A Family Portrait of Cancer and Healing
(Union Square Press, 2009)

Home Before Dark by Dr. David TreadwayThere are really only two kinds of families: those who have faced catastrophic events such as serious illness and death, and those who will. Most people live as if they owned their lives. They plan their futures, save for college or retirement, and usually take each other for granted. Then, when a crisis hits, some families are irrevocably shattered while others emerge, strengthened and closer than ever. It’s impossible to predict which families as well as individual members will rise to the occasion and which might be crushed by it. Each family’s response to crisis is unique. As Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Home Before Dark (visit the official site) is one family's shared story of confronting the sudden life-threatening illness of the father. The book chronicles the separate yet powerfully connected journeys of four family members, told from each person’s distinctive perspective as they worked their way through this first daunting year.

Before May, 2005, we were a relatively normal family, very close and mostly happy.  We were immersed in planning our lives. David, the father and a psychologist, was organizing a series of workshops all over the country in order to promote his latest book. Kate, his wife and a physician, was working on developing her course for all incoming Harvard Medical students. Michael was studying psychology in preparation for applying to Ph.D. programs and Sam was ending his junior year at Carleton College and worried about finding a summer job.

Then, on May 1, David woke up with a searing pain in his shoulder. Within a week he was hospitalized with extremely advanced Stage 4, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was given a 25 percent chance of surviving. Our family’s comfortable world was shattered. The challenges were overwhelming for each of us separately and for us as a family. How would we come together and encourage each other, while simultaneously needing so much support ourselves? How would we cope if David died?

The idea for doing this book grew from a letter Michael wrote to his father when David was apparently acquiescing to the inevitability of his death. The letter was filled with so much tenderness that it awoke in David the desire to fight his disease for the sake of his family. It was a profound turning point for him, which he wrote about for the Psychotherapy Networker magazine (see "Lifeline" attached). When the story was published in December, 2005, the outpouring of appreciative letters was overwhelming. In response, despite being in the early stages of recovery, David began to share his and his family’s experiences in his workshops and was deeply moved by the intense engagement of his audience. Clearly the very personal story of one family undergoing this upheaval had touched a raw nerve in the lives of people

After considerable discussion, we decided to write a book together. We hope to share with other families how we worked it out; how we managed to stay close despite our individual differences in life-stages, understanding, and coping styles. We also depict the ways specific relationships, husband-wife, father-son, brother-brother, can support (and occasionally undermine) the family as a whole.

Each of us confronted profoundly different issues. David was going through nine months of intensive chemo and slow recovery, though still at high risk. Kate, being a doctor, was fully aware of how terrible the course of the disease might be, and tried to be as good a spouse as she could be while facing going on alone after David’s death. Michael and Sam grappled with major turning points developmentally: Michael changing careers and leaving a difficult relationship, Sam facing senior year and uncertainty about his future plans. Each son struggled through the year to care for their father and still get on with their own lives, knowing their dad might not be a part of it.

Most books that document the experience of life-threatening cancer are written by the patient. Some by a husband or wife.  But none by a whole family. Home Before Dark is exceptional and compelling because it is the only book about a family facing a devastating illness told from each of the four participants point of view. It will not only be unique in the literature of coping with cancer, but it will also appeal to family members in general because all families live in the shadow of a potential catastrophe.

In addition, as prominent and widely published teachers in the fields of medicine and psychology, Kate and David are particularly qualified to put their story in perspective, having spent their lives treating and writing about other families in similar crises. David is an award winning author who has written three books and over forty articles. Kate has written articles for The New England Journal of Medicine and has done more than twenty articles and chapters in books. Both Drs. Treadway have had considerable experience in dealing with media and the public arena. In addition to their workshops and lectures throughout the country, they have been interviewed on many different TV shows like “20-20”, “Good Morning America”, “Doctors on Call”, etc.

Michael and Sam bring their experience as young men in their twenties on the thresholds of their careers. They have been articulate respected leaders in their schools and jobs. They each bring a strong and distinct personality to writing about their experiences with this family crisis.

In addition to our individual strengths, as a family, we have always placed a strong emphasis on the importance of sharing and discussing our inner experiences. We have had a lot of practice discussing our individual lives as well as considering each member’s impact on each other. The process of writing this book has therefore been a natural outgrowth of our approach to being a family.

Our book is ultimately not about cancer or death. It’s about living as well as one can with the sharp, sudden awareness of an everyday fact: we are all on borrowed time. It is our way of making meaning of a situation that all families will face eventually. Ours is not a unique story. It is the human condition, simply intensified by circumstance. We all live on the knife’s edge. This is one family’s experience of it.

To purchase the book, contact Dr. Treadway at [email protected]