As his wife’s sole caregiver in the five years before her death, Keith A. Klafehn has chronicled her life with breast cancer in this comprehensive memoir, beginning with her diagnosis at age 63.
Klafehn’s story is meticulously detailed and often clinical. It is also loving as he writes of Muriel’s enduring mastectomies, chemotherapy and radiation — treatments that seemed to eradicate the cancer, only to have it reappear and spread. Even as each measure failed and her body’s systems began to shut down, Klafehn admired his wife’s faith in God and positive outlook on her “adventure.”
Klafehn accompanied Muriel to all her doctor appointments and treatments, believing that together they could better take in information and ask pertinent questions. When the cancer metastasized, she made her husband promise to do “all within your power to ensure that I will not experience undue pain…” So he monitored Muriel’s pain, requesting increased medication when needed. She also insisted that Klafehn continue activities he enjoyed before her illness, including skiing and playing bridge.
Klafehn’s book is a diary: of every appointment, every reading of Muriel’s vital signs, including weight, blood pressure and pulse, her maladies, medicines and their side effects. Through it all, the couple continued their social life, and Klafehn notes the minutiae of concerts attended and meals eaten. Ultimately, the book is less a creative narrative geared for general readers than a personal journal.
After metastasis, when the Klafehns returned to the chemotherapy waiting room, they eschewed the camaraderie of other patients they’d appreciated the first time. “We made the judgment that others do not want to hear about metastasis, particularly if they are in their first round of chemotherapy which they are hoping will kill (the cancer),” Klafehn writes. This, too, could be said of the book’s audience. Caregivers might well be fortified by Klafehn’s unblinking account, but others are likely to find the subject matter too painful and personal for public consumption.