by Piyali C.
“I used to think healing meant ridding the body and heart of anything that hurt. It meant putting your pain behind you, leaving it in the past. But I’m learning that’s not how it works. Healing is figuring out how to coexist with the pain that will always live inside of you, without pretending it isn’t there or allowing it to hijack your day. It is learning to confront ghosts and to carry what lingers. It is learning to embrace the people I love now instead of protecting against a future gutted by their loss.” (P.312) This passage from Suleika Jaouad’s inspiring memoir, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted, resonated so much with me that I had to write it down.
At the tender age of twenty-two, when Suleika’s peers were looking forward to their futures, she was diagnosed with leukemia with a 35 percent chance of survival. It started with an intolerable itch all over her body, followed by mouth sores and extreme fatigue. When the diagnosis came down like a heavy anvil, she was, understandably, shattered. Thus began a tremendously painful journey of chemotherapy, clinical trials, a bone marrow transplant, waiting for biopsy results, and interminably long stays at the cancer ward in hospitals. During those stays, Suleika felt she had limited time left on this earth so she decided to do something meaningful while she still could. After her anger at the unfairness of her fate dissipated some, she took up writing blogs geared towards young adults suffering from cancer. The New York Times published her blogs under the column Life, Interrupted. She got an outpouring of letters and emails of support from people from various parts of the country.
After three years of painful struggle, her cancer finally went into remission. However, Suleika discovered that she did not know how to come back to a life without cancer – the kingdom of healthy people. She found herself at a junction where she needed to relearn how to integrate into regular life again. Such a close brush with her mortality made her aware that life is much more than what she had envisioned at twenty-two, before she got sick. Like any young adult, Suleika had hoped for a successful career and love. After her remission, her definition of success changed. She adopted a puppy, Oscar, borrowed a friend’s car, learned to drive, and embarked upon a 100 day, 15,000 mile road trip across the country to meet with some people who had sent her letters of love and support when she was sick.
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted is about Suleika’s fight against cancer, and so much more. It explores what living truly means and how to emerge to the other side of pain stronger with a clearer vision of the meaning of life. This book is about new beginnings.
We read books for many reasons. Personally, I love reading because books teach me empathy. They allow me to understand that everyone is fighting their own battle and I need to extend grace. In this particular book, Jaouad’s struggle against cancer was painful to read, however, I drew inspiration from her resilience, her fierce determination to win, her understanding and respect for other people’s pain, and by the love and support that held her up. The love came not only from her immediate family – her parents, brother, boyfriend, friends but also from complete strangers who never met her. The innate goodness of humanity shone brightly in this memoir, and it gave me hope.
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life interrupted by Suleika Jaouad is available in book, e-book, and e-audiobook formats.
Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she facilitates Light But Not Fluffy and co-facilitates Global Reads. She keeps the hope alive that someday she will reach the bottom of her to-read list.