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One minute Jim Zervanos was carrying his one-year-old boy to a baseball game; the next, he was in the ER, where for days he lay in limbo, being strangled from the inside. Teams of the best doctors were stumped by his worsening condition, before telling him there was nothing they could do. That Time I Got Cancer: A Love Story is about experiencing joy even in desperate times. It’s about the relationships that anchor us, even as they must be entirely redefined. At forty-one, married, with a young son, Jim said goodbye to his family. When a brilliant new surgeon performed a radical operation, Jim was diagnosed with lymphoma, which led to chemotherapy and an uncertain road to recovery. Five years would pass before Jim began to understand what he had endured. Through mortality and back to life, this is the inspiring journey of a man awakened to the full experience of being alive, and being present for it all.
It is hard to convey how intimate this memoir is, how revealing, and how moving. With unflinching candor and rare introspection, Zervanos takes us on a tour of life’s scariest moments, and also of its most redemptive—and we are all improved by this journey he so generously shares. This is a brilliant, important book.
—Robin Black, author of the novel Life Drawing
Jim Zervanos has crafted a narrative that feels like something out of Dante, only the paths he circles lead us to an internal inferno: a fire inside his own body. With candor and precision, so much humor and grace, Zervanos leads us through a health emergency he’s lucky to have survived—and we’re luckier, still, having this brilliant account in our hands. This is a memoir you’ll want to hand to everyone you know.
—Daniel Torday, author of the novel Boomer1
Through his extraordinarily written and heartfelt expression, Jim Zervanos speaks for people who have been through this kind of trauma and gives them an opportunity for catharsis and psychic relief. This book will be enjoyed—yes, enjoyed—and will be most useful for those who want and need to share in the expression of what they’ve been through. We can all celebrate and share in the joy of life. Truly, this book will help patients, and every medical student in the country should read it.
—Stephen J. Schuster, MD, Director of the Lymphoma Program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
Zervanos has managed to capture the very difficult decisions doctors face every day, as well as the importance of patient involvement in decision-making. I have used his case in teaching generations of residents the value of restraint in treatment, of recognizing the crucial difference between what we can do and what we should do. Moreover, Zervanos conveys how illness affects both the patient and the entire family. As physicians we often fail to appreciate this impact, as does anyone who has not been through the illness of a family member. I felt his pain, and moreover his family’s pain, as I read this story, and I felt the relief and rejuvenation of his recovery and growth.
—Scott O. Trerotola, MD, Associate Chair and Chief, Interventional Radiology, Department of Radiology, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
Jim Zervanos first seeks help when his face turns dark purple after a shower. An MRI shows a puzzling narrowing of the superior vena cava (SVC); physicians initially believe the problem is a clot. A biopsy is impossible because of the location inside the vein, and cancer is not suspected due to the presentation. The attending tells Zervanos, “You’ve stumped some very smart people who do not like to be stumped” (p. 14). That Time I Got Cancer begins when Zervanos is a healthy 41-year-old high school English teacher out on a walk with his toddler son, Nikitas. This is a memoir of his journey with cancer.
—William Cayley Jr MD MDiv Editor, Book and Media Reviews Column Family Medicine, Clinical ProfessorUniversity of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
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