Between Two Kingdoms

Sometimes you read a book, and long after you’ve finished it, and read the acknowledgements, and re-visited the author’s note at the beginning, the book stays with you.

You can’t seem to get the author’s voice and story out of your head.

That’s what happened with me and Suleika Jaouad’s memoir Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted.

While the specifics of Ms. Jaouad’s life vary greatly from mine — her travels, her leukemia diagnosis, her epic road trip — so much of what she wrote really touched me. So much so, that my library copy is full of sticky notes.

Allow me to share some of these passages with you:

“How do you react to a cancer diagnosis at age twenty-two?
Do you break down in sobs?
Do you faint, or scream?
In that moment, a feeling flooded through my body, unexpected and perverse: relief. After the bewildering months of misdiagnosis, I finally had an explanation for my itch, for my mouth sores, for my unraveling. I wasn’t a hypochondriac, after all, making up symptoms.”

“While my medical team was intent on saving my life, preserving my chance to be a mother someday hadn’t seemed to be on their radar. It was my first indication that, no matter how brilliant and compassionate my doctors might be, I would have to be proactive and learn to advocate for myself.”

“I understood now why so many writers and artists, while in the thick of illness, became memoirists. It provided a sense of control, a way to reshape your circumstances on your own terms, in your own words.”

“We were both forging unlikely careers: Melissa painted self-portraits from bed; I wrote self-portraits from bed. Watercolors and words were the drugs we preferred for our pain. We were learning that sometimes the only way to endure suffering is to transform it into art.”

“As a patient, there was pressure to perform, to be someone who suffers well, to act with heroism, and to put on a stoic façade all the time.”

“To be a patient is to relinquish control — to your medical team and their decisions, to your body and its unscheduled breakdowns.”

“I used to think healing meant ridding the body and the heart of anything that hurt. It meant putting your pain behind you, leaving it in the past. But I’m learning that’s not how it works. Healing is figuring out how to coexist with the pain that will always live inside of you, without pretending it isn’t there or allowing it to hijack your day. It is learning to confront ghosts and to carry what lingers. It is learning to embrace the people I love now instead of protecting against a future in which I am gutted by their loss.”

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