“Cocoon of Cancer,” Abbe Rolnick with Jim Wiggins
“Old Parents and Purple Tulips,” by Betty Alder
The role of a caregiver can vary widely from person to person, patient to patient — and the two books we’ll be covering in this week’s column exemplify that.
“Cocoon of Cancer” is a slender volume that chronicles the journey to recovery undertaken by a wife and her husband when he is diagnosed with multiple myeloma. At the other end of the spectrum, “Old Parents and Purple Tulips” details a woman’s efforts to care for her aging parents, both succumbing to the downward spiral of dementia.
We’ll begin with the smaller book. A former employee of Bellingham’s destination indy bookstore, Village Books, Abbe Rolnick now lives in Sedro Woolley, runs a health foods cafe, and writes books of her own. But in 2014, her husband Jim’s cancer diagnosis knocked her out of her customary routine. The couple reconfigured their lives, moving to Seattle so Jim could spend several months in intensive daily cancer treatments.
In “Cocoon of Cancer,” Rolnick presents a collection of e-mails, letters, and poems that flowed between family and friends, enfolding her husband and herself in a cloak of concern and good wishes as he went through an aggressive regimen that doctors hoped would lead to a stem cell transplant.
Two years later, with her husband in remission, Rolnick points out the importance of having an advocate assist the patient to make sure that his needs are known, protocols are followed, and that the swirl of medical jargon can be translated into meaningful information. She also emphasizes the need for a companion who can provide the back rub, share the private joke, and be present with the patient in appreciating the simple pleasures that still can be observed from the confines of a hospital room.
This is an intimately personal book — perhaps too personal for some — but it is offered with sincere intentions.
The other book, “Old Parents and Purple Tulips,” is Hansville author Betty Alder’s narrative of her parents’ mental and physical decline, and of her attempt to care for them from a distance.
Francine and Roger Malfait had begun to misplace things, to overlook bill payments, to let housekeeping and personal hygiene slip. But when they began to lay unfounded blame on Betty’s husband and kids during a summer visit, she realized that this wasn’t a minor problem. Her parents were becoming increasingly irascible and irrational.
This is a story that too many primary caregivers to the elderly will recognize: once aging parents lose command over basic life skills, their social web frays, tensions arise among family members, and isolation increases — none of which helps anyone’s emotional well-being.
“Old Parents and Purple Tulips” must have been cathartic to write. Alder is a strong writer and tells her harrowing story well. However, the readers who could benefit most from this book, caregivers, will possibly find its nearly 500 pages to be an excessive length.
The Bookmonger review appears each week in Take Five. Contact her at email@example.com.
Abbe Rolnick will have a reading and signing at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at Village Books, 1200 11th St., Fairhaven.