari mentions his future with swimming, and Jase doesn’t seem to care about it anymore. Mari asks for an explanation of cardiomyopathy and what his number on the scale was. Jase says his number is 40, and if he monitors himself and lives a healthy lifestyle he may get better. Mari unexpectedly grabs Jases’ hand to comfort him.
By Christina K.:
In these chapters, Jase has to come to terms with his friends from school knowing that he has something going on with his health. As someone who lives her diagnosis really publicly, I have these conversations down to a speedy elevator pitch, but I felt for Jase in these moments. I hate it when I’m unsure of what others know like Jase was with his Coach. But what struck me was when Jase’s friends didn’t comment on it much other than preventing his ability to swim for the next month. It goes to show that sometimes, we don’t give enough credit to the people in our lives for how they will take things.
Jase’s mom also shares her journal that she kept during his diagnosis and treatment. This book offered me a ton of insight into the challenges that pediatric survivors face – in particular, not remembering a ton about their treatment. I can imagine how that might leave unique anxieties, fears, or concerns later on in life.
The author really made Mari relatable in a lot of different ways. I enjoyed throughout the book, not just in these chapters, Mari’s great sense of humor. I saw a lot of myself in how we both use it as a coping mechanism. She’s just genuinely funny and seems to have the world’s greatest set of doctors. I also felt myself cringe with my own memories of dressing room woes and the general anxiety and loathing of shopping at that age, with such terrible overhead lighting. I appreciated how accessibility was so far from the store employee’s mind, and genuinely made me wonder why new employees are not required to go through an awareness training as part of their onboarding after being hired.
Overall, I think the last sentence of Chapter 53 really sums up these passages, “Cancer: the gift that keeps on giving.” This book really acknowledges that all of the teens from Camp Chemo are (presumably) out of active treatment, but still dealing with the after-effects of their diagnosis. I appreciated the nuance with which their stories were told and the different facets the author covered, which could help any Cancer Muggle understand the challenges more- as long as they are open to learning sugar doesn’t cause cancer.
Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on chapters 54- Epilogue!
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!