A Square-Peg People Book Review
Bright Side of the Road
by Anne Marie Bennett
It is about a woman dealing with breast cancer. And, because books written from the heart are usually large in scope, it is also about many other topics.
It offers insights into the doctor-patient relationship, ways to live wholly (expressing ALL your feelings - as opposed to living in denial of the uncomfortable ones), the process of living reflectively (the book is written using journals Anne Marie kept), what's helpful (and what isn't) when people are facing a serious illness, dealing with other people as they come to terms with your illness, hospital euphemisms and hospital blessings, gratitude and much more, including - of course - walking on the Bright Side of the Road!
The title (from a Van Morrison song) implies that you could choose to walk on a different side of the road. Throughout the book, Anne Marie shows herself making choices - considering alternative paths - looking at different sides of the road. Her story is a lesson in choosing not WHAT happens or where on Life's journey, but HOW to walk on the "Bright Side", whatever comes your way.
The beautiful introduction begins with a picture of "before" - a description of Anne Marie's life prior to the cancer diagnosis. Bright Side of the Road shows Anne Marie's walk on the path of healing rather than focusing only on "cure", while she is undergoing treatment for cancer.
She experiences fear, depression, anger, as well as many physical difficulties, including pain, exhaustion, and hemorrhoids. Through all of this Anne Marie poured her feelings into her journals, and made an on-going conscious decision to choose to live with hope and openness.
How did she do this? Anne Marie's healing path included many things: allowing feelings, visualization, choosing to change thoughts, trusting her instincts, journaling and generally living reflectively.
Anne Marie's "Bright Side" experience is not about skipping through trials with no pain - ignorant of what is right before your eyes. No whistling in the dark, pretending not to be afraid. Early on Anne Marie shares what she felt in the beginning of dealing with cancer:
I don't want this! I don't want this! I sob over and over ... I say it so many times that it takes me back to my teaching days and the creative drama exercise where I had the kids repeat the same sentence several times, each time putting the stress on a different word to see how it changes the meaning.
I don't want this.
I don't want this.
I don't want this.
I don't want this.
But no matter which word I stress, the meaning is the same. I feel an agonizing anger that this is happening to me and I wish with all my strength that it wasn't happening. But it is. I feel like I'm dreaming....only I know for sure it's not a dream. The reality is, there is cancer in my body. No matter how many stars I wish on, it will remain so. I continue to cry while these thoughts whirl through my mind like a maddening, burning sandstorm.
Hope and gratitude spring out in other places: In one section, as Anne Marie reflects on paying attention to things, she talks about having been affected by Thornton Wilder's play "Our Town" when she was 14. I first experienced the play at that same age - and the impact on me was exactly what Anne Marie describes:
I was only fourteen years old when I first read those words, and had made no acquaintance with death, but I instinctively knew that that soliloquy held the entire key to the meaning of life. As I heard Emily say those words in my young imagination, I grandly decided that I was going to live my life differently than she had. I was going to notice every, every detail. I was going to enjoy every, every minute of my life...
Me too! Me too! I also made that decision - with the same consequence -
Anne Marie remembers again - while dealing with cancer and treatment...
The cancer is teaching me to open up and absorb how wonderful life really is. I've stopped and looked up at the sky more times this past week than I have in the last several years put together. Because of the cancer, I'm sitting here paying attention to these moments...
It's good to remember!
Below, Anne Marie gives us insight into how she changes her thoughts. At one point she mentioned feeling abandoned, when her Doctor was on vacation.
I'm grateful for these realizations, and that I was able to decide to let go of the rejection and abandonment. They are simply feelings; they are not the truth."
Then, reflecting on changing her thinking...
I don't know if changing my thinking patterns takes courage. Maybe it does. But I do know it's healthier for me. I do know that I feel better physically and emotionally when I do it. It's like choosing what to eat based on how you'll feel afterwards, rather than the taste of it right now."
She also speaks of giving herself permission:
I give myself permission to be silent, for hours at a time.
I give myself permission to be lonely.
I give myself permission to embrace this barren vacant desert while waiting for flowers to bloom in the dark.
