An inspiring true story of resilience, tenacity and a promise.

Book Review: 'Patient 71; by Julie Randall

As you have no doubt gathered already, Patient 71 by Julie Randall involves hospitals, or, to be more specific, those that treat cancer.

We have a Sydney lady whose life is going full blast when suddenly, she’s on the floor at her office and medicos are all around just four days after her big 50th birthday bash.  

How she gets from that situation to writing a book about surviving is a true story of doggedness in the extreme.  Like the classic salesman’s lesson “The sale starts when the customer says ‘no’”, Julie refuses to believe that she’s not going to find a cure somewhere.

However, in her brain, there are three monsters, sensible monster, nasty monster and nice monster.  She hears them all but runs with nice monster every time because her extended family is one of the closest knit I’ve ever heard about and none of them can live without the other.  It’s almost as if they’re one entire living organism that can’t be separated, a fact borne out when Julie has to go to America because there’s nothing in Australia that can fix her extremely advanced melanoma.

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For the extended treatment, not only does her husband go but her 17-year-old daughter (about to do HSC exams) goes as well.  Meanwhile, her 20-year-old daughter is left home with the dog.

Julie is pretty up front about her life and her reactions to what people say to her.  I mean, what do you say to a cancer patient?  Apparently, the obvious “How are you going?” doesn’t apply.

When she reaches Portland, Oregon, it’s all a bit of a revelation, in more ways than one.  The first couple of weeks the three of them sleep in the same bed but it’s not long before her youngest daughter decided she wants to go home again; gets on the plane at L.A. and jumps straight back off again!  

One week later she does depart, as does hubby Scott not that long after, but other friends fly in, so she’s continually in tears one way or the other.

By now she’s getting used to the crap weather in Portland and finds her way around town singing a positive song she’s devised to continually lift her spirits.  She makes friends with people at quite a few places and she’s universally loved at the hospital, Providence Cancer Centre, where her treatment with a new experimental drug continues.

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Her results after a while aren’t totally positive but they’re not negative either.  At one stage, she flies home for a short break and plays representative touch football – she’s one determined lady.  Many help with finances and the family bonds, strong before, are enriched even further by this experience.

She doesn’t entirely waste her time in Oregon either, heading off to Multnomah Falls, Crater Lake (been there, done those – recommended) and a trendy, arty place called Cannon Beach, so unlike those in Australia, that she learned to love, especially when their wine festival was on and people walk most places with a glass in their hand.

After nearly half a year, Bristol-Myers Squibb, the drug company, sends its first lot to Australia so that Julie can be treated at home and, to say she’s joyous would be the greatest understatement ever.

It’s now five years since her diagnosis and it’s all positive I’m pleased to say, because I like books with happy endings, especially after people have been through unexpected trauma.  An enjoyable, emotional and easy to follow read, written in plain English, a “Recommended” from me.

Patient 71, by Julie Randall (published by Hachette Australia) is available from Dymocks. Click here to learn more.

Books at 60 is proudly supported by Hachette Australia. Opinions are the reviewer’s own.