Tag Archives: health

Review: The Gene Guillotine

gene guillotineRecap: Kate Preskenis’s world revolves around her mother. Diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s Disease, Kate’s mom struggles through family events, battles daily routines and loses herself from moment to moment. It’s enough to encourage Kate to adapt her life around staying home or close to home to care for her mother. Even though she has a lot of siblings, she wants to be there. It’s Kate who rubs her mom’s feet, who finds their own language to speak.

So it comes as a complete shock when, roughly two years into the diagnosis, Kate’s father dies of a sudden heart attack. But Kate and her siblings begin to wonder how much of a shock it really is. After all, he too had struggled with his wife’s diagnosis. He took on the burden — albeit willingly and happily — of his new role as “caregiver.” Now that role is left to Kate and her brothers and sisters. Together, they must take turns and make plans for their mother who’s getting progressively worse.

As Kate’s mom’s condition worsens, so does Kate’s emotional well-being. Caring for a sick mother is not easy for anyone, especially someone as young as Kate. She wants to be there for her mom and easily drops everything, including other relationships, to do it. But this is not where Kate’s story ends. This is only part one. Part two is the debate over whether she should be genetically tested for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Analysis: In her heartbreaking and honest memoir, Kate Preskenis tells the modern-day version of what Alzheimer’s has become: a haunting disease that so often affects the family members of the patient more than the patient. The disease is all the more bolstered in its chilling effects by the fact that science now enables people to be genetically tested for it. It’s a battle that anyone who has or had a loved one with Alzheimer’s can relate to.

I, myself, lost my father to the disease last year. I’d been lent this book years ago and had never had the guts to read it until now. Even now, I slogged through it; I found the content so relatable, it became hard to read. I was impressed by how closely Preskenis documented her experience. It was obvious that many of her journal entries were likely adapted for the book. She also relied on a tape recorder for conversations with doctors so they could be properly transcribed.

The book ends on a heavy note. She details the process of being genetically tested and debates whether or not to learn the results, and we are also left wondering. Of course, I can’t blame her for grappling with the decision. It’s something I think about every day and have — at this point — opted not to be tested for the disease. As there is currently no cure, there’s not much I or anyone could do about the results. But I do wish the ending offered some semblance of hope for the future of her, her family and the disease. When it comes to Alzheimer’s, we could all use a little hope.

You can buy The Gene Guillotine now in paperback for $14.95.

 

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Review: When Breath Becomes Air

41ozmb3iwvl-_sx348_bo1204203200_Recap: Paul Kalanithi is on the up-and-up. He is an aspiring neuroscientist with big dreams of performing difficult surgeries, saving lives and eventually writing a book in his later years. With degrees in medicine and literature, he has his whole life mapped out. But his marriage is failing. And with his graduation from residency within his grasp, he begins to experience fatigue and horrific back pain. As a doctor, he knows this can only mean one thing: cancer.

After lots of tests, doctors and people in disbelief, it turns out he is right. Kalanithi has a rare form of cancer, at the age of 36. He goes into treatment. He strengthens his relationship with his wife. He fights it. He gets better. And then he gets worse. He knows the end is near. And suddenly he must fast forward his life plans. But by how much? How much time does he have left? He ultimately learns there’s no way of knowing, and he has no choice but to accept that. But as his life comes to an end, he writes this beautiful, touching memoir. Kalanithi now lives on forever in his words and leaves the most important lessons he’s learned for all of us.

Analysis: I purchased this book in the final days of my father’s life. At the time, I was desperate to understand — medically — what was happening to him. He had Alzheimer’s and was unconscious, so I knew he had  little, if any, logical brain activity. But his breaths were fewer and fewer each minute, and his skin had begun the mottling process. I was suddenly hearing terms I’d never heard before and wanted to know everything about them. Ultimately, the hospice nurses encouraged my mother and I to leave my father’s side and not come back. I wondered if she was trying to imply that maybe he was holding on simply because we were in the room with him. Or maybe she just didn’t want us to see all the other horrible — and gross bodily things — that happen when a person dies. So we left, and my husband and I visited what has always been one of my favorite places in my hometown:  Barnes and Noble. I purchased this book along with a self-help book. I was seeking answers that day.

My dad died two days after that. And yet, I didn’t begin reading When Breath Becomes Air until five months later. Mostly I was busy and wasn’t reading very much at all. But when I went away on a short vacation five months later, I knew this was a book I could knock out in just a few days. (I am not a fast reader.) Retrospectively, I wonder if I waited to read it because I subconsciously knew I needed time to digest my father’s death before reading about Paul Kalanithi’s death. Or maybe I was jealous of the way Paul passed away — not jealous of his age or his condition but of his ability to process his oncoming death in a way that my father mentally could not.

Either way, this book helped me process not just my father’s death, but death in general, which was something I desperately needed. After reading this book, I have accepted that ultimately we all face death and never know when it will hit us. In the way mortality often does, this memoir reaffirms the necessity  of living life to the fullest and cherishing each day. But it also tells us that it is okay if certain dreams aren’t achieved in our lifetime. It’s not what we do that’s important, but who we do it with and how we lived — in more general terms. Though he spends most of his life seeking the meaning of life and death, Paul Kalanithi doesn’t find his answer until his end. But he does the most heavenly, generous thing of all: he gives us all a glimpse into what he learned, in the hopes that we will all live more fully. So I will do that — for Paul and for my dad.

Get When Breath Becomes Air in hardcover for $17.50.

Or on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Controversial Children’s Book Targets Teen Dieting

When you read Bridget Jones’ Diary, you expect to learn about the character’s relationship with food. But when you crack open a children’s book to read to your 5-year-old, food and diet plans are the last things you expect to read about.

Maggie Goes On a Diet is a new book by Paul Kramer that targets just that: child and teen dieting.

The book — due out in October — is already making headlines for its controversial topic. While the author says it’s his way of teaching kids about leading a healthy lifestyle, experts say children under the age of 16 are far too young to be concerned about caloric intake. Though the country is leading the way in child obesity, they say writing children’s books about getting fit and thereby becoming popular, is not the right way to go about dealing with the issue.

According to this ABC article, experts also call the storyline unrealistic:

Weight-loss experts say that the storybook plotline doesn’t reflect what happens in real children’s lives. Joanne Ikeda is the co-founding director of the University of California at Berkeley’s Center on Weight and Health.

Highlighting imperfections in a boy’s or girl’s body “does not empower a child to adopt good eating habits,” Ikeda said.

In real life, dieting down to a smaller clothing size doesn’t guarantee living happily ever after.

In his defense, the author says this was his attempt at teaching kids to exercise, eat healthy, and feel good about themselves.

What do you guys think? Is this children’s book going too far?

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