Title: THE VALLEY OF CANCER: A JOURNEY OF COMFORT AND HOPE
Author: Angelina Fast-Vlaar
Reviewer: Dian Moore
Cancer. The word itself is ominous and strikes terror in our hearts. Today, it’s not uncommon for people in North America to know someone who has or had cancer, have it themselves, or had a family member suffer from it.
A diagnosis of cancer means many things to different people, but often it does not immediately conjure a feeling of hope.
In THE VALLEY OF CANCER: A JOURNEY OF COMFORT AND HOPE, author Angelina Fast-Vlaar has given to the world a gift of hope. It is her "prayer that this sharing of my journey may be a means of ‘calling back’ to you to encourage you, whatever your valley may hold."
The small volume documents the 17 months of Fast-Vlaar’s journey, beginning with the diagnosis in July 1997 to remission of the cancer in November 1998.
Then entries are excerpts from her journal, beginning with what her condition that month is, then proceeding to reflection, a poem, a place of understanding. As Fast-Vlaar states in the conclusion, the entries themselves sometimes inspired hope as a thought, scripture or poem was brought to mind. In reading the different chapters, the reader also takes the journey and experiences a renewal of hope.
The format is unusual as it is not a memoir or in-depth story of a woman’s life after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Instead, it is a personal dialogue between the author and God, the author and herself, the author and her family, and finally, the author and the readers.
I watched my mother travel in the dark valley of cancer over a period of two years, and I wish I had had this work to share with her during that time. To know she was not alone in the moments of darkness, and to encourage her to find the peace in her heart.
As a reviewer, I normally read a book with an analytical approach as to its overall value in content, writing skill, entertainment value, life-application, and ultimately reach a conclusion of whether I recommend it. This review process was different.
From the first page, I was enthralled, emotionally attached to the work as I wept, laughed and finally rejoiced. I was blessed by reading this book. Though my mother did not survive her battle with cancer, I was comforted that hope springs eternal through a woman I’ve never met.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who has cancer, fears getting cancer, has a loved one with cancer or is just curious. And along with reading the book, I encourage the reader to also journal, taking inspiration from a survivor who wishes to "call-back" to you.
The book may be purchased through the author’s website at http://www.valleyofcancer.faithweb.com/
Interview with Angelina Fast-Vlaar, author of THE VALLEY OF CANCER: A JOURNEY OF COMFORT AND HOPE
Interviewed by Dian Moore for FaithWriters’ Magazine
FWM: It's been almost eight years since you received the diagnosis that you had colon cancer. I'm thrilled you are here today as a survivor and thankful that you shared your journey with us in The Valley of Cancer: A Journey of Comfort and Hope. What was the defining moment that caused you to publish this book of personal journaling, poetry, and vignettes of your time of treatment and recovery?
ANGELINA: There were several defining moments that prompted the publishing of The Valley of Cancer. I wrote "Glory for Jane" for a friend experiencing the hair loss disaster at the same time I did. She was deeply touched and encouraged by the piece and that gave me the first indication that my experience could be of help to others. I sent "Easter" to a friend with terminal cancer. It arrived on the day he went to glory. Again, the family was deeply touched not only that I shared but that it should arrive on the day they so much needed this vision of entering heaven.
The most defining moment came into the eighth month of chemotherapy treatments when I became so ill I thought I might not make it. My reading was in Psalm 118 one day. When I read verse 17, "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done..." it was as if the words were spoken aloud directly to me – a promise that I would live and a task to tell others what the Lord had done for me in the form of a book.
FWM: May I ask how your health is today?
ANGELINA: My health today is good. The last check-up showed I’m still completely cancer free! I do not have the energy I used to have, but we learn to adjust to that.
FWM: At times the book is both poignant and hopeful, such as "The Dance," where you describe dancing with your granddaughter and her delight in the new hair that's growing back. Your daughter then joins you and helps shape the hair, and you are admired as once you admired the new growth on newborn babes. Tell us how that moment defined hope for you.
ANGELINA: That moment remains such a precious memory! The room tingled with joy and hope that night; the walls echoed giggling and laughter. My "newborn fuzz" was a sign of healing! Just as my head was "healed" of baldness, so my body could be healed of cancer. Life and love would continue!
FWM: Cancer changes people, as you noted in the epilogue. Now, a few years later, what other changes have you experienced because of your journey through that valley of cancer?
ANGELINA: My activities have changed. They are now much more cancer-patient focused: visiting, encouraging, writing, and, yes, being at death-beds. I’ve spent the last two years visiting, among others, a dear neighbor as she battled lung-cancer. We spent precious hours together; I heard her life-story; she gave her heart to the Lord. A few hours before she died, I spent time softly stroking her, telling her to let go, the angels would soon come and take her Home. I miss her. I am the one who is blessed by these encounters with brave souls who have made peace with God and with dying.
FWM: Have you thought of adding to the book, or perhaps writing a sequel? I noticed it is on its third printing as of November 2004, and that you post new information on your website.
ANGELINA: After finishing ‘Seven Angels for Seven Days’, I feel "nudged" to write a devotional book. Not quite a sequel to ‘The Valley of Cancer’ but it will include experiences after cancer. It seems like a monumental task to write 365 pages but ideas keep coming and I keep scribbling. It’ll be in the same vein as the other books: finding a message in the circumstances God has placed us. The theme for this new "work-in-progress" is, "In the shelter of His presence."
FWM: A term you used, "call-back," refers to an action or feeling of a cancer survivor who calls back to those newly diagnosed to not give up hope, that they are there on the other side. This described ‘Valley of Cancer’ in a nutshell. Would you elaborate more on calling back?
ANGELINA: The term, "calling back," originates in a poem printed in ‘Streams in the Desert’ (Compiled by Mrs. Chas. E. Cowman). It embodies the idea of encouraging each-other. "Tell me how it was for you and that will encourage me to keep going." We see ourselves in other people’s stories and find truth and encouragement. I met a friend at the cancer clinic who said, "Angie, all my hair fell out over the week-end and I cried my eyes out. But that was all right because I knew you also cried."
FWM: You stated in the beginning of "Valley" that friends and family encouraged you to publish this book, taken mostly from your journaling during that time. How much of the book is from those journals, and how did journaling help you through your journey?
ANGELINA: All the titled pieces in the book appear just as I wrote them in my journal except for some minor editing. The pages that describe what took place each month are many journal entries condensed to one page.
Journaling became my "out" during the long year of therapy treatments. Too ill to get up and totally bored, I’d reach for my notebook and just start writing. It was mostly telling the Lord exactly how I was feeling. I wrote short sentences because I was too tired to write long ones! Short sentences with and added title creates a poem more or less! I soon realized the writing was God’s gift to me – to help me pass the time as I played with words, to record what I was feeling, to pray on paper, to find meaning in the suffering and to receive encouragement!
FWM: What are you working on now?
ANGELINA: I’m very excited about my new book, ‘Seven Angels for Seven Days’, scheduled to be released in late spring of this year. It won the "Best New Canadian Author" award. The publisher is Castle Quay Books (connected with Augsburg Fortress Publishers.) The book tells another personal "saga." An exciting journey into the Australian outback desert takes a drastic turn and catapults me into a desert of a different kind. Strangers come to minister to me, as I envision angels would.
FWM: Finally - say anything you like – a blurb about your upcoming book; a plug for cancer awareness; the page is open for you.
ANGELINA: Today as I watched Oprah, [Feb. 10, 2005] two cancer patients received a wedding shower and a trip to Australia. It touched me so that with tears in my eyes I proclaimed to my husband that a new charity needs to be founded: "Make an Adult Smile!"
We can all do something on a smaller scale: give a coupon for a facial, a massage, a dinner out, a weekend away, an offer to baby sit, clean the house, etc. etc. etc.
I just received a phone call. Another friend, a beautiful husband and father, just heard the devastating news – colon cancer gone to the liver and lungs. So very sad. Especially so, because a colonoscopy in time may have prevented it all!
FWM: Thank you for sharing this story with the world. I believe every cancer patient should have a copy.
More about Angelina Fast-Vlaar is available at her website http://www.valleyofcancer.faithweb.com/
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