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Vladimir Tsesis
The author of ten books, Vladimir Tsesis dedicated this work to millions of women heroically fighting the aggressive metastatic breast cancer. Under the pen of the writer “the medical history” of his wife Marina, turned into an exciting chronicle of stoic resistance to a fatal ailment, filled with not only happy findings of the peaceful flow of everyday life, but also irreparable losses. Contrary to the forecasts of medical experts who predicted Marina’s inevitable death in a few months, she lived for another fifteen years, a whole life, making a creative contribution to the lives of loved ones and without ceasing to express love for the whole family. Marina helped friends, was a volunteer at school, for several years helped her son prepare for publication of a huge collection of documents on the history of the Holocaust, lived an active social life, traveled a lot, continued to be fond of reading and music, willingly shared her impressions, and under no circumstances posed herself as a victim, although she had to constantly undergo cycles of challenging medical therapy. Truly, she lived every day as if it were her last, filling each day with the events and gifts of her new life, setting an example of resilience in life circumstances. The aggressive form of cancer could not force her to capitulate and break her morale. She lived for today and under no circumstances pretended to be a victim, and––except for the less days of her life––she never lost control of the situation she was in. Many books have written about people who suffered from serious illnesses, but people who love and care for the sick also suffer, and the suffering of caregivers can be very deep. After a long period of introspection, the author came up with the original “Twelve Steps Program,” that could help people who are going through the grief of loss.
In this love letter to his late wife, Tsesis (Communist Daze: The Many Misadventures of a Soviet Doctor) tracks the course of his beloved Marina’s fifteen years of living with cancer, detailing the choices and caregivers the couple faced, celebrating the relationship they shared, and paying touching tribute to her vibrant, lively self—her Holocaust research, active social life, and tendency to be “a tigress protecting her cubs.” A doctor himself, Tsesis depicts with welcome clarity the different treatments she endured, and the many side effects of those treatments, as well as the level of care she received from many doctors, surgeons, and nurses, up through her last days in hospice care, where the staff “did not hide that they were spiritually satisfied with their mission.”

While the love between the couple shines through, and the book will likely move readers to tears, one of the most interesting aspects of Tsesis’s memoir is the depiction of U.S. healthcare. Tsesis compares the US Healthcare system to that of the USSR, where he practiced in his early career as a pediatrician. While the US healthcare system is not without its faults, Tsesis compares it favorably to what he found in the eastern bloc. Tsesis’s descriptions of each course of treatment, and the side effects of each treatment, are clear and concise.

“Despite all my education and my skeptic mind, a part of me believed in miracles, and I sincerely believed that Marina would escape the premature tragic outcome from her menacing disease,” Tsesis writes. But he knows not to offer readers false hope, instead offering a clear-eyed account, with a doctor’s perceptive eye, of Marina’s remarkable strength and resilience—and what she meant to so many. The narrative momentum at times slows for detailed descriptions, and readers might wish the main narrative addressed grief and loss more thoroughly, as the epilogue presenting ten principles that helped Tsesis in the aftermath will leave readers wanting more.

Takeaway: A doctor’s tender, life-affirming account of his late wife’s long years facing cancer.

Great for fans of: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, Sherrell D. Mims’s I Will Wait Until Morning.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-