"Cards for Brianna"

Cards for Brianna
by Heather McManamy (with William Croyle)
c.2016, Sourcebooks
$15.99/$22.50 Canada
201 pages

The mail’s here.

Mostly, you know, it’s bills, fliers for a new dentist in town, sometimes a magazine, and a reminder from your veterinarian. You got two requests for donations and a letter from an organization you belonged to, years ago… but look again. Maybe, as in Cards for Brianna” by Heather McManamy (with William Croyle), there’s something more special in the pile.

In the annals of “Something’s Not Right Here,” McManamy’s name must be at the top of the list.

Thirty-three years old, married, the mother of a toddler daughter, McManamy was “living a dream” until she found a lump on her chest. The lump was stage II breast cancer; just about a year later, she was told she had “two years at most to live.”

On the day she received that devastating news, McManamy says that she and her husband decided not to dwell on the diagnosis. There wasn’t much that could be done about it anyhow, but McManamy understandably became concerned about her daughter. Brianna had dealt with the deaths of pets at a tender age – but how would she ever understand the loss of her mother?

Knowing that it was likely Brianna might have a stepmother someday (and frankly welcoming the idea), McManamy made videos and audio recordings for her daughter to have someday, which sometimes seemed silly. It was then that she hit upon the idea of leaving greeting cards for Brianna, one for each milestone when a girl might particularly need her mother.

Don’t wait to do the things you want to do, she wrote in one card. Laugh every day. Learn who your friends really are, and let them help you; conversely, if you know someone who’s going through rough times, ask before you help. “Soak in the love” on your special days. Accept that good can come from very, very bad things. Never give up hope. Remember that “every day matters.”

And if there’s ever a question, “Yes, a card is always good.”

I genuinely expected that I’d need a pickup truck full of tissues for my time with “Cards for Brianna.” There’s the first surprise: I didn’t.

Yes, there are moments when your emotions will rule, but McManamy (who died last December) mostly writes about dealing with cancer, enduring chemo, losing her hair, keeping a sense of humor, and trying to make every single last minute count. There are, believe it or not, some smiles in this book, but there’s also anger, too: anger at the situation, at faux-friends, and at the “pink ribbon” movement that, she says, pushes “metsters” aside. Readers may notice, given these occasional literary outbursts, that McManamy tried very hard to remain upbeat, but cancer sometimes took that away from her, too…

This may be a very difficult book to read if you’re new to the cancer-go-round, but old hands at it might enjoy the truthfulness and camaraderie inside. For you, family, or anyone who’s in need of a bad-time boost, “Cards for Brianna” may be heaven-sent.

When Terri Schlichenmeyer was three years old, her long-suffering mother taught Terri to read – mostly to get her out of Mom's hair – and the book most likely to be read was “Mumpsy Goes to Kindergarten.”...

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