Kate Bowler’s new memoir, No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear), is written in typical Dr. Bowler style. A history professor at Duke, she approaches this memoir with facts from her medical records, journals, and interviews that made up her diagnosis of terminal cancer at age 35. Yet it’s not a list of facts and medical jargon; it’s a story written with humour, heartache, and hope. The heartache that comes from only being able to see two more birthdays for your baby, 104 more Thursdays, two more anniversaries with your beloved.
Bowler talks about choices, how we try to choose our priorities to make life matter the most. How do I make those Thursdays count? How do I live my “best life now” as I’m staring down a countdown of my life? Yet there comes a point, whether it’s a terminal cancer diagnosis or a global pandemic, in which we’re faced with the reality that we can’t control everything and our life choices are limited. “I curated my own life until, one day, I couldn’t,” she writes.
While exploring the finitude and uncertainty of life, one explores the “befores,” Bowler writes. Before her diagnosis, before the baby, and something we can all resonate with, before the pandemic. Initially given a 14 percent chance of surviving another two years, Bowler celebrated her 40th birthday in 2020, five years after her diagnosis. Just as the world was shutting down from a global pandemic and many of us learned, some for the first time, that we can’t control each aspect of our life. Suddenly Bowler finds that everybody is facing the question “are we wasting precious days?”
In this book, Bowler doesn’t leave you in the heartache of acknowledging the finitude of our lives. She leads you into the love she holds for her family, friends, colleagues, and strangers whose stories she’s been blessed to hear. We learn about her friends’ quirks, hear the stories of the “hive of activity” in her house following her diagnosis, and how colleagues seem to make miracles happen. We are welcomed into the hopeful conversations with widowed friends, friends who’ve gone through cancer, and lessons from her dad who finally, at 72 years old, published his dissertation.
Throughout the book, the heartache of leaving her family and friends too early is met with the beauty of the people in her life. There is no cure to being human; we are stuck with the finitude of this side of heaven. Yet, in this book, Bowler shows that the answer to these questions is how we try again, get back up, trust somebody new, and love extravagantly.
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