Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles by Mary Elizabeth Williams - #review

A wry, witty account of what it is like to face death—and be restored to life.

After being diagnosed in her early 40s with metastatic melanoma—a “rapidly fatal” form of cancer—journalist and mother of two Mary Elizabeth Williams finds herself in a race against the clock. She takes a once-in-a-lifetime chance and joins a clinical trial for immunotherapy, a revolutionary drug regimen that trains the body to vanquish malignant cells. Astonishingly, her cancer disappears entirely in just a few weeks. But at the same time, her best friend embarks on a cancer journey of her own—with very different results. Williams’s experiences as a patient and a medical test subject reveal with stark honesty what it takes to weather disease, the extraordinary new developments that are rewriting the rules of science—and the healing power of human connection.



I laughed even before I started reading this non-fiction story, because the author posts a 'spoiler' before the first chapter begins.

Ms. Williams' story starts at the end.  Let me explain.  When we first meet her, Ms. Williams is at a meeting of her patient support group at Gilda's Club.  She receives a phone call.  The doctor tells her that there is no evidence of disease, of the cancer that has taken her on a terrifying rollercoaster ride the past several months.  This news seems almost as stunning as hearing she had the disease in the first place.

At this point, I would like to mention that 'Gilda's Club' is named for the late Gilda Radner, a comedienne and actress, who died from ovarian cancer in 1989.  I remember her from episodes of Saturday Night Live - and can still recite some of her Roseanne Roseannadanna broadcasts from memory.  Gilda's Clubs seems to have quite a few locations - a quick internet search yielding clubs in Louisville and Rochester, amongst others.  Here is the link, if you would like to check out this organization and the services they offer.

During my first and second pregnancies, I learned that test results showed I had a disease that, while not fatal, could mean trouble for my babies down the road.  That was devastating enough.  Luckily for me, further bloodwork indicated that the initial results were 'false positives'.   I cannot imagine receiving a terminal diagnosis.

Mary Elizabeth Williams was meant to write A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles: A True Story of Love, Science, and Cancer.  Revealing the ups (miracles) and downs (catastrophes) of her experience had to have been taxing, but she received support in writing the story as she did in going through the treatments...and thank God she did both.

This book would be a great addition to every oncologist's library.  If I had the money, I would like to buy multiple copies to donate to the Gilda's Clubs in Kentucky to distribute to each family who go there.  When you go out into that dusty dirt Main Street, spurs a-janglin', counting to ten, and turning to face death in the eye, it helps to have trusted weapons at your side and maybe even some support from the crowds gathered to watch the duel.  A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles makes a dang fine six-shooter.



Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior staff writer for award-winning whose columns are regularly among the top viewed, commented on, shared, and cited as the best of the week. The “Lab Rat” series on her clinical trial was nominated for the 2012 Online Journalism Award for Commentary, and her essay on receiving a melanoma diagnosis is in the Harper anthology The Moment, an Entertainment Weekly “Must List” pick—alongside essays by Elizabeth Gilbert, Jennifer Egan, and Dave Eggers. She is the author of Gimme Shelter: Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast Talking Brokers, and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream. A starred Booklist selection,Gimme Shelterwas called “poignant and funny” (Kirkus), “a must-read” (New York Daily News), “hilariously evocative” (Time Out Kids) and “compelling” (Publisher’s Weekly). She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

Find out more about her at her website.


Click on the button to go to the tour site, where you will find more reviews of this book.  You can also find out how to become a blog host for future book tours!

(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  This post contains affiliate links.)


  1. Wow! What a fascinating book. I don't think I could bear to read it though. I have to try not to even think about cancer or I hit panic mode. Twice I was called back after a mammogram for further testing...they both ended up being cysts, but the emotional turmoil I went through both times was horrible. I'm seriously considering not getting mammograms anymore because I can't keep putting myself through the turmoil...and I know that is really stupid. Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving such a sweet comment.

  2. Wow, I can imagine that having this book in an oncologist's office would be inspiring to many patients.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  3. These days, cancer hits so close to home for everyone, and it's so nice to be able to laugh amidst the tears.

    Thank you for being on this tour!