Life Changing,

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Grace: A Child's Intimate Journey Through Cancer and Recovery (Coping With Illness)
by Melinda Marchiano

Published: 2010-10-01
Paperback : 304 pages
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Childhood cancer survivor Melinda Marchiano eloquently and humorously describes her journey through illness and recovery. Her story starts as she begins to feel ill, and we follow each step of her physical downfall as she struggles to continue to dance ballet, her greatest passion. At 14 ...
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Childhood cancer survivor Melinda Marchiano eloquently and humorously describes her journey through illness and recovery. Her story starts as she begins to feel ill, and we follow each step of her physical downfall as she struggles to continue to dance ballet, her greatest passion. At 14 years old, Melinda shares not only the events of her illness, but her thoughts, deep feelings and growing spirituality through operations, chemotherapy, radiation, drug reactions, an eating disorder and more. Your heart will be filled with the same grace Melinda cherished through her illness and your life will never be the same.

Editorial Review

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It was June 2007, and my family and I were on vacation in beautiful Yosemite National Park. We had just set out for the day, our destination—the top of Yosemite Falls. The twelve-and-a-half-mile hike started in a small campground and wound through gorgeous forests, flowering meadows, and massive rock formations before reaching the top of the famous falls. My mom, dad, two brothers, and I were all excited and ready for adventure. As we started off on the long hike, I began to realize how weak I felt. How could I feel so tired? I danced multiple days a week and was in great physical shape. I became slightly frustrated as my dad and I brought up the rear. Normally, I would be skipping out in front, not shoved to the back by a simple hill climb.

I vividly remember the top of the falls. It was the closest thing to heaven that my human mind could conjure up. We stood on a giant stone that, at one point, suddenly cut off and plunged miles and miles into the valley below. It was as if we gazed upon the entire world from that one single point. But as my eyes gobbled up the incredible view, I noticed that I was dizzy; my head felt weird. I felt . . . unwell. I was thirteen, at the prime of my youth. It didn’t make sense. Little did I know, as I sat atop the world, what the next two years would bring and how fast that innocent, little girl I knew would have to grow up.

Fast-forwarding to August . . . my mom and I were in the backseat of my grandparents’ Buick and on our way to Crescent City, in Northern California, to see my Uncle Jeff and to celebrate my Aunt Sharon’s birthday. At this checkpoint in my steadily declining health, I was feeling ill all the time. However, my physical symptoms weren’t corresponding with any particular sickness. Having had multiple bad colds that year, I blamed any discomfort on that.

But there was a deeper, eerie feeling of a general lack of well-being. It was a feeling that permeated my entire body, and I felt a sensation of it disconnecting and slipping away from me. It still gives me the chills to this day. I felt as if my body didn’t belong to me any longer, that it was a slave to some dark force that controlled its fate. I blamed my mind for that horrible sense and was actually a little concerned that I was mentally ill—going crazy. All of these thoughts rolled around in my head as we took on the winding, nauseating, mountain roads. I was dizzy, queasy, and then I began to feel the slightest, not pain, but a . . . something in my chest. I found it difficult to take a deep breath, and I tried to calm down and relax. I couldn’t get sick here; where would we go?

As the trip went on, I felt worse and worse. At my uncle’s house, I remember going to sleep at night, lying on my back. It felt like I had someone sitting on my chest, or forcefully pushing down on my heart and lungs. I could barely get in a normal breath. Dizzy and light-headed, I was becoming frightened. Was I having a heart attack or something? Then I turned on my side. Hmm . . . I could breathe easier, and I could finally fall asleep.

In the following month or so, my mom watched me closely. If I felt any worse, we were going to go to the doctor to get a blood test. I admit that, at the time, I had never gotten a blood test, and I was absolutely terrified of the idea. For that reason, I probably made myself think I was feeling better, even though it was blatantly obvious to me that I was becoming sicker. It became a daily battle, and I began to realize just how horrible I felt. However, I was frightened and didn’t want to freak out anybody else. That would scare me even more. But I knew inside that something was very wrong. I couldn’t take it anymore. We made an appointment. And so, the age of Dr. A. and the many wrong diagnoses began.

I curled up on the floor in our living room, my eyes two leaky faucets. Our dog, Larry, looked worried and shook as I broke down. The following day was my first blood test, and I was mortified. But even more so, the emotional and physical exhaustion of being ill day after day was setting in. Luckily, I was homeschooled, but each day I pushed myself to go to dance, take Larry on a walk, and do other simple daily activities. I was constantly cold, my lips were blue, my face as white as a sheet. There was no hiding the obvious. I had to get help. And at that moment of utter helplessness and trauma, I began to peel back the layers of who I truly was, and we began to drill to the core of my suffering. The problem? It was hidden deeply within me, and rock solid.

