BULLSH*T TO BUTTERFLIES is the unfiltered story of Shane Burke, a simple man who broke the cycle of trauma and created a beautiful life from nothing. You will laugh, you will cry; you will feel hope and sadness.
A memoir written by the love of his life, Sheila, wife of 32 years, this book was born on the advice of their adult children, a hospice social worker, and good friends.
Over the years, Shane learned to grapple with patience, generate a positive attitude, and rally support for the underdogs of the world—even during the most difficult times of his life. He found humor in everything and always aimed to enjoy life, and greatly encouraged others to do the same. He was a man who beat the odds all his life until cancer came calling. In his youth, he picked himself up and became the example he was missing of what a good person should be and showed the world what that looked like. And approaching his death, he gifted us a glimpse behind the veil. His experiences were a comfort to him and his family until his last breath.
His story teaches us how to live—as well as how to die—with courage, dignity, and grace.
BULLSH*T TO BUTTERFLIES will make you think. About your own death and enduring the death of those you love greatly. Shane’s story is a good reminder to cherish every moment we have in this world—and those whom we love in it. Through all the turmoil this man endured in his life, he kept going until he simply couldn’t go anymore. What those who loved him realized is that he was always teaching. Always learning. Always curious. Always grateful. When forced to face his own mortality, none of that changed. This is the very real story of a very ordinary man. He could just as well be you or I. This is a book for people who want to understand the plight of cancer, the challenges of facing death, and how to comfort the dying. You will take away much more than the story of this man. You will glean information on how to have a good death for yourself or for someone you love.
The diary’s real-time format proves key to the memoir’s emotional impact. These entries (detailing chemotherapy, radiation, and hospice) capture wrenching shocks and joyous respites, the confusion caused by the information dispensed by different doctors, and the immense guilt Sheila experiences with every decision that suggests a terminal outcome, like starting palliative care. Observations about mundane matters such as Shane’s food consumption demonstrate how, during a health crisis, routine actions become frustrating struggles, and Sheila’s exasperation escalates into understandable fury when she realizes that his weight loss and incessant hunger–paired with the inability to eat–are treated by the medical establishment as a side effect rather than a vital quality-of-life issue.
A prolific author, Burke has written self-help guides (including Zen-Sational Living and Booyah! Spirit) that promote positive personal growth, and in this book’s opening biography of Shane, she movingly illustrates how much he appreciated the simple pleasures in life. But here her journals reveal herself feeling around for the answers. The raw anger that pulses in this account, at insensitive doctors and casual cruelties (like the mask-less golfer who declares that the immune-compromised should be sacrificed to COVID-19), is more resonant and powerful than advice. The immediacy and frank messiness of this memoir mirrors the chaos of loss, which knocks the living onto unfamiliar terrain.
Takeaway: This intimate and practical memoir will aid readers facing a cancer diagnosis or end-of-life decision-making.
Great for fans of: Deborah Ziegler’s Wild and Precious Life, Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B-
A dying man teaches us about the magnificence of life and death. Insightful, informative. Full of hope and heartbreak. I highly recommend this book to anyone who expects to die someday and to those that love them.
Compelling, heart-wrenching, informative. A testament to hope and love. Should be required reading for every oncologist, cancer care provider, and any class on death and dying.