Just Stay ... is a book with a predictable end, but the story that takes you there is probably nothing you could imagine. I could not put it down once I started reading. Libraries and bookstores are full of ‘how to’ publications about health and life and dying. Just Stay ... is not a ‘how to,’ but a ‘what if?’ As with so many situations in our lives, if we only look at them another way, in a different light, we find a path through and discover unexpected gifts, as Rob and Jen Fazakerley did.
They immediately accepted the reality and finality of his diagnosis – metastatic cancer of the pancreas – in August 2009. But Rob and his caregivers, who included Jen, were able to shine another light, opening up possibilities for all of them as family, friends, and his health care team provided loving, hopeful care at home through his fourteen months with cancer.
Rob's experience offers us a perspective of hope – not the unrealistic dream of escape from disease and the continuing difficulties it presents, but hope in each day. Supporting him throughout were Jen, herself a community-care manager; Helen Butlin-Battler, a spiritual care specialist; and Grace Bradish, a nurse practitioner specializing in palliative care. They worked together with Rob, a physiotherapist, to ensure that it was his living that held meaning, not the cancer attacking his body.
In my years as a national news broadcaster on CBC Radio and now as a personal biographer, I have learned that every life is remarkable. We have all needed to find courage, patience, and determination to get through tough times in our lives. We also know that the love and care of people who themselves offer patience and determination can make a real difference. Just Stay... is an enlightening and enlightened exploration of just such a partnership.
The story is also a reminder of the power of community. The book does not focus on Canada's system of health care, which provided and paid for the ‘nuts and bolts’ of Rob's physical care, although he and Jen were grateful for that. They both gave up their jobs when Rob became ill, but their employers and colleagues remained connected and supportive. Family, friends, and neighbours helped in many ways – most notably, in a community fund-raiser, ‘Rob Fazakerley Day.’ Regular, e-mail Rob Updates eventually reached thousands of readers, who sent notes, gifts, thoughts, and love. This wave of support buoyed Rob's spirits many times.
The e-mails, letters, and phone calls that flew back and forth between Jen, Helen, and Grace, as well as the Rob Updates, appear here in a kind of journal. They provide an intimate and absorbing view of Rob's illness, how it affected him and Jen and their family, and how the journey nourished each of them. The immediacy and the promising perspective of this narrative suggest the hope of ‘what if?’ and not the implacability of ‘how to.’ Ultimately, this is a reassuring story of a man's struggle with cancer and of the humanity and gifts of Rob and the people who loved and cared for him.