Because of my experience with hospitals (I had a son whose short, intense 3 month life-span was spent in hospitals) Bright Side of the Road reminded me of:
- hospital euphemisms - the names for things that, at first, seem odd - even ridiculous - but, necessarily, become part of your vocabulary over time.
- hospital miracles - or blessings - strange, synchronistic events.
- and how attached you become to hospital personnel.
Throughout Bright Side of the Road the subject of doctor & hospital personnel/patient relationships is brought up often.
I'm wondering where the rules of this doctor-patient relationship are written. Has anyone ever thought of or written about this before? Am I the only patient who ever wanted to know her doctor in a more real and personal way?...
...I think how strange the doctor-patient relationship is...Three weeks ago I didn't know he existed; today, his place in my life has swift and supreme importance...
I decide I'll have to focus a little harder on remembering who I am, on finding ways to be myself with these doctors. I passionately wish to somehow have them see me as I am, a woman with a life, a family, hobbies and interests beyond breast cancer...
Anne Marie speaks of searching for books about doctor/patient relationships - and finding little. She dives deeply into the subject - exploring large and small elements of relationship. She expresses interest in how trust is built, whether it is appropriate to give a gift to your doctor - and, with beautiful sensitivity (especially since Anne Marie was undergoing treatment at the time she penned these questions) - wondering how doctors deal with death - and sending "a silent blessing" toward her doctor as she thinks of this.
Although Anne Marie does not attempt to teach about friendship and caring in this book, if you read it carefully, you will learn how to BE with a person who is ill (or going through a painful experience). Anne Marie tells of several encounters that are helpful and several that are not:
I smile as I read this part of her email. She has gone deeply into the truth of her own response. Everyone who has read my email must be feeling the same shock, but she is the only one who has referred to it...
I'm especially touched because not only is Joe giving me the book, he has inscribed it especially for me, and he has read it himself, making notes on certain pages and pointing out certain facts that resonated with him. This book is pure gift in so many ways...
I like her straightforwardness and I like her smile which offers empathy rather than pity...
My new friend David anchors me to reality with long witty emails, with cards and gifts that arrive unexpectedly in the mail. He is aghast that after going through breast cancer, I should now have to go through this, and I adore him for saying this so succinctly and so often...
Helpful encounters have similarities - they often involve speaking the obvious - rather than use meaningless platitudes. People who help speak their feelings.
Negative encounters also have similarities - they may include pity (which minimizes the pain a person is in), or talk about "fixing" the problem more than about feelings.
A lot of people are telling me that everything's going to be okay, and that I'll be fine, but I can hear the worry underneath their cheerful words...
This is the very reason why I didn't want to tell her about the diagnosis so soon: this pity that I knew I'd see in her eyes, in her every word and gesture. I want to scream ...
I know she's interested, it's just that she believes there is only one way to experience healing, and because of this, I feel like she's trying to force it on me without even thinking to ask who I am in this moment...
Anne Marie even shares - in a very poignant section - how she lovingly, but with sadness, deals with her mother's (negative) expressions of concern.
There are many reasons you'd want to read this book. Obviously, if you or someone you love has breast cancer, or has gone through breast cancer andtreatment, the book will be a companion.
But there is also much in this book for anyone who has dealt with a major illness or grief, for medical professionals wishing to learn how it feels to be on "the other side of the fence", and for anyone who wants to learn how to BE there for a friend or loved one who is dealing with a life-threatening illness.
The things I love most about the book are the honesty and openness that Anne Marie exhibits as she shares her story. This book is REAL - which is my highest praise.
I want to quote from almost every page of this book: "Look at this, and this, and this and..." Obviously, due to space limitations, that's impossible. But, I can point you to where you can get Bright Side of the Road for yourself (click on the link).
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(Full Disclosure: we're affiliates of both Amazon.com and KaleidoSoul - so when you buy from the links above you don't pay a penny more, but you help support Square-Peg People. Thanks!)
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FYI: Anne Marie Bennett, author of Bright Side of the Road, may already be known to you as the founder of the KaleidoSoul site - where she offers wisdom about the Soul Collage® process, which was developed by Seena B. Frost.
We also have an interview with Anne Marie Bennett in our Square-Peg Interviews, please click on the link to get to know her better!