Cancer Country: A Survivor’s Memoir
Cancer Country is, as Chet Skibinski puts it, “a guide through my foreign country. It’s an armchair travel guide, safely away from the real thing.” In 2008, at 66 years of age, Skibinski is told that he has a rare and aggressive form of cancer called angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, Skibinski is considered cancer-free and in remission. That all changes a few months later when he receives a dismal prognosis of stage four lymphoma, this time affecting the bone marrow. Skibinski adds lightheartedness to a dark almost two-year season of his life.
Retired high school English teacher-turned-author, Chet Skibinski takes readers on a trip through his bizarre experiences with a disease “so rare, that only one in a half million Americans get it.” A relatively healthy man at the time, bar some peculiar itching, Skibinski takes to the drastic overnight morphing of his well being like an out-of-body experience. Certain that there has to be a cure, he begins to look for solutions…anywhere. And with, as Skibinski says, “absurdly optimistic illusions,” he explains how he approaches this foreign substance that has chosen to wreak havoc on his life. Skibinski’s candid storytellingreminiscent of George Carlin’s incessant tongue-in-cheek commentaries except with a light sprinkling of expletivesis absolutely dead honest and nothing less than hilarious.
Covering just about every emotion imaginable, and then some, as well as many sleepless nights, Skibinski fills these highs and lows with his crazy imagination, fixations with English Lit, and his love for a Porsche Cayman, amid extremes of fears and worries over medical protocol and test results to the mundane near-insane waiting periodsall surrounded by clever comparisons and multihued metaphors. A few great comparison examples include how chemo chemicals let loose in Skibinski’s body are much like a frat party or the Hells Angels in some small California town and how he associates his life after the bone marrow transplant to that of a factory turkey. And then there is this comedic, yet profound, line: “Adding up a person’s possessions at the end to determine the value of a lifetime seems about as irrational as doing an inventory at Walmart minutes before the coffin is lowered.”
Closing on an encouraging note, Skibinski’s sums up his account with this reflection: “Cancer takes a lot out of you, and one thing that it takes is optimismthat casual sort of optimism that you assumed was there all the time and would always be there, as dependable as a beating heart or a sunrise.” Funny and engaging, Cancer Country is, undoubtedly, an eye-opening must-read.