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Week 3: Between Two Kingdoms, Chapters 11-16

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Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club! We are reading Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad. Read our participants’ reactions and follow along with us each week as we read through the book! Caution, spoilers below!

By Rachel C.:

Suleika has an incredible way with words. This book is both easy and hard to read at the same time. Easy because her words so quickly wrap you up into her world. I smell the smells of the hospitals. I taste the metallic taste in my mouth. I feel the looks of pity that she got. And for the same reasons, it’s also hard reading this. While her cancer story is not the same as mine, there are many parts I relate to. And often I think to myself “This is her real life. This isn’t just a novel.”

In chapters 11-16, Suleika is living with a very compromised immune system due to her chemo trial. Will has gotten a job in the city and is gone during the week so she has to find some way to occupy her time. She took some writing classes and began writing but became too tired to continue doing it. Her parents encourage her to reach out to a support group or friend. She goes to the movies with a childhood friend, wanting to feel “normal” but comes home feeling anything but that. 

Her parents continue to worry about her becoming depressed and uninterested in anything so they all decide to participate in the 100 days project, finding a few minutes each day to work on a little project. She decided to journal for hers. 

A year after her diagnosis she calls her brother to tell him she was diagnosed with leukemia and that he might be her only chance at survival if he’s a match for a bone marrow transplant. He was a perfect match and agreed to do it. Meanwhile, Suleika sees the toll her health and her cancer has on her family which makes her own guilt worse. 

They learn about the transplant process and what it entails. Suleika begins writing a blog when starting the transplant process and it takes off. People all over are reading it and responding to her, she’s asked to do some pieces for newspapers and even a radio segment. 

After her transplant, she’s moved to Hope Lodge where she would live for 3 months. Will and Suleika begin drifting apart. Chapter 16 ends with the doctor telling her that he wants her to continue chemo which will be for at least another year. It seems like Will is getting fatigued from being a caretaker and it’s unclear if their relationship will survive.

By Jessica B.:

A lot happens in the first chapter of this section of the book: Suleika makes her first attempt at journaling about her experience, she also starts her clinical trial, and her boyfriend finds a job in NYC.  Despite starting a very difficult clinical trial, Suleika also starts planning for the future.  She decides to take the GRE and try to attend graduate school.  I give her a lot of credit for her ambition, but as someone who has been to graduate school, I couldn’t imagine trying to earn an advanced degree while going through intensive chemo.  Since grad school doesn’t pan out, she instead decides to start wedding planning but gets upset when a social worker tells her she’ll have to postpone the wedding to avoid jeopardizing her eligibility for her health insurance.  Yet another plan for the future is foiled.

The rest of this section details Suleika’s life as she goes through her clinical trial.  Despite her best efforts to regain some semblance of a normal life, she’s just too sick to really continue normal activities.  A therapist suggests she find a hobby to keep herself busy despite her physical limitations. Will and her parents also decide to take part.  Will decides to send daily videos from NYC.  Her mother decides to paint tiny tiles that eventually get hung on the wall in Suleika’s room.  Her father writes down childhood memories and binds them in a book as a gift for Suleika. Suleika’s project is to return to journaling, which is what will eventually lead to the publication of this book.  A lot of people journal as a way to deal with the trauma of going through cancer treatment, however, most people’s journaling doesn’t get the attention of the New York Times.  When someone from the newspaper contacts Suleika about writing an essay for them, she does something I can only describe as incredibly ballsy: she asks them for her own column and gets it.  This starts connecting her with people all over the country, which will become an important part of her life in the future.

After going through the clinical trial, Suleika is finally ready for a bone marrow transplant.  Luckily, her brother is an ideal match. After having another rough stretch of time in the hospital, she is finally released to move into the Hope Lodge, where Will joins her.  Their relationship is showing signs of strain, which is kind of understandable considering that Suleika has pretty much been sick the entire time they’ve been together.  The section ends with Suleika learning that the transplant seems to be working, but since the leukemia wasn’t completely gone when she got the transplant, she’ll need to keep getting chemo.

It’s interesting to read how Suleika presents her story of going through treatment.  She doesn’t gloss over the negative parts of going through treatment, but she also doesn’t leave out the good things in her life.  I think that’s a welcome portrayal of cancer treatment.  I read a review of this book that my friend who has never had cancer wrote.  She mentioned that she thought the book focused too much on cancer.  I have to question what she was expecting.  I knew this was a memoir about a cancer journey, and that’s exactly what I’m getting, but it isn’t all doom and gloom, and it isn’t all anger.  It’s real, and I appreciate that.

We will talk about a few chapters each week until the book is done. Once we finish the book, we’ll have an online book club discussion on Zoom to talk about general feelings from the book and anything else you’d like to discuss on November 3rd. Join in the comments every week! Also, there will probably be spoilers so read along with us! Excited about the next book club? Have any suggestions for future reads? Let us know!