Thursday, December 25, 2003

Awake, O Sleeper: How I Rediscovered God Through Breast Cancer by Katherine Murphy

SunCreek Books, 1932057056, $12.95

On a personal note, I do find it difficult to read books on breast cancer and memoirs of those touched by the disease, be it directly or via a stricken loved one. Having lost my maternal grandmother and nearly my mother to this illness, there seems to be an invisible cloud hovering over my head, a constant reminder that the odds of my being diagnosed are significantly higher than other women. There is the onus on me to be ever vigilant - performing weekly (if not daily) checks - that becomes so consuming that I suddenly realize I might be in danger of not only driving myself to worry but jeopardizing my spiritual health. Such books by and for survivors, I realize, are not meant to discourage people like me who worry about inheriting something unwanted, though when handed a book on the subject, the cloud appears to darken. Reading Awake, O Sleeper: How I Rediscovered God Through Breast Cancer by 5-plus year survivor Katherine Murphy, is refreshing to read in that, though I am fortunate never to have been afflicted, I find I can identify with the author through personal experiences shared with loved one who have beaten the disease, and I can be assured that through the darkest moments in life one can find solace in the knowledge of God's love.

Katherine Murphy had a full life in 1988 with a loving husband and two children. Being in her late thirties, cancer was not a forethought but something that happened to old people, and other people. This is not to say that Murphy never believed the young were immune to death (she recalls, in Awake, O Sleeper the death of a college roommate which appeared to have just as significant an impact upon her during her illness than when the event happened), but it was not something upon which to dwell, considering her family and her teaching job required the lion's share of her attention. One day in August changed that for Murphy upon learning that what she thought was a benign tumor was actually cancer - a cancer that is the second leading cause of death for women in the US, a cancer that accounts for one-third of all the cancers diagnosed in this country. (Source: American Cancer Society)

Awake, O Sleeper is taken from the Book of Ephesians, and becomes a mantra of sorts for the author as she deals with cancer surgery, recovery, and all the struggles involved - coping with vanity during hair loss and feeling unattractive, worrying over how her young sons will react to her illness, etc. Though Murphy had never considered herself a lapsed Catholic (the family did attend church on a regular basis), it was not until her diagnosis that she realized she had been "asleep," going through the motions of being Christian without truly appreciating God's gifts and the power of prayer.

As a memoir, Sleeper is a poignant story of survival, physical and spiritual, with moments of levity and heartache with which even those who have not been stricken ill can identify. As an inspirational, Sleeper is uplifting, a reminder to call upon God in the darkest moments of life.

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