A Snapshot of Kairol
Kairol Rosenthal is a healthcare writer, blogger and patient diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 27. Her book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s (Wiley) is the culmination of her five years of research with patients and health care professionals in the young adult cancer community. An expert on young adult cancer, she has been interviewed by The New York Times, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Newsweek, BBC radio and others. As a national spokesperson, she has collaborated with organizations such as Planet Cancer, Gilda’s Club, and I’m Too Young For This Foundation. Her essays on cancer have appeared on radio and in numerous books. A prolific blogger, her site www.everythingchangesbook.com is a destination for candid conversation among cancer patients.
It’s not the nitty-gritty details of how we were diagnosed or what treatments we are taking that interest me as much as what we do with our lives after the big cancer bomb is dropped in our laps.
By age twenty-nine, I had spent two years in the confines of the cancer world; graying AARP patients to my left, pitying nurses to my right. I attended young adult support groups, where 20 and 30-somethings stuttered hesitant feelings. (The brain cancer patient researching her own hospice care didn’t want to scare the crap out of the dude recently diagnosed with lymphoma. The stage I cervical cancer patient didn’t want to sound like a whiner next to the guy with lung metastases.) We all meant well but politeness prevailed. Sex, death, parenting, pain management, and career goals were a parade of elephants in the room.
Cancer did not make me brave, outspoken, or grateful. I’ve always known you only have one shot at life, and you have to work hard and take chances to try to get what you want. What I wanted was real conversation. And, to live out my dreams of playing Terry Gross, the host on NPR’s show Fresh Air.
I wanted to know if other young adult cancer patients cried themselves to sleep at night, wrote their wills on scrap paper while riding the train, or lied to dates about their scars. I wanted to know if other cancer patients still ate greasy hamburgers, stayed out way too late, and put their dream jobs on hold. I wanted to get inside the heads of these patients and to not feel so alone.
Five years ago I emailed friends and family, asking them to contribute cash towards a professional grade voice recorder. I received a travel grant from The City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. I posted ads on Craigslist, networked with social workers, and sent out fliers that hung in laundromats and churches across the country. The calls started pouring in. From the Bible Belt to the Big Apple, young adult cancer patients across the country invited me into their homes.
Digging up the cancer dirt was easy, all I had to do was listen. Patients confessed to me what they had never told their doctors, therapists, friends, parents, partners, or other survivors. Greg taught me a magic word to help get what I want in hospitals. Amilca admitted to crying like a two year old because she couldn’t eat Krispy Kremes. Mary Ann said she’d go against the Catholic church and ask to be removed from life support. Geoff, a drug addict, told me how he charmed his nurses into giving him stellar narcotics.
I had spent my twenties and early thirties working as a modern dance choreographer. Now I’m a healthcare blogger, reporter, and writer living in Chicago. I didn’t even have to go to grad school for this second career. All I had to do was get cancer and listen.