It was very hard to put down Michele Longabaugh’s book, If You’re Not Laughing, You’re Dying: The dawning of hope from the shadows of darkness…blogging through Stage 4 Anal Cancer (2012). Being diagnosed with anal cancer myself, I was drawn to read this book in the hopes of getting some insight into the disease and how to manage it. Being diagnosed with this type of cancer in her late 40s makes Michele relatively young (as the average age of diagnosis of anal cancer is in the early 60s). Anal cancer is quite rare, and can be difficult to find support. Not only do some consider it a stigmatizing and shameful disease, the treatment for it is torturous. Michele’s courage and the sharing of her experience helps destigmatize anal cancer and her rise from shame to advocacy is very inspiring.
The book starts with a beautifully written Foreword by Michele’s loving husband, Jerry. The way he describes her writing is “random, raw and honest.” I would definitely agree with the random and raw, as this book is comprised of her blog posts (typos and all!) written over a period of about two years. The honest part, well, we’ll have to take his word for it!
The writings are very engaging, and each chapter (blog post) has a theme and a story or insight to share. The posts are sometimes upbeat and laughable, sometimes they are stories of the hell and torture Michele endures (which is hard to take). Sometimes they are loving tales of family, friends or healthcare providers. The reader can learn a lot about Michele’s experiences with cancer and its treatment (including a lot of crying, grief and scary parts) and she shares stories about things like medications, “narcotic naps”, ointments, radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, and her fondness for “Dr. Cutie” and her blog-worthy visits with the “butt doctor.”
Michele tends to rely heavily on family, friends, and prayer (she’s Lutheran) for support and strength during her cancer ordeal. I like this about her story, because I can totally relate in many ways. In addition to having a loving husband, she has three outstanding children – Maggie, AJ and CJ. Both Michele and her husband sing high praises for Michele’s sister, “sissy” Renee, who is described as an angel on earth. Michele’s two “besties” Laurie and Marie, also shine as two very important and special people in her life. Michele is a very popular, kind and loving person, and it shows in her writing.
Michele’s adventures of checking things off her “Bucket List” makes for some interesting stories and helps her find joy and pleasure. There are plenty of tears and suffering (both physical and mental) in her life, and she is able to appreciate humourus moments by laughing along or making an odd joke here and there. Near the end of the book, Michele shares some insight about her “Un-Bucket List.” These are things she would never want to do.
Overall, this book did what it was supposed to do; it helped inspire me and gave me hope that this fight against cancer can be won. We can all join Michele on this wild roller coaster ride in the dark by continuing to follow her blog on tumbler – ihavebuttwhat.tumblr.com.
Angela G. Gentile
Angela G. Gentile MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is creator of the Facebook communities – “Aging Well for Women” as well as “God, Cancer and Me.” For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com