Like grief there are stages to tackling a terminal disease, both as the patient diagnosed and as a loved one trying to care for them. It is justifiably difficulty on both ends, but even more so if one gets held up on a stage and refuses to proceed. Helen Garner’s novel “The Spare Room” gives you a glimpse into the complexities and the struggle of trying to make your way through those emotional stages amidst the physical demands of a disease like cancer. It sends you round and round the broken record of a patient stuck in denial, refusing to believe that cancer is winning, and does so from the vantage point of her caregivers.
As Helen opens up her home to an old friend, Nicola, she quickly discovers the emotional toll it takes on her. Sleepless nights changing sweat-soaked sheets, and days of trying to understand the smile plastered on Nicola’s face the next morning are more than enough to bear. Then you add in Nicola’s alternative health care choices and the denial that they seem to chain her to, and Helen realizes that the pure anger that it all evokes is just too much.
The Spare Room is moving, and unexpectedly funny. It takes you into your own thoughts on alternative medicine and how you might do opening your own home and life to someone stuck. Stuck with a terminal disease. Stuck with immeasurable amounts of pain. Stuck in denial of its severity. Stuck with the struggle of how much to hope. It will lead you to the questions posed to any caregiver, as to how and how much you might help.
Join @DoctorsBookClub November 27th-30th on Twitter as we discuss “The Spare Room.”