Tweety Bird smiled at me from the Band-Aid carefully placed on the table next to me. I stared at his cute, beaky grin and squeezed my mom’s hand as hard as I could; tears rolled down my face. And then, as quickly as it began, my first blood test was over. I got out of there as swiftly as I could, and I clearly recall eating a mountain of French toast once I returned home and my fast was over.

Sitting at the kitchen table, I was unable to focus on my math lesson. My mind wandered, my arm hurt, and my heart sat heavily within me. Looking back, this day is a slice of heaven compared to what I would have to endure. I have no doubt that God prepared me for everything I had to go through. And now, with almost 125 pokes behind me, a tiny stick of the needle is like brushing my teeth—something I just have to do.

“She’s anemic!” Dr. A. shouted in her gruff voice. My blood tests revealed that my iron count was low, which is sometimes common for teenage girls. Mom and I sighed in relief as Dr. A. wrote a prescription for an iron supplement. We were thrilled that my illness was “easy to fix,” and we immediately screeched to a halt in front of Vons supermarket, to load up on spinach and red meat. We picked up the iron supplement as soon as we could, and I began to take it, with full belief that the vile, horrible tasting liquid would magically cure me.

I could not swallow pills, and the most intense medication I had ever taken was that pink, cherry-flavored Tylenol. I gulped and chugged down my medication as fast as I could without gagging. The mega-pack of bendy straws in our cupboard helped prevent my teeth from getting stained; however, as a result of the memory of the horrid taste, I have now refrained from using straws. Within a week, Mom noticed that I was sinking lower and even lower into my chair, and my sheet-white face began to resemble a ghost. It was not good . . . we had to keep looking. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. The author of Grace, Melinda Marchiano, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma when she was thirteen years old. She was a young woman who struggled through various treatments, fought to continue her study of dance, and wrote diligently throughout her illness. What do you feel was her greatest inspiration? What would you have done in her position?

2. Melinda had to go through a period of several misdiagnosis before her doctors were finally able to determine the cause of her sudden illness. She writes that it was a trying time, and she suffered extreme stress. Have you ever been through a period similar to Melinda's? If so, how did you deal with the impatience and the pressure of the situation?

3. Melinda's mother has been her closest ally, friend, and ever-present guardian throughout her battle with cancer. Have you ever had a parent, friend, or guardian who you could depend on for everything? How have they affected your life?

4. One of Melinda's favorite moments from the hospital was receiving warm blankets as a luxury before every Chemo treatment. Have you ever had something, whether it be a toy, or object, that provides you with a sense of comfort and relief? If so, what was it?

5. There are numerous inspirational quotes spread throughout the novel, reminders from Melinda's battle with Hodgkin Lymphoma. Do you have a specific inspirational quote that has taken you through difficult times as well? What is it?

6. Nicknames play a big part in the novel, especially evident with Melinda's brothers call her "Quail." Do you have any nickname? How did you obtain the nicknames you have, and why are they unique to you?

7. Shortly after her first chemotherapy treatment, Melinda began to lose her hair. After doing a "science experiment" to make the process turn into a more interesting one, she began to feel better about what has happening to her body. Have you ever been through a difficult time, but were able to do something about it that changed the way it originally affected you? If so, what did you do?

8. One of Melinda's favorite sayings while going through the cancer treatment process and chemotherapy, is "Cancer is 20% physical, and 80% mental." Have you ever experienced a situation where you felt that you had to work harder to convince yourself to complete a task or project rather than having your body do the actual work? If so, when?

9. Melinda reminds her readers constantly never to talk walking or breathing for granted. Is there something in your life that you feel you take for granted, or take advantage of? If so, what is it?

10. One of the few things that made Melinda smile during her battle with cancer was being able to have Larry, the family dog, sit on her bed with her during the "hard times." Have you ever felt that an animal or a pet can make you feel better? Are you close with your own pets?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "A Review on "Grace""by StormyPraysForOlivia (see profile) 01/17/11

Grace is a beautifully written book by an equally as wonderful girl. Melinda Marchiano tells her story in such a way that would not let me put it down! I read when I woke up, while I was eating, in the... (read more)

  "Excellent, well written, Inspiring"by JohnNGavin (see profile) 11/17/10

A must read

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