Nai-Kong V. Cheung
MD, PhD, Head, Neuroblastoma Program; Enid A. Haupt Chair in Pediatric Oncology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
"We claim to be in charge of our lives until we are forced into alien territory; however, these are the circumstances that push us to explore our strengths and weaknesses. This is what happened when Louis, the three-year-old child of Mark Unger, the author, and his wife, Mary Ellen, was diagnosed with cancer. If such a small kid is bedridden even for a day, it breaks the hearts of their mom and dad so nobody can even begin to anticipate the kind of shock and pain that Mary Ellen and Mark Unger endured when such a devastating diagnosis presented itself. First Survivor by Mark Unger is the documentation of various aspects of that phase of their lives. They were not from medical backgrounds and all the medical lingo seemed very difficult to them. How could they help their child if they would not be able to understand their own child's treatment plan? The author came up with the solution of making regular notes. He wrote down everything that the doctors prescribed, suggested, or said related to Louis' condition. If there was any word that was foreign to his ears, he made a note to look it up later. He would make a list of questions and research the best professionals and hospitals to cure Louis. These tasks created an illusion for him of being in charge of this ordeal.
While he was doing this, his wife concentrated on Louis. She told him stories, showered him with immense love, gave her undivided attention, and ensured that he got all his medication on time. Together, Mary Ellen and Mark Unger made an excellent team to fight a battle of grave uncertainty. The sight of your child being poked by various devices is quite overwhelming, but they remained strong because giving up was not an option. Louis' bravery during the intense, painful, and extremely intrusive procedures is both inspiring and heart-wrenching. You want to see a child who is laughing merrily and playing around, not enduring an unimaginably painful series of medical procedures. The gifts that many relatives, friends, and organizations sent for Louis provided a sense of support to the parents. Reading about this gave me a direction for the future. Earlier I used to wonder how can I offer support if anybody is going through a struggle of this kind. Now, thanks to the author, I know there are many ways to comfort a patient and their family. The regular updates that the author kept sending to his friends, family, and colleagues were also very valuable. I fell in love with the family pictures that he has included in the book.
First Survivor by Mark Unger is not an ordinary book. It is for readers who are either struggling with cancer or are caregivers to a child in a similar condition. The right audience for this book includes the people who wish to understand what it takes to fight a battle in which odds are very badly stacked against you. Despite the medical jargon, there is an emotional element present throughout the narrative that will keep readers praying for Louis' and his parents' sufferings to end. My heart goes out to Mark Unger, Mary Ellen, Harry, and -- of course -- brave Louis."
Reviewed By Ankita Shukla for Readers' Favorite
From the Author
I hope this book honors our extended family, friends, and the dedicated doctors who ultimately made the difference between life and death for our son. My message is this: There are no dead ends, only new paths.