Nursing Book Club

Unwinding the Miracle by Julie Yip and One Pedal at a Time by Caryn Golden

The Unwinding of the Miracle and One Pedal at a Time

These are two unrelated books by different authors, but I read them both for the same reason: Each is a memoir examining the interpersonal and psychological impact of serious illness. In the first, Unwinding the Miracle, the author’s life is cut short by colon cancer, forcing her husband to become her caregiver. In the second, One Pedal at a Time, the author herself becomes a caregiver and charts the vast lifestyle changes involved.

Young Person Facing Mortality

The author of Unwinding the Miracle, Julie Yip, was born in Vietnam in 1976. Considered a burden by her parents due to her cataracts and pitied by neighbors, she learned early to forge ahead despite the limits others tried to place on her.

Later, she travelled alone through much of the world, earned a law degree, scored a position at a good law firm, found a kind and handsome husband and gave birth to two daughters. Unfortunately, in her late 30s, she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

The book follows her through the next four years, through surgeries by different doctors in different hospitals; herbal treatments; oncology medication and its various side effects; clinical trials; and finally accepting her illness and saying goodbye to all she knew. (Her husband Jason wrote the final chapter.) Yip’s goal became to experience as much of life as she could, as she believed that that is what makes us all human.

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This memoir contained just what I wanted to know — how young people with everything to live for react to such a diagnosis — but despite its attempt at an uplifting message, I found the book emotionally draining.

Taking on Husband’s Home Care

In contrast, One Pedal at a Time is a slim volume with a happier ending, making it quicker to read and easier to pick up and put down.

Caryn Golden and her athletic husband Joe were a late middle-aged couple with a blended family when Joe was diagnosed in 2015 with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. A year later, he began to show signs of neurological problems — either small strokes or reactions to the chemotherapy. Caryn then began what she calls “Hospital 101” and her new life as Joe’s caregiver.

Throughout much of the book, we follow what is happening through her email messages to friends and family. We also see her sunny disposition and determination take over. She describes tagging along after the nurses like a bloodhound in order to learn as much as she could about her husband’s case and care, and managing to handle what seemed like insurmountable problems on her own.

Hiring Now

Over time, Joe progressed from wheelchair to cane and eventually back to long-distance bicycle riding with a recumbent bike. That journey has much to teach about anger, friendship, grief and honesty.  Of course, not every family has the resources the Goldens have, and not every couple has this degree of resilience. Nevertheless, One Pedal at a Time offers an honest look at taking on home care for the one you love. The end also includes pages of resources for caregivers.

Authors write because they believe they have something important to say. They don’t always succeed, whether it’s because they attract the wrong audience for the material or because they don’t say what they have to say in a way the reader wants to hear. While I was drawn to the subject matter of both of these memoirs, they left me feeling a bit like Goldilocks: One book was too hard, the other was a little too soft and neither was quite what I was looking for.

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip Williams (Random House, 2019)

One Pedal at a Time: A Novice Caregiver and Her Cyclist Husband Face Their New Normal with Courage, Tenacity and Abundant Love by C.J. Golden (Erunel Publishing, 2018)

Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with more than 40 years of experience, ranging from infants to geriatrics. She enjoys volunteering for medical missions.

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