16. Strong at the Broken Places: Voices of Illness, A Chorus of Hope by Richard M. Cohen
This book was written by Richard M. Cohen, who is the husband of Meredith Viera, which I had no idea until I started reading it. The book is about dealing with chronic illness. Cohen has Multiple Sclerosis and also battled colon cancer for a number of years. Both of which I believe he chronicled in an earlier book called Blindsided, which I have not been able to get my hands on.
In this book he wanted to tell the stories of other people living with chronic illnesses. Over a period of years he meets with 5 other people to get a sense of their stories. At the end they all meet together and address a class of Harvard medical students about living with chronic illness and how they as doctors can better respond to their patients. I think that is great and I hope it made an impact because I’ve already dealt with too many doctors who don’t have a clue.
I thought about going in depth into the actual stories of the people, which are so meaningful. But I think you should really read for yourselves, so I won’t.
The 5 participants in the book are:
Denise, who was diagnosed with ALS about 5 years previous to the book being written.
Buzz, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He is a very strong Christian and has turned his disease and his life over to the Lord. I found his story really inspiring because his faith is something I aspire to. I also found his story scary because one of the drugs I take increases my chances of contracting lymphoma. That was always some kind of abstract thing to me until I read this story, and now I know more about it and it scares me that I might have to live with that one day on top of everything else.
Ben was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy when he was three years old and has currently defied the odds living to the age of 18 and enrolling in college at St. Mary’s College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Sarah was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 3. Actually she was diagnosed originally with Ulcerative Colitis. The diagnosis did not change until she got sick enough that they completely removed her colon. As Ulcerative Colitis is limited to the colon they told her she would no longer be sick after the surgery, which offered her a hope she had never known. Only they were wrong and it turned out to be Crohn’s, which just continues to find new places of the digestive tract to attack. Reading about that was heartbreaking. Her story for obvious reasons touched me the most. She is way worse off than I have ever been and ever hope to be. And she doesn’t remember a time in her life when she was healthy, which is something I luckily can’t say.
Larry has bi-polar disorder and struggles with not only keeping his disease under control, but the stigma that goes along with mental illness. Although all of these people have struggled with the stigma of being sick, he describes why he thinks the stigma of mental illness is different.
It is interesting to listen to Cohen tell these people’s stories. He sometimes struggles to understand how they are coping and why they do the things they do. At one point he realizes and says that he expects everyone to cope the same way the does and tries to get them to admit to thinking the same way that he does about his illness. He especially struggles with Buzz and Larry who both have a strong faith, which Cohen does not have. He tries to point out his obvious bias against it and come to terms with the fact that their views may be valid. He really struggles with it thought, and I don’t think he ever really fully accepts that their faiths are not just either part of a mental illness or a way not to face reality.
I strongly recommend this book to everyone, but particularly those who struggle with chronic illness. (I give it a 9 out of 10).
The book starts out with a quote from A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway that I found very meaningful and is obviously where the book title came from.
“The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”