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16 January 2015

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go

A gem of a feel-good/feel-sad story
This is a gem of a feel-good/feel-sad story about life - impending death - and overall love. 27 year old Daisy had breast cancer three years ago and was in remission. Each year with her husband Jack they would celebrate "Cancerversary" - but this year is different. The cancer is back with avengence at stage 4 and has spread throughout her body, including a tumour in her brain.

Daisy goes through the classical reactions to shock/grief, first denial (let's get another opinion), depression and finally what I want to do before I go. It suddenly hits her that her loving husband, Jack, a brilliant workaholic veterinarian who is hopeless with everyday things, will be left to cope on his own.

She decides that there are two things she wants to do before she goes:

1. See Jack graduate with another doctorate he is studying - but time may not allow this.
2. Try and find him a wife who is able to support him when she is gone.

The good news is that on the whole she is feeling pretty well and she starts thinking about where to find her successor - online dating, coffee shops, parks etc. The search is more complicated than she expected. Every woman she sees who looks to be a candidate for Jack's future partner doesn't seem to be right - married, too sensitive, too pretty, and even a possible lesbian.

While Colleen Oakey is dealing with a basically sad subject she does it in a way that the reader is rarely depressed, with many laugh-out-loud situations interlaced with the sad ones. This is a great debut novel that will stay in my memory for a long time.

PS - The story reminded me in part of the strength of Jane McGrath, wife of former star Australian cricket fast-bowler, who was able to have two healthy children while in remission and also find time to set up a foundation to raise money to provide breast-care nurses throughout Australia (100 so far). Jane also lost her fight against cancer and died 11 years later. Each year the Sydney Cricket Test has a "Jane McGrath Day" where even the stumps are pink and most spectators wear something pink (the breast cancer charity colour). Glenn, her husband, a real hunk and star sportsman, was married again 2 years later to Sara who is now a loving step-mother to Glenn's children.

My thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for a copy of this book for review.

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