BOOK REVIEW: LIFE, WITH CANCER THE LAUREN TERRAZZANO STORY

Reviewed by Yeong Seek Yee & Khadijah Shaari

Life with cancer LaurenTerrazzano

 

Lauren Elizabeth Terrazzano was an American journalist best known for her “Life, With Cancer” Newsday column and other writings about her battle with cancer. Lauren graduated from high school in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. In 1990, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and later, after graduating from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 1994, she worked at The New York Daily News and The Record before joining Newsday in 1996.

Lauren Terrazzano had two goals in life: firstly, to win a Pulitzer Prize and secondly to write a book.

In 1996, the fearless young journalist shared the Pulitzer Prize with her team at Newsday for their coverage of the TWA Flight 800 crash. Unfortunately, she was not able to achieve her second goal. At age thirty-nine, Lauren’s life was cut short by lung cancer just 30 months after her diagnosis.

Despite being a non-smoker, Lauren Terrazzano was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2004 at age 36.  She endured chemotherapy and continued her work as the cancer went into remission.  When the cancer returned in 2006, she developed a Newsday column called “Life, with Cancer” in which she explored and dispel the stigma living day to day with lung cancer.  She wrote the column for eight months before her death in May 2007.

However, that goal (of writing a book) did not die with Lauren.

Her father, Frank Terrazzano picked up the torch and, with the help of co-author Paul Lonardo, wrote Life, with Cancer: The Lauren Terrazzano Story. In writing this book, Frank wanted to honor his daughter’s memory as a dedicated and well-respected social journalist who was a voice for the voiceless.

With the help of co-author Paul Lonardo, devoted father Frank Terrazzano tells his daughter′s compelling life story through the eyes of the many people whose hearts and lives Lauren touched. Lauren′s friends, colleagues, coworkers, doctors, and even her college professors, collectively paint a touching portrait of Lauren the person and the journalist. Reflecting on his daughter, Frank writes of Lauren as “A beautiful young lady who believed that ′The Pen Is Mightier than the Sword′ and chose to use her pen as a light–a light to shine in dark places exposing society′s many shortcomings.”

In the fall of 2006, the cancer returned, but Lauren decided to fight it with words. After receiving a weekly column entitled, Life, with Cancer, she shared her experiences in the hope of erasing the stigma associated with lung cancer. She wrote with humor when she discussed “the dumb things people say to those who are ill” and with anger as she wrote about the complicity of tobacco companies.

Each chapter in Life, with Cancer is a heartfelt tribute from father to daughter and begins with Lauren’s voice taken from actual excerpts of her Newsday column.

The following are the main points in Lauren’s cancer journey as told by her father in the various chapters:

  • Diagnosis—there was a large mass on the right side of her chest, pressing directly against her lung…there were also three smaller masses in the same area, along the lining of her right lung. The tumour that had attached itself directly on her lung was the most threatening and was probably responsible for her difficulty in breathing—it was pressing on her lung.
  • With that scenario, she consulted with the top thoracic surgeon at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) who recommended chemotherapy, then possibly surgery and then radiation therapy. (Lauren’s husband flatly refused to consider alternative therapies…because insurance does not pay for it).
  • Lauren then underwent 4 rounds of chemotherapy and this was what happened to her each time:
    • After the first round of chemo at MSKCC, Lauren was unable to work…she was just too sick. It was hard for her to eat, and she became weaker by the day. Nothing tasted right. She even lost her love of chocolate. What little she ate she had trouble keeping down.
    • After her second round of chemo (this time at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston), the complications from the side effects landed her in intensive care due to life-threatening infections.
    • After the third round of chemo (back at MSKCC), she developed a blood clot in her left leg and then for the rest of the treatment, she had to give herself daily injections of blood thinners.
    • After the fourth round of chemo, the result was the same: no improvement.
  • Despite the poor prognosis, the thoracic surgeon managed to persuade the board of MSKCC and Lauren to perform surgery known as “extrapleural pneumonectomy…i.e. to take out her right lung along with its lining, part of her diaphragm, and the outer lining of her heart. He removed all the cancer that he could see, and the surgery was considered a success.
  • Just three weeks later (after surgery),she started a six-week course of radiation therapy
  • After Lauren completed her treatment in early March (2006), she started to feel a little better and tests showed that she was, indeed, cancer free. For the first time since she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, Lauren truly felt good for an extended period of time.
  • Lauren lived cancer-free for the next six months, the culmination of which was an unexpected wedding (her second marriage). Just a week before the wedding, her oncologist told her that something had been detected in her chest midsection…they had found some cancer near right ribs…and they needed to perform surgery on her right away to remove two of her ribs.
  • Just before Easter, Lauren underwent another surgery to remove the tumours, along with several ribs where tumours were located. She got through that surgery, and again they thought they had gotten all the cancer (successful again?).
  • When tumours began appearing in different parts of her body, Lauren’s cancer was considered inoperable, at least as far as the recommendation of any further surgeries was concerned.
  • Also any further chemotherapy would not be effective and would only make her sicker. Her hope was fading fast when she decided to put her faith in a trial drug.
  • Just after Halloween in 2008, Lauren’s oncologist informed her that her body was not responding to the treatment. When Lauren asked what they could try next, her doctors told her that they had done everything they could: conventional treatment had failed.
  • When Lauren inquired about alternative therapies they could recommend, she was advised that if there any nontraditional medicines or treatments she wanted to try, it was up to her: but there was nothing more they could do for her at Sloan-Kettering.

Lauren Elizabeth Terrazzano passed away on May 15, 2007 despite being treated at the most renowned cancer hospital in the world, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre (MSKCC), in less than 3 years from diagnosis (Sept 2004).

OUR PARTING COMMENTS:

  • It was so considerate of MSKCC to advise Lauren to seek nontraditional medicines or treatments after her body has been totally wrecked after all the chemotherapy, surgeries, and radiotherapy. Probably by then her their insurance cover has been exhausted as well.
  • At the time of reviewing this book (early October 2013), a friend of ours had already undergone numerous chemotherapy and radiotherapy (to the brain as well) for his lung cancer which was diagnosed less than 3 years ago. Recently, his oncologist “consoled” him with a comment that “you are very lucky to have lasted nearly 3 years, etc.” And it was that same oncologist who advised him to irradiate his brain first before the cancer spreads there. Our friend did so obediently but six months later, the lung cancer did metastasize to the brain. Yes, he did further radiotherapy sessions. Now, one year later there are two tumours in the brain  as big as a 50-sen coin.

Anyone for evidence-based medicine, scientifically tested and proven??

 

Advertisements