My Journey Home

Reporting on the Final Days of My Cancer Battle

Non-Fiction - Grief/Hardship
406 Pages
Reviewed on 09/25/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Astrid Iustulin for Readers' Favorite

Even when a person is gone, their experience can be inspiring to others. This is the case of Don McCall, whose battle against cancer is now told in the memoir My Journey Home: Reporting on the Final Days of My Cancer Battle. This book is unique because Karen Westphalen wrote it by transcribing the audios McCall recorded every day from when he learned he had little time left to live. My Journey Home tells the story of McCall's final months, noting his "last times for everything," the blessings he found along the way, his own feelings, and the behavior of the people surrounding him.

The first thing that amazed me about My Journey Home is its genesis. Karen Westphalen had an excellent idea when she decided to transcribe McCall's audio recordings because this choice gives the book its unique perspective. It is sad to think that the first-person account I read comes from a person who is no longer here, but telling McCall's story in this way helped me understand his situation and point of view. Certainly, this result depends on Westphalen's excellent transcription. McCall's "voice" echoes on every page, and his honesty and clarity make the book an enjoyable read despite its delicate subject. Anyone who wants to understand the situation of a person with a terminal illness should read My Journey Home. McCall's journey is not a happy one, but it offers a lot of food for thought for anyone who wants to help a loved one who is sick.

Vincent Dublado

At the heart of this book that deals with grief is a profound question: How do I tell loved ones that I’m dying? Don McCall found a way to keep in touch with the ones he will be leaving behind with the help of his closest friend, Karen I. Westphalen, through her book, My Journey Home: Reporting on the Final Days of My Cancer Battle. Don was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in 2012. As he finds himself in that peculiar position between maintaining hope and letting go, he becomes equally concerned with the anticipatory grief that his loved ones would go through while he is still there. Thus begins his collaborative project with Westphalen, where she has recorded audio conversations with Don for as long as life still pulsed within him. The result is 171 recordings of the most heartfelt opportunities to say everything that is needed to be said and allows for the cushioning of intense sorrow.

This published recording gives you an easier time of understanding the challenges of friendships, illness, and impending loss. Reading about emotionally heavy situations becomes personal, and you get to know Don and feel that you have known him well. The best part is that the subject never lost his sense of humor as he went through his personal battle. He provided enough room for light moments that to him were a form of healing. Karen I. Westphalen writes with an appropriate degree of sentimentality without being cloying, allowing Don’s story to flow like a peaceful river. My Journey Home is a cerebral experience as you participate in the feeling of grief that everyone experiences. It also provides you with a creative idea on how to keep your loved ones alive long after they are gone.

Tammy Ruggles

My Journey Home: Reporting on the Final Days of My Cancer Battle, by Karen I. Westphalen and Don McCall, is a moving, inspirational work of non-fiction on one cancer patient's journey through life and death and the close friendship he had with the author. The narrative is told by Don, the patient, but presented by Karen, the author, hoping that it sheds light and insight into what living and dying with cancer is all about. Parts of the story are candid and sad, while others are uplifting and positive, but both work together to form a cohesive picture of Don's diagnosis and the impact it had on his life and relationships, especially the one he had with Karen. I enjoy how Karen begins by describing Don and his playful, curious personality. It sets the stage for his character and how he responds to what is happening with him. Their how-they-met story is nice too. The book also ends with Karen's epilogue, but sandwiched between are Don's own words as he recorded them.

Though we all face death, and some have gone through the journey that Don and Karen write so eloquently about, not everyone has recorded their thoughts and feelings every day about what is going on in their life. If you want a slice-of-life journey about what having cancer is like, at least from Don's perspective, this is a must-read. There are six months of Don's recordings before his death that Karen compiled. The chapters show a grieving process of sorts: from what it's like to first hear about your diagnosis, to talking about how it feels to be frail at the end, to the gamut of emotions felt by everyone involved at all stages. This book would be perfect for anyone who has received a diagnosis of cancer or who has a loved one who has, as well as hospices and support groups.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book, at least to me, is how Don recalls the varied reactions of people in his life once they hear the news of a diagnosis. The author treats Don and the reading audience with the utmost care and respect, making this a deep and personal read. You will even read several passages called Blessings, which are numbered, and you'll read about his thoughts on faith. Even though Don is gone now, the vibrancy of his life and legacy will live on, thanks to Karen. If you're looking for an honest, reflective account of someone dealing with cancer, grief, and friendship, My Journey Home by Karen I. Westphalen is a must-read. There should be more books like this.