Hopping Roller Coasters

Rachel Pappas is a regular reader and commentator on Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer, and last November contributed a delightful post to Standing in the Gap with Mamma’s Memories.

Reading this post of sweet memories of her daughter, Marina, growing up, I had no idea of the story that lay behind it – a story of a mother and daughter struggling with bipolar disorder, and the effect this has had on their relationship.

Rachel mailed me a copy of her memoir Hopping Roller Coasters and I literally did not move from the couch one day last week, as I read it from cover to cover in one sitting.  Rachel is a terrific writer and just like a roller coaster, her story moves at quite a thrilling pace, taking you from the highs of Marina’s birth, the happy times they shared as a family, and then plunging to the lows of Marina’s school struggles, Rachel’s depression and oh yes..the small matter of Rachel’s breast cancer diagnosis in September 2009.

Rachel writes with brutal honesty of her fierce love for her daughter, but also of how she,  by unintentional words and actions compounded Marina’s own predisposition to mental illness.

Throughout Rachel’s cancer treatment, her main concern was always the effect this would have on her daughter, but in the end, cancer was a chance for them to heal their sometimes fractured relationship.

Cancer sucks, but I had another shot at breaking the two steps forward, one step backward pattern in reaching out to my daughter. I had another ‘second chance’—no matter how much longer l lived.

Rachel’s cancer diagnosis was a way for this mother and daughter to get their relationship back on track. It was a way to teach them, and by extension the reader, valuable lessons on love, relationships, and forgiveness.

This book is so well told, with no trace of self-pity, and there is so much love within the pages. I admire the relationship between Rachel and her rock of a husband, Paul, who has stood by her and their daughter through all the difficult times. Rachel’s parents were also a great support, and I felt my heart constrict when reading about her Dad’s diagnosis of cancer towards the end of the book. Rachel’s father passed away on the same day as my Mom last November.

There is also humor in the pages of this book. When discussing among themselves how their friends haven’t asked after Marina when she has been hospitalized, Rachel muses that “if you’ve never experienced it, it’s probably hard to know what to think. Mental illness has such a stigma attached to it. I wonder if they picture her jumping up and down and peeing in corners or something.”

My husband laughed. “I’m thinking maybe this Christmas we should send a card like the ones we get from friends highlighting their kids’ accomplishments that year. Only we could say something like, “Well, Marina’s in jail again. But there’s a silver lining—she’s in detox, and we’re convinced she’s going to do it this time. Meanwhile, her kids are in great foster care homes while she does her time in the big house. Oh, she has four of them now.”

Marina now lives with her boyfriend, and Rachel and her husband are empty nesters. Rachel has set up a website 1UpOnCancer which, just like her memoir is a place ultimately of hope and renewal.

Book Giveaway

Rachel has kindly given me a copy of Hopping Roller Coasters for one Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer reader.

So if you would like to read Rachel’s memoir, then please leave a comment below on any aspect of this story which has touched you.

You can purchase Hopping Roller Coasters both in book and Kindle format from Amazon and IUpOnCancer.

Update on Winner

The first name out of the hat to win a copy of Hopping Roller Coasters is Martine Brennan. Congratulations Martine. I know you will enjoy it as much as I did.