The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles

An Oncologist's Journey

Non-Fiction - Memoir
352 Pages
Reviewed on 01/09/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite

A passionate and intelligent memoir, The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles: An Oncologist's Journey by Rana Bitar, M.D. chronicles her life from her humble beginnings growing up in Damascus, Syria to becoming an oncologist. The author had her first taste of disappointment in pursuit of her medical dreams when she failed to secure an immediate visa to attend medical school in the U.S. But this didn’t discourage her from moving to the United States to further her education until she became a fully-fledged doctor in 1998. What follows are her colorful and memorable experiences in the medical field particularly in dealing with patients coming from different walks of life. This is a rare and powerful illustration of a doctor-patient relationship.

Rana Bitar has created a significant impact on the lives of her patients and vice versa. If you have ever wondered why a doctor-patient relationship is important, it is because it does not limit itself to being part of the patient’s holistic process, but such a relationship involves vulnerability and trust. The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles is one of the most moving and meaningful memoirs written by a doctor. Rana Bitar’s prose flows without being too lachrymose. At its core, it shows a profound relationship between Bitar and the patients under her care where autonomy, confidentiality, treatment options, and consent become tools in shaping mutual trust and regard. You can clearly see that Bitar’s capacity for empathy and compassion has been shaped by her own struggles, and this makes for an appealing sentiment that the book has rightfully earned. This is a moving tale that will appeal to anyone who enjoys life writing.

Bernadette Longu

The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles: An Oncologist’s Journey is written by Rana Bitar, M.B. What a wonderfully insightful and motivational book to read. Once started, there is no way you can put it down and you find you are reading from cover to cover and then going back to read it again. It takes place from the time Rana Bitar is 6 years old and ends in the middle of 2020 when the Covid19 virus hits the world. The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles is written with heartfelt gratitude to her patients that allowed her to share their courageous fights against cancer, their wins, and their failures, and she shares her life's goals, failures, and achievements with her patients. You get to see what encouraged Rana Bitar to pursue a career in medicine, and in particular oncology, and how her family, husband, and children help her, as well as her most difficult patients and how their stories help Rana Bitar help her children.

I found The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles by Rana Bitar to be inspirational, rewarding, and encouraging, and feel it would be inspirational to anyone who is finding it hard to continue through the times we are now going through with Covid19. It gives you the courage to continue and not give up until the very end. Rana Bitar writes from the heart and brings her world and that of her patients alive in the most inspirational way. I found that I gathered a lot of courage and renewed faith in being able to keep going, no matter how hard things get. Just never give up. The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles is a book that I will be reading again and again. The journey that Rana Bitar M.D. takes in becoming an oncologist and the inspiration of her patients, and then her husband, children, and family, makes me realize how broken our own families have become over the years. Thank you for a wonderful world now revealed that was once hidden.

K.C. Finn

The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles: An Oncologist's Journey is a work of non-fiction in the memoir, autobiographical, and medical subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience owing to some intense subject matter concerning cancer patients and treatments and was penned by author Rana Bitar. In this unique blend of life experiences, personal reflections, and case studies, we see Dr. Bitar’s incredible life journey as she harks back to her youth in Syria and how it conflicts with her new life in the U.S.A., versus the daily struggles and emotional weight of working in oncology with patients whose lives are constantly on the line.

Author Rana Bitar has crafted a work of non-fiction that shares a piece of the author’s soul with the audience. For anyone who has ever stopped to wonder about the pressures that medical professionals face in today’s world, this is a truly eye-opening memoir that puts real history and emotion to the people in the white coats. Cancer touches the lives of most people on the planet at some point or another, and Dr. Bitar’s writing portrays this ongoing struggle against such a virulent disease with honesty, but also with determination and hope. It was also really harrowing to read about her personal reactions to the civil war in Syria when she was so far removed from it in the States. Overall, I would highly recommend The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles to anyone seeking a memoir that delivers so much more than a simple account of life as an oncologist.

Rabia Tanveer

The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles: An Oncologist's Journey by Rana Jacob is a memoir of an immigrant oncologist who faced the highs and lows of being a doctor while also struggling with her life. Born and raised in Damascus, Bitar knew early on she wanted to become a doctor. Starting her journey from medical school in Aleppo, Bitar laid the foundations of her future. Falling in love and marrying Joseph was a plus. Soon, she moved to NYC to study more, and it wasn’t long before she immigrated to the USA permanently. But becoming a doctor was everything she hoped for and more. Nothing could have prepared her for experiencing death, treating patients with severe illness, and learning to live with the knowledge that she did her best (and sometimes it was not enough).

The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles is very personal yet very heartwarming at the same time. Rana Bitar’s narrative style is simple and engaging. You can tell that she is passionate about her profession, and each of her patients holds a special place in her life. The readers feel a connection with Rana Bitar from the get-go. Her life in Syria, her struggles to achieve her dreams and become the best doctor that can and will help patients. Death is a prominent theme in this book, but it is never bleak (even when it is painful). It was strange yet refreshing to look at the concept of death from the perspective of a medical professional who encounters death almost daily. In between Bitar’s narrative about becoming a doctor, she gives a look inside her personal life and shares what it feels like to be a wife, a mother, a sister, and a daughter. It is an exceptional memoir, one that will give you hope and motivation to chase your dreams. Encouraging and inspiring!

Stephanie Chapman

Rana Bitar is an oncologist who started her career from humble beginnings in Syria. As a child, she was introverted and loved reading academic books. She had an old medical book that she became obsessed with, thus deciding to work in the medical field. After graduating from medical school in Syria, she immigrated to the United States to do her electives that would destine her to become an oncologist. Intertwining her story with memories of several patients, The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles is a memoir of her journey. Along with her writing, she includes photographs that highlight the different points in her life. She reflects on each coping skill her patients utilize during their cancer treatments. There are moments in her story where she places herself in the shoes of each patient to understand them completely.

I have been a cancer patient and found Rana Bitar’s stories to be relatable to my experience. I envy her patients, as my oncologist didn’t have empathy like she exhibits. My discovery of various profound moments in her story will be ingrained in my memory. They also caused me to pause and reflect upon myself and my personal outlook on life. “Death is the easy part,” seems to stand out the most to me. While I successfully achieved full recovery, there were times that I felt so much pain that I wanted to give up. The Long Tale of Tears and Smiles explains how much the fight is actually worth and the impact that one person’s life affects others. I felt the same sadness that she conveyed about some patients. One of them was a little girl who was bright and cheerful but passed away at nine years old. Even Bitar confessed that she would have difficulty working in pediatric oncology. Imagining a life having just started to disappear and knowing there was nothing you could do to prevent it would devastate any parent. My recommendation for this memoir is to any reader who may aspire to work in the medical world as the message Bitar gives is more than inspirational.