The Probability of Miracles, by Wendy Wunder


The Probability of Miracles happens, as many YA novels, in that critical summer between high school graduation and leaving the nest for college. Kids cling to the warmth of home and familiar friends, yet they yearn to break free.

Campbell Cooper sees a future for herself. After all, Harvard awaits in the fall.

Life becomes iffy when her oncologist tells Cam that her relentless enemy— neuroblastoma—has advanced to the point that only a miracle can save her life. Unfortunately, Cam Cooper doesn’t believe in miracles.

Despondent and angry, Cam tops off a bucket list of self-abhorrent activities with, “Lose my virginity at a keg party.” It’s not a matter of love, intimacy, or even passion. Cam just feels “lousy with virginity.” Besides, her best friend, a fellow neuroblastoma patient, is doing the same thing for the same reason. No pressure, right? She thinks that her life will be complete if she finds a lover before she dies.

Sometime in the past, Cam’s family was Catholic. What remains is a distorted view of Catholic theology. For instance, on page one, Cam not only denies the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, but she thinks that it refers to the conception of Jesus, not Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is a common mistake among the theologically challenged.

By page two, Cam says, “The Virgin Mary probably just got herself knocked up like 20 percent of the teenage girls in Florida.” She seems to like Jesus but doesn’t mind insulting his mother. Later Cam says that Mary blamed her pregnancy on God so she wouldn’t have to admit how it happened. God becomes a convenient scapegoat.

At this point, many Catholics might commit Cam and The Probability of Miracles to the trash or ask for a refund. I kept reading because Cam is the archetype for the postmodern mindset in YA literature and life, and therefore worthy of study as an example of the way many fictional and real kids and adults think, act and develop values. What she treasures as her freedom, objective reality, and absolute truth handicaps her ability to deal with her waning health and spiritual prospects.

Eckhart Tolle, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw and others have said, “Man created God in his own image.” People today often find it easier to believe in ghosts, fairies, and the zombie apocalypse than in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While sculpting more convenient gods, the idol makers draw a blank when it comes to facing the end of life dilemma. In Cam’s case, the dilemma comes too soon in her life for her to fully consider her options.

Cam’s mother and her boyfriend work at Epcot. After consulting a spiritualist, a medicine woman, and a distance healer, Mom and Cam turn to the “Disney-like magic” contained in a special town—Promise, Maine—where they hope to find a cure.

Promise is different. Locating it requires a special approach, not unlike the invisible Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station needed to catch the Hogwarts Express. It boasts of unique vegetation, and the sun rises and sets outside Cam’s only bedroom window. No, the house does not rotate.

Faced with uncertainty, Cam grasps at straws as her body seems to take its final plunge. The only apparent magic in Cam’s life is an affair with Promise’s hometown hero.

Is this the depth of life’s meaning, or is there so much more than fleeting pleasure?

Is it worth the risk of believing that complete fulfillment exists for those who give faith, hope, and charity a chance?

Sadly, Cam reminds me of a famous tombstone inscription:

“An atheist lies below.

All dressed up,

With nowhere to go.”

A Bend in the Road: A Year’s Journey through Breast Cancer, by Karen Kelly Boyce

bend in road cover

The author reminds us that we all share a terminal condition: life. Sooner or later it will end. A diagnosis of cancer suggests a sooner rather than a later demise. If not fatal, cancer certainly raises the specter of a war within our bodies between an invasive malignancy and the shock and awe of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Although we may never face cancer in any of its terrible forms, we should prepare ourselves.

When tragedy enters our lives, we often look for a guide: someone who knows the way, someone who has already experienced that same tragedy and has survived. Karen Kelly Boyce witnessed the effects of neoplasia during her a nursing career and in her personal encounter with breast cancer. As a writer, she logged her journey and now offers her thoughtful and practical insights. It is evident to the reader that Karen is a down-to-earth and well-informed friend — a person that cancer a patient would welcome at her side during a tragedy. Her guidebook, although intended for those afflicted with breast cancer, supports all who suffer from cancer and the struggles of life itself.

The author’s style reminds me of Erma Bombeck, a writer and humorist who also logged her experiences with breast cancer. Karen Boyce spices her chapters with irony, humor and joy, but never trivializes the plight of cancer patients. She describes life before her diagnosis, shedding light on choices that might have contributed to her illness. She recounts the trauma of discovery, explains her opinions about doctors and treatments, details the facts about side effects, complications and the eventual life-altering decisions she faced.

As both a nurse and writer, Boyce summarizes her extensive research into breast cancer, its causes and prevention. She offers comfort to cancer sufferers through her strategies that enlist every spiritual, psychological, intellectual and community resource available to a patient. Her book includes a series of recipes for healthy living that focus on cancer prevention. She offers meditations, she’s written, that place cancer and its consequences in a spiritual perspective.

Look for these gems as you walk with Karen Kelly Boyce around A Bend in the Road: A Year’s Journey through Breast Cancer:

  • How do the most profound morsels of human wisdom sometimes roll out of a gum-ball machine?
  • How can optimism extend life, even in the terminally ill?
  • How is joy far better and more durable than happiness?
  • How does humility lead to gratitude, faith, peace, joy and true self-esteem?
  • What happens seventeen days after the first chemotherapy session, and how can you prepare for it?
  • How does chemotherapy help you make friends?
  • What perils plague professional survivors?
  • Why it’s important for a patient to have someone like Karen Kelly Boyce at her/his side when talking to a doctor about cancer therapy?
  • What is the “leash method” of successful weight loss?
  • How one can sensibly and effectively change dietary habits?
  • How can meditation help both believers and non-believers?

The answers to these and many other questions await in A Bend in the Road: A Year’s Journey through Breast Cancer, by Karen Kelly Boyce.