Tightly packed between stacks of colorful books, about 50 University students and members of the Ann Arbor community shuffled into Literati Bookstore Monday evening to hear two cancer-surviving authors tell their stories featured in the recently published book Chronicling Childhood Cancer: A Collection of Personal Stories by Children and Teens with Cancer.
The book was edited and compiled by Medical student Trisha Paul as part of her Honors English thesis last semester as she wrapped up her undergraduate work before applying to medical school. It told the stories of 10 children and teens between the ages of 8 and 18 through narratives, journal entries, lists and personal drawings. Two of these children were Ruben and Celeste, who shared their stories at the event.
“At its core, this project has been a way for me to learn more about what humanity is,” Paul said. “To learn more about how we act as people and how to treat other people.”
The event honored September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and donated 50 percent of the book’s proceeds to the University’s “Block Out Cancer” campaign, and the other 50 percent to the Child and Family Life Program at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Literati co-owner Mike Gustafson, an Ann Arbor resident, said that while the bookstore has held events in the past where portions of the sales were donated to charity, this was the first event where all the proceeds were to be donated.
Literati’s owners felt the emotional nature of the book would have a big impact on its readers, and made it a good candidate for a charity event.
“The book has a very personal, human aspect to it that makes it easy to connect and understand in a way that some non-fiction could be off putting,” Gustafson said.
Many of the narratives discussed the authors’ feelings of confusion, fear and hope during their treatments. Some of the drawings illustrated the authors’ feelings about losing their hair or the author talking to friends while going through treatment.
One particular picture featured the author’s house in one corner of the picture and the hospital in the opposite corner. Between the two buildings was a long and loopy line with no clear direction. The picture’s caption read, “the never ending car ride to the hospital.”
The event was emotional and intimate as many of the students and Ann Arbor community members in the audience were friends and family of those involved in the project.
After Ruben and Celeste recounted their emotional journeys, the audience was given the opportunity to ask Paul and the authors questions about their experience completing the project and have their copies of the book signed.
Assistant Prof. Dr. Rajen Mody supervised and mentored Paul throughout the project. He said many of his patients and their families feel like his extended family.
“The one thing about pediatric cancer that people normally do not realize is how resilient the kids are,” Mody said. “I tell everyone that kids are my heroes. I learn from them how to deal with adversity.”
Though Paul has volunteered at the Mott hospital for the past five years, she said the project had a profound impact on her and allowed her to grow her relationships with the patients.
“It’s truly been an honor and a privilege to get to work with these children and adolescents,” Paul said. “Especially by confronting a lot of the personal and intimate components of their experiences with cancer I’ve been able to really grow close to them over the time I’ve spent with them.”
Paul said she hopes to continue sharing the project and would like to hold another similar event for the authors who were unable to attend the reading.
“It was a very heartfelt and open and honest experience to be a part of,” she said. “It took a lot of bravery and courage for the child and teen authors to stand up there and share their story in front of this large audience.”