The Cancer Olympics

Non-Fiction - Memoir
368 Pages
Reviewed on 02/19/2015
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Author Biography

Dr. Robin McGee is a Registered Clinical Psychologist, mother, wife, educator and friend. Living in Port Williams, Nova Scotia, she has been a dedicated clinician in health and education settings for over 25 years. Her work has included teaching at the university level and publishing in professional journals in her own field of child psychology. Since entering remission, she has been very active in patient advocacy, serving as the patient representative on several provincial and national initiatives aimed at improving standards of cancer care. She is also a peer support mentor and fund-raiser on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society. The Cancer Olympics is her first - and hopefully her last – memoir of her cancer experiences.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Lit Amri for Readers' Favorite

Robin McGee’s The Cancer Olympics is a memoir of her battle against not only cancer but inadequate healthcare that she unfortunately received. The negligence of her delayed diagnosis – no thanks to Doctors One, Two, Three and Four – cause a late stage tumor that could have been prevented and treated earlier. The medical providers had, unbelievably, failed her. From my perspective, they were unprofessional, arrogant and shockingly naive. She reaches out to her community through her blog “Robin's Cancer Olympics” where she shares her story and gains allies to overcome bungling medical politics. Robin actively seeks medical help for two years before she is correctly diagnosed.

The important message of The Cancer Olympics is that every patient needs to be proactive in their own treatment and find doctors who are truly ethical in their practice. This should be priority number one. We have the right to demand the best healthcare possible, and we should not be intimidated by medical providers who use their position in the healthcare system like some kind of an untouchable law.

Robin’s ordeal and success in battling cancer, as well as the flaws of the medical system, is truly an eye-opener. This is also a beautiful story about her family’s dedication, husband Andrew and son Austin. Through her flawless prose and deft narration, readers will find her memoir exceptional and well-written. As harsh as her struggle was, this is not a depressing memoir, but one that gives hope and advocates a patient’s rights and well-being. This is a must-read for everyone.

Henny Westra

I couldn't put this book down! What a gripping story of the worst and the best of medical care. Robin's account of her trials with Stage III colorectal cancer is truly inspirational! In her story, she takes on the medical system by daring to challenge the behavior of incompetent, careless doctors & also challenging the province of Nova Scotia to approve a chemotherapy drug that is considered the best practice in the care of this type of cancer.. and she wins! Every person or family touched by cancer (and that means virtually everyone!) must read this inspirational story of Robin's battle and ultimate victory over the disease & the system that plunged her into a course of invasive treatments (which ultimately saved her life). I cried many times during reading this book (both for her suffering, the mismanagement of her case, but also for her many victories in her fight). What a brave and remarkable woman - truly an inspiration! Robin`s passion and personality leaps off of every page!

Steven Fujita

We look to our healthcare providers to identify, and then implement a "battle plan" to confront the illness. But sometimes that doesn't happen and the patient is forced to battle not only the disease, but also doctors and the government. This was the case with the author, Robin McGee, who, by the time was correctly diagosed, had reached stage IIIc, or perhaps stage IV colorectal cancer, only to find out the best-practice chemotherapy wasn't available to her in her province of Nova Scotia.

If this were a fictional story, the "plot" might be seen as over the top. But it is a true story, and that's what makes it more powerful, emotional, and inspirational. This isn't a "how I conquered cancer" story. It is a story about how a patient needs to be his/her own best advocate and ensuring the best treatment, not just medical treatment, but also being treated as a person by the professionals who would give it.

The story is told chronologically, and the author makes use of many real-time internet postings and emails, which allow the reader to relive the events as they happen - from the events that are going on around her, to the events that are directly related to her battles. In the end, although McGee does not get the treatment she fights for, her treatment is successful, she finds a dedicated "team" of healthcare professionals, and willingness of the government to change policies, so the treatment she sought for herself becomes a reality for those who would be diagnosed with colorectal cancer after her. The Cancer Olympics can be called a story of courage, of determination, of support and inspiration, but in the end, it is all that, and heart-warming.

