On January 1, 2009, Julie Forward DeMay began her blog cell war notebooks to document her “journey to healing;” she was battling cancer. On August 10, 2009, Julie died peacefully at home, only two days after her thirty-seventh birthday. This book is the collection of her blog posts.
Each post is given its own chapter, separating the book into short and easy to read segments. The book itself is short and can be read in a single sitting. The chapters are loosely centered around themes, but mostly chronicle Julie’s thoughts on any given day. Her writing style is casual and inviting, and the reader is drawn into the personal reflections of a young woman conscripted to fight a battle no one would ever choose for themselves, but which far too many must face nonetheless.
She begins optimistically, determined to defeat this invader in her body and resume her life. She is surrounded by the support of family and friends, and her love for her husband and five-year-old daughter are recurring themes throughout the book. But as treatment after treatment fails to deliver on the promise of good health, her optimism begins to turn to desperation. In one poignant reflection she writes about making dandelion crowns with her daughter and discussing the declining health of their elderly neighbor, all the while thinking about her own declining health. “I need to be here. I refuse to let Luka go through school and breast buds and mean girls and sweaty boys and makeup and deodorant and pimples and SATs and learner’s permits and embarrassing fashion trends and impossible decisions without me. I don’t think I want to live to be 100 either. I will settle for 75. Or even 70. But I need to be here.”
While never losing hope for a future, Julie begins to focus on making every moment count. She accepts palliative care (a term she hates) while continuing her own regiment of alternative therapies. She writes instruction manuals for her loved ones and a journal for her daughter. And she makes peace with her situation, wanting her every living moment to be a gift to her daughter. She even strives to make her death a gift, recognizing it as a chance to teach her daughter about “the beauty and strength in surrender.”
The subject matter is heavy, but Julie’s humor and insistence on living a life with cancer opposed to a life of cancer prevent the reader from getting weighed down by it. Though dealing with something intensely personal, a stranger reading her book does not feel like an awkward intruder, but rather a trusted friend, honored to be invited to share this journey. Whether you or a close loved one have been personally touched by cancer or not, this book will be a welcome view into a life in which cancer and its deadly effects are a daily reality, but not the only reality. Death is inevitable for all of us, but Julie Forward DeMay has left us a gift by showing us how to accept an impending death with dignity and grace, while also maintaining a full appreciation for life.
Five stars, but have a tissue handy.