Bryan C. Taylor notes in the blurb detailing his first book that this is not a cancer story, but a love story. That is an odd statement when you first enter the world of Bryan and his future bride’s (Kailen) life. What starts out as a run-of-the-mill love story turns quickly into a cancer story. When Bryan and Kailen decide to get married, there is an understanding that he is marrying into her numerous health problems. The health of Kailen continues to decline in their marriage as she battles first numerous digestive ailments and then later breast cancer. The narrative turns abruptly from a heartwarming story into a tragedy. The subtitle of the book becomes almost ironic as you get deeper into it, a fact that you don’t fully appreciate until the end.
As Taylor brings the characters to life, the hardships he and particularly Kailen had to endure are excruciating. He separates his experience into four parts: “The Hand and Heart,” about falling in love and eventually marrying Kailen, “The Bend in the Road,” the beginning of Kailen’s health problems, “War,” the worsening of her conditions, and finally, “The Gloaming,” the resolution. Throughout the book, every hospital experience, every unknown, every shot and illness gives you pause to consider the bravery and strength of these two young lovers; too young to have this weight thrusted upon them. In Part 3 of the book, “War,” Taylor chronicles the continual battle for Kailen’s life through chemotherapy and managing her aggressive cancer. Her doctor says, in one poignant section of the book, “But this is war. It’s going to be brutal for a while. Make no mistake, you’re in a fight for your lives. Staying alive is a conscious choice you’ll have to make, and it won’t always be preferable. But I can promise you one thing – I’ll fight alongside you every step of the way” (Taylor, Kindle Locations 1165-1167).
And this, more or less, is much of what the book is about: the fight to stay alive with someone by your side every step of the way. But the book is not dull by any stretch of the imagination (in fact, I read it within one day; it is definitely a page turner). While it may be a chronicle of events, it is done in such a way that expresses much grander themes:
1) As a newlywed, the love that Taylor had for Kailen despite anything that may have happened or would happen to her stands out to me. At the beginning of their marriage, Taylor had a steep learning curve to understanding his new life. But after that, no embarrassing moment or vulnerability could make him love her any less, and he provided for her every need. I think this is an important lesson for picking your future mate; would they be willing to see you at the lowest low and still want to be with you? Have you chosen someone who would dote on you in your time of need?
2) The positivity and fight that Kailen had in ever insurmountable odds are traits that, had I been placed in this situation, I would want. In my own opinion, the sovereignty of God is such that everything happens for a reason. Reading through this book makes you give pause to how horrific this fallen world is. But even so, to think about how many people’s lives Kailen changed forever makes you think: was it worth it? At one point, Taylor states that people in over 54 countries had seen her blog. She had been an inspiration for people living in a quarter of the world’s countries. In my estimation, I believe it was worth it.
3) One of the most intriguing themes of this book is something I have thought about a lot. Taylor and Kailen are professing Christians, but I love his honesty in writing this account. He expresses everything from joy, to sadness, to anger, to the brink of insanity in some instances. He doesn’t hesitate from stating his true feelings, recognizing God’s sovereignty and ability to take away Kailen’s pain juxtaposed with the reality that He didn’t and He won’t. This leads to some directed anger towards God which displays a frank and honest view of this fallen world that Christians sometimes don’t have the courage to own.
These are just some of the themes that stuck out to me throughout this book. I am by no means an emotional person, in general. In saying that, it seemed like every single page of this book had me on the brink of tears. At the end, I have no shame in saying that I wept. The true events in this book are filled with so much wisdom about suffering, death, and love. It was only at the end of the book that I could say no, it is not a cancer story; it really is a love story. Thank you Bryan for your courage and for writing this marvelous book.