Rannveig Yeatman

I came across Robin McGee's recent book: "The Cancer Olympics" somewhat by chance, but once I had opened it and started reading, I could hardly put it down. The book describes Robin's long journey from early symptoms of colorectal cancer and her harrowing time with doctors One, Two, Three and Four, all neglectful and off-hand, allowing Robin to virtually reach death's door before she finds doctors who take her seriously and help her start the long road back to health.
In spite of the debilitating treatment, Robin musters the energy to challenge the doctors who have given her the run-around by complaining to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. She also finds the courage to challenge the status quo according to which the best chemo treatment is not available for patients with her type of cancer in Nova Scotia. Through her hard work and the help of her dedicated cheering squad of friends and colleagues, more than 300 patients have already received this treatment now. This change in policy, however, comes too late to benefit Robin herself.
The remarkable thing is that through her talent as a writer and her ability to step away from her present suffering and fear to see the larger picture, Robin has created a book on cancer that in itself is a real page-turner, regardless of whether the reader is interested in cancer or indeed in Robin herself. There is lots of humour and always suspense, as we fear for the life of the intrepid author. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Lillian Csernica

This is the terrible and wonderful story of how Robin McGee managed to survive colorectal cancer despite a horrifying series of medical blunders. The stark reality of what Robin had to go through during the 661 days that elapsed before she received a proper diagnosis from a top notch doctor will shock you and amaze you. I don't think I made it through a single chapter without crying or cheering, and often I did both. I am amazed and impressed. This book has given me new perspective on treasuring my health and taking care of it.

John J Whelan

This book was an enjoyable and compelling read in spite of the serious topic of cancer. It is a story of steadfast tenacity to survive, to challenge healthcare authorities, and to recruit support at a grassroots level. It is an emotional and compelling narrative

Lila Hope Simpson, The Ch

If Robin McGee ever runs for office, vote for her.

She is articulate, methodical, passionate, honest, humourous, intelligent, articulate and generous. In short, Robin McGee is a hero.

When I first picked up McGee’s book about her journey with cancer, I was hesitant. Who wants to read about cancer on a beautiful summer day? Once I started however, I was hooked by her compelling story of heartbreak, drama and courage. I never thought a book about cancer could be a page turner, but The Cancer Olympics is just that- a genuinely inspiring and uplifting book.

Her story begins with a visit to the doctor, like so many others who are not feeling 100%, but where it goes from there is part drama, part mystery, part comedy, part suspense and part research. It is a story about a dreadful disease, but it is also a commentary on our system and how we must be proactive in lobbying for change. It is a David vs Goliath story about one woman’s campaign for better diagnosis and treatment. It is a testament to the power of dedication and commitment. But mostly it is about one woman who wants, more than anything, to live.

Dr. Robin McGee is a Registered Clinical Psychologist who grew up in Ottawa and now lives and practices in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. When she is diagnosed with colorectal cancer, it comes as a shock because it is two years after first seeking medical advice. The mismanagement of her delayed diagnosis results in a late stage tumour that could have had a more positive outcome had it been detected in a more timely manner. She actively seeks medical help for two years before she is correctly diagnosed.

McGee refers to the physicians who saw her as Doctors One, Two, Three and Four. But she will deal with them later. For now, she has the stark realities of radiation, surgeries and chemotherapy to deal with. And so begins yet another hurdle in “Robin’s Cancer Olympics”. This is the title of her blog that she uses as a vehicle to reach out to her circle of family, friends, colleagues, supporters and community. Her blog is dedicated to her greatest cheering committee.

After doing much research, McGee discovers that the one chemotherapy drug which offers the best outcome for her type of cancer is not available in Nova Scotia. So while recovering from debilitating radiation and surgery, McGee takes it upon herself to lobby, not only for herself, but for others who might benefit from this course of chemotherapy. And lobby she does. Her goal? To change cancer treatment in this province and to do so she must navigate the realm of provincial politics and medical regulation.

McGee’s story is harsh. The reader watches her evolve from an active young woman who loves playing soccer to one who can barely lift a cup of tea. She changes from being a respected professional to a patient in a Johnny shirt. But the greatest challenge to her identity is her role of mother to her 15 year old son Austin. It breaks her heart as a mother to see her boy suffer on her account and now he is in a position where he must be a help to her, instead of the other way around.

As tough a scenario as this is, it is also a great and beautiful love story between Robin and her dedicated husband, Andrew Hurst. He stands by her side every single step of the way, from appointments and treatments, to regulatory and political battles. He holds her hand, he weeps with her and together, they find time to laugh and reflect.

I won’t give away any of the twists, surprises and outcomes, but I do recommend The Cancer Olympics as a brilliant read and an exceptional, well-written story. I applaud Robin McGee. She is a reminder that anything is possible with determination, chutzpah and love.

Kym Hume

You will be on a roller coaster of emotions as Robin McGee describes her harrowing battle with colorectal cancer and the medical system in Nova Scotia. She fights two battles simultaneously as she struggles to make sense of the mistakes and bureaucracy of a health system that fails her and plunges her and her family into the world of colorectal cancer. Robin writes with a ferocity and passion that will pull you into her story and have you laughing and holding back tears at the same time. She has become a hero in the fight against colorectal cancer in Nova Scotia and her efforts to have "folfox" included in the chemo cocktail for patients with colorectal cancer have changed the protocol forever for future patients diagnosed with this horrible disease. You will not be sorry to have read this incredible story of fear, anger, bravery, courage, optimism and determination of a natural story teller with something very important to say to all of us.

Dr. Pat O'Neill

Robin McGee’s courageous account of her battle with cancer and with the medical and political systems involved in diagnosis and treatment, is an enthralling book. True to the cliché, it is impossible to put down. The writing is excellent, with cliff-hangers every time things seem to be looking up. The fact that the story is true, with ample documentation, makes the twists and turns even more nail-biting. Robin calls this her cancer olympics. I might have called in an Odyssey, From first diagnosis (and re-diagnoses over and over again, from doctor to doctor) to battles with the political system, all the way to the Health Minister who had sway over what treatment would be permitted for Robin’s cancer in Robin’s jurisdiction. This is a cautionary tale. Patients and general readers will profit from the book, but I hope doctors and those who make health policy will do so as well.

Margaret Morehouse

I loved The Cancer Olympics by Robin McGee! Once I began to read it I could not put it down. The book is beautifully written as Robin tells of her journey with cancer and the medical system in Nova Scotia. She writes eloquently of love, hope, courage and the will to live. Robin chronicles her advocacy with her doctors and the support of her community. This is a book that should be read by everyone. None of us is immune to illness. Robin's words and experiences tell us of the tools we need to survive or to help a loved one survive. Don't miss reading it!

Kit Luce

Once I started this book, I could not put it down. At times I had to close my eyes to absorb some of the images and emotion. The first few pages grab you, immersing you immediately in her journey of medical mistakes. As the story unfolds, Robin's indomitable spirit is evident. This book is a must read, a guide for advocating for good medical care, and a tribute to the power of hope and community.

Lesley Hartman

Robin's McGee's incisive, fast-paced and engaging book about the anguish of her cancer journey, interspersed with supportive letters from her community, and an account of her advocacy with provincial health authorities for access to best practice treatments had me completely engrossed from start to finish. The book at once angered me, moved me and delighted me. With aching pain and surprising humour, she poignantly recounts the psychological roller-coaster of cancer. Surprisingly, given the topic, the book inspires and uplifts. She is a hero lifted up by the love of a community of regular people. This is a how-to manual for surviving the mental anguish of cancer, for supporting sick friends, and for becoming a real-life hero. I can't recommend this book enough!

Janice Knapp

I am a cancer survivor and a nurse and was so touched by how well Robin took us through her Cancer Olympics. She has helped me name and describe things I went through. Even though our types of cancer were different, it was a surprise to see how similar our experience was. She made me laugh and cry and gave me many life lessons that I ponder well after I had read the book. This book is wonderful for all to read as there is so much to take away. Thank you Robin from the bottom of my heart for writing what others cannot. I hope many health professionals will read this as well.

Melissa Churchill

I couldn't put "The Cancer Olympics" down once I started reading it. Robin is a champion for patient advocacy, and with what she has accomplished; it already has and will continue to affect people's lives. Robin's book is honest and inspiring. It made me cry and it made me laugh. It is truly a must-read, to witness the power of knowledge, the kindness in human spirit and community, and the ability to make changes happen with determination and focus. Now go and get this book!

Marilyn Campbell

This is the story of a community of emotional support through the terrors of cancer and equally horrible experiences with the medical system. I know that people outside that community will be absolutely astounded the first time they become aware of the number of errors made by professionals that we expect to be able to rely on. I would encourage them, then, to re-read the book so that they can appreciate the quality of Dr McGee's writing. The book is riveting.

Wanda Chase

Robin McGee's well written and articulate memoir brought me to tears.
She has told her story as she leads her life; with bravery, compassion, honesty,and humor. Such a remarkable woman! McGee's strength of character shines through.
While facing her own personal battle with cancer she also fought for all Nova Scotians.
The Cancer Olympics is a 5 star read! I would definitely recommend this book to all of my family and friends.

Wanda Chase

Robin McGee's well written and articulate memoir brought me to tears.
She has told her story as she leads her life; with bravery, compassion, honesty,and humor. Such a remarkable woman! McGee's strength of character shines through.
While facing her own personal battle with cancer she also fought for all Nova Scotians.
The Cancer Olympics is a 5 star read! I would definitely recommend this book to all of my family and friends.

Janine Morin

Imagine your worst nightmare indeed. Imagine being blown-off by no less than 4 doctors for years while you present terrifying symptoms, to finally be diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. Then imagine being told that the best chemotherapy required to treat this type of cancer, a treatment that is the standard everywhere else in the Western world, is not available in your province. What would you do? Well, Robin McGee became an activist, and this memoir documents her journey in a way that so uplifting it will make your heart sing.
Robin McGee is many things: a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a beloved friend, a professional, and happily, a wordsmith and a humourist. This book is really a love letter. At the beginning of treatment, McGee begins a blog as a way to update her friends and family on her progress. Eventually this blog swells into a large community of supporters who cheer her on through each stage of her battle, which she cleverly compares to being in the Olympics. When she comes up against the stunning news that FOLOFOX, a chemotherapy that would dramatically improve her odds of survival, is not the standard of care in Nova Scotia, McGee rallies her supporters to deluge the Minister of Health and their MP's with letters, and together, along with some dedicated health professionals, they get this standard of treatment changed in their province. And this is where the love comes in. McGee's book is not only a love letter to her husband and son, but also to and from her community of supporters. McGee intersperses her own narrative with her blog entries and some of the replies she received to them. Uplifted by the love this community has for her, McGee finds the strength to battle on and do something that is truly good: improve the chances for sufferers of this type of cancer in Nova Scotia.
This is a wonderfully paced book, a book that is hard to put down. With a writing style that is eloquent and material that is so moving, I laughed and I cried. But most of all I marvelled at this amazing woman who accomplished so much, with so much grace and wit, while undergoing the horrible trials of cancer treatment. This book is a must read for anyone who has cancer, or has a loved one with cancer, and for community activists who can appreciate the power of the people. As she puts it at the end, hopefully this will be her last cancer memoir but I for one (for many I suspect!) eagerly await a novel from this incredible writer

James Legan MD

Dr. McGee treads on terrain very few have or could. Most books take a certain amount of pounding to get through, this one not only pulls you through but instills wisdom, insight and grace beyond belief.
I have been a General Internist in private practice for 21 years, and think anyone in the Health Care Profession or involved with Policy at any level should read this book.
You will feel, think, and start to dream about life differently after reading The Cancer Olympics.