Julie Yip-Williams should not have been alive at age 37, when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. She was born to Chinese parents in Viet Nam, right after the end of the war. She had cataracts that could not be surgically corrected in Viet Nam. Her paternal grandmother sent her parents to Da Nag, to a medicine man, to have Julie killed. The medicine man refused to do it. She ended up immigrating to the United States, where her vision was partially fixed at age 4.
Despite her visual limitations, she attended two prestigious colleges (Williams and Harvard). She became a lawyer, world traveler, and eventually met the man of her dreams and settled down with him in New York City, where they were raising their two young daughters.
Julie started writing her book after she was diagnosed. It details her four year battle with cancer. However, this is not just another “I’m-dying-young” memoir. This book goes so much deeper than that. This book is a brutally honest exploration of all the feelings that comes along with such a horrible diagnosis. Julie is unsparing in her writings. She doesn’t deny the anger, depression, and denial she had to fight, along with the disease. She openly discusses everything she feels. She talks openly about how hard it was for her and her family to deal with her diagnosis.
What I appreciated most about this book was her willingness to include the things that made her look bad – the mean thoughts, the crying, the anger. She is raw and honest. I appreciated that. The only thing I took a bit of an issue with is that she and her husband are wealthy. They are both attorneys, working at one of the biggest law firms in the country. They can afford to buy their neighbor’s apartment and turn it into one big one. They travel to exotic places. She contemplates spending $7,000 a month on an experimental drug, saying she can comfortably do that for a couple of months. While I don’t begrudge her the wealth she has worked so hard for, it skews the nature of her treatment. If she didn’t have the access to good health insurance, and enough money to afford a very expensive chemo drug, things would have been quite different for her. But I have to keep in mind that this book is about her journey through cancer, not anyone else’s. And she is writing about her circumstances.
I was so sad to learn that she died in March of this year. She was an amazingly talented writer and this book was a gut punch, but also a joy to read. She used her life as an example of what you can do when you are real. She talks about a lot of cancer support groups and blogs and websites where people put up false hope and false faces of happiness and denial because that is what this society expects from people suffering from terminal illness. I loved that she called them out for doing that and she refused to so the same. Making her cancer, and all the emotions that go with it – very real. And not always flattering.
I think that not only will this book stay with me, it will continue to resonate in me and it is one that I will revisit. It is filled with such wisdom and reality. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I won this book and received no other compensation in exchange for this review. The opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone.