Nina Riggs is diagnosed with breast cancer – initially considered to be rather benign in nature, the spot of cancer resist’s treatment and progresses into stage four, The Bright Hour is her story.
The book begins when Nina is initially diagnosed with breast cancer and her initial method to cope with it – learn more about it. She remarks that when she tells people that she has breast cancer, many people respond by telling her that they know someone who also had the disease and had survived. The book is broke up in four parts representing each stage of cancer. The first part is rather melancholy in a way. There is optimism that the chemo therapy will take care of the cancer. You get a sense of Nina’s apprehension and hope throughout this section as she tries to deal with her diagnosis and initial treatment with humor and educating herself.
The book continues on with this mixture of hope, humor and heartache as the cancer takes over Nina’s body. Through the book Nina makes numerous literary references to a distant relative, Ralph Waldo Emerson (a quote of his from which the title of the book is derived) and also references to Michel de Montaigne, a french philosopher that Nina admires. Running parallel to Nina’s affliction with cancer is the story of her mother who is also has a fatal disease.
When I began The Bright Hour it wasn’t easy for me to get in to. The first half of the book felt very sporadic and directionless. I went into this memoir not knowing exactly what it was about, aside from a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The further I got into the book, as the cancer progressively got worse the narrative becomes narrower and more focused as Nina begins to use her writing as a way to come to terms with the inevitable.
