Andrea, a journalist and writing/life coach, spent many years as a columnist, book reviewer and travel writer for The Boston Herald. Her articles also have appeared in many national magazines. Not so incidentally, she is also a dear friend of mine, with a shared professional beginning: we both started our careers at 'TEEN Magazine in Los Angeles and, in midlife, both of us decided to take career jogs into helping professions. I went back to graduate school in clinical psychology to become a psychotherapist. Andrea returned to graduate school, getting her Master's degree in social work, and was planning a parallel new career in serving the underserved.
But then life handed her some major surprises: a painful mid-life divorce, the challenge and joys of being a single parent, a devastating fire that destroyed her beautiful 100-year-old house. She, her children and her aging mother barely escaped with their lives while their beloved labrador retriever was lost in the blaze.
And then there was her cancer diagnosis. First, it was a large tumor in her left kidney. The cancerous tumor and the kidney were removed. A few years later, the cancer recurred in her left adrenal gland. Surgery seemed to solve the problem. But nine cancer-free years later, there was another, more dire, diagnosis: the cancer was now in her only remaining kidney and had spread to her pancreas. The only real chance for her survival was a drastic, highly risky surgical procedure called the Whipple, where most of her abdominal organs would be removed and either excised or cleansed and put back together in new fashion. If a patient survives the surgery, there is a very long and hard recovery period. She refers to the Whipple procedure as "The Abdominal Extravaganza."
Andrea faced this pivotal point in her life while dealing with everyday realities familiar to all of us: grown children at a distance, an aging mother who needed her help, the need to earn an income and the blessing of some very good local friends.
The Whipple Brunch takes us on the journey with her -- through the pain, love, tears and laughter that she and her friends and family shared during that time of frightening decisions, painful recovery and re-embracing life.
Before you turn away with the understandable reaction of "Oh, no! Not another cancer memoir! So depressing..." be assured that this is not your typical cancer memoir. It's a celebration of life and of friendship -- particularly the friends who stepped up and helped her when she was truly helpless. They went to appointments with her, were there for her as she struggled to decide whether to risk the surgery, took turns sitting with her in the hospital, visited her mother in assisted living and helped make Andrea's life festive at the most unexpected times -- like throwing a wedding celebration with tiaras and cake in Andrea's hospital room while watching the televised wedding of William and Kate. Celebrations are at the heart of this book. Just before her surgery, Andrea threw a lavish brunch for her friends and called it "The Whipple Brunch." Now, nearly five years later, her friends are throwing another brunch today to celebrate her new book!
It's well worth celebrating: she has an amazing ability to find humor in some of life's most painful moments and the spirit of this book -- so filled with wit and gratitude -- is immensely uplifting.
Both of these books would make terrific gifts for special people on your list this holiday season-- or you might consider giving yourself the gift of You Only Retire Once and The Whipple Brunch.