Hope Begins In The Dark: 40 Lymphoma Survivors Tell Their Exclusive Life Stories, By Jamie Reno (Edwards Brothers Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2012, 246 pages).
Book review by Dennis Moore
October 2, 2012 (San Diego) -- Cancer, in all its forms and manifestations is an insidious disease, that does not discriminate. It comes in the form of breast cancer, leiomyosarcoma, primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), prostate cancer, Askin's Sarcoma, or lymphoma, among many more. PSC, a rare disease that scars the ducts that carry bile from the liver to the small intestine to aid digestion, is the form of cancer that took the life of former NFL star Walter Payton.
Jamie Reno, journalist, singer-songwriter, patient advocate and 15-year survivor of stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, has written an all-new edition of a book that I had earlier had the honor of reviewing; Hope Begins In The Dark: 40 Lymphoma Survivors Tell Their Exclusive Life Stories.
I have a personal interest and investment in this book by Reno, as I too am a cancer survivor, surviving a bout with leiomyosarcoma. Reno's earlier book, published in 2008, chronicled and profiled lymphoma survivors, such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
As with his first edition of Hope Begins In The Dark, the author brings together a diverse group of lymphoma survivors to share their remarkable stories in this new and updated version. Reno points out that lymphoma is the most common blood cancer, with more than 65,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. Notable in his book is the story of Anthony Rizzo, former baseball player for the San Diego Padres, now playing for my hometown Chicago Cubs.
Rizzo is quoted in Reno's book as stating: "When we found out I had lymphoma, Larry Lucchino (CEO of the Red Sox and a lymphoma survivor himself who is also profiled in this book) sent me a letter in the mail expressing sympathy. Jon Lester helped me out, too. Jon is a pitcher for the Red Sox who is also a lymphoma survivor who won a World Series game after his treatment. Larry and Jon both prepped me on what to go through, what to expect, and how to handle everything. It helped to have people who worked in professional baseball to support me, people who had already been through it."
What is remarkable about this young man, is the fact that he contracted this dreaded disease at the age of 18, and at the time of the writing of this book, at the tender age of 21, he is still playing the sport that he loves. I looked in the newspaper sports section just today and saw that in the box score Rizzo hit his 12th home run among his 3 hits for the Chicago Cubs, while batting .298, which to all those following sports, is a good batting average in baseball.
Hope Begins In The Dark (click to see the cover)resonates with me, as more and more it seems that cancer is all around me. Just recently, a very dear friend of mine in Chicago, Rene Noriega, called me and told me he had prostate cancer. I actually got a call this morning from Rene, calling from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. I told him he is in my prayers. Another friend in Chicago, Marty, recently died of cancer. Another friend that lives in LA, Louie, who frequently drives down to visit me, is currently undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment for his cancer.
Jonna Tamases, a gifted actress and writer profiled in Reno's book, and most known for her recurring role as Irene in the ABC sitcom "Less Than Perfect" until she decided to turn her cancer experience into a one-woman show, is a survivor of both Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma as well as breast cancer. In Hope Begins In The Dark, Tamases talks of the various diagnostic procedures she endured; a staging laparotomy, a bone scan, 11 weeks of radiation treatment to her chest and neck, as well as 12 rounds of intense chemotherapy: MACOP-B (Methotrexate, Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Oncovin, Prednisone, Bleomycin). What she went through is not for the faint of heart, but she came out of it another one of Reno's documented survivors.
Tamases indicates in Reno's book that these days her mother is going through chemo for breast cancer.
In the foreward to this encouraging and inspirational book, Michael Werner of the Lynphoma Research Foundation, and himself a lymphoma survivor, states: "It is in the dark of night where hope begins for the cancer patient." Thus, Hope Begins In The Dark!" Reno has written a companion-piece to this book, a book that represents the anguish that tens of thousands of children deal with when they learn their parent, grandparent or other loved one has cancer; Snowman On The Pitcher's Mound.
For me, the most inspirational story in this book by Reno is that of Sean Swarner, the first cancer survivor to climb Mount Everest. Swarner is a remarkable human being. The only person in the world ever to have been diagnosed with both Hodgkin's disease and Askin's Sarcoma, at age 13 and 15, respectively, Sean was basically written off by doctors both times, but somehow survived. And at age 28, despite having one lung, he became the first cancer survivor in the world to climb Mt. Everest, the 29,035 foot monster. Sean is also the first cancer survivor to climb the highest summit in each of the world's seven continents.
He states in Reno's book: "Not long before my 16th birthday, I was told I had Askin's Sarcoma and not expected to be alive for more than two weeks. Semi-conscious and in a drug-induced coma for a year, I managed to see the bright side of life and knew it was too short to be anything but happy. Shortly after diagnosis, I started intense doses of chemotherapy for three months. When the three months were over, I was put into a heavy treatment of radiation focused on my right lung. Five out of seven days I drove 90 miles each way to receive high doses of radiation to my pulmonary passage. Back in a drug-induced coma, I managed to battle my way into survivorhood. I was once again a thriver and wanted to show people that nothing is impossible."
Perhaps inspired by Reno and his book, two young women from my hometown of Chicago, Dana Russell and Rashidah Moore, in their 20s, have formed an organization to bring awareness to and combat breast cancer; "K.O. Breast Cancer." What motivated Dana was losing her mother to breast cancer in 2000, and ten years later, losing a close friend to the same dreaded disease at 26. Their website www.kobreastcancer.org chronicles an upcoming event dedicated to cancer awareness and fighting this dreaded disease. These enterprising young women, Rashidah and Dana, have arranged for another "Knockout Breast Cancer" event in Chicago in October, 2015. See attached. It would be great to see Chicago Cubs Allstar first baseman Anthony Rizzo at this event, as he is a cancer survivor himself.
Recently, in the USA Today, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society announced their 2012 National Man & Woman of the Year Winners. If I would have had a vote, it would have gone to Jamie Reno for his 15-year battle with the disease, as well as his book(s) bringing awareness as to how one can survive Lymphoma. Reno is an inspiration to all.
For more information on this book, visit http://www.hopebeginsinthedark.com.
Dennis Moore is the book review editor for SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego. He is also the author of a book about Chicago politics; "The City That Works: Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago." Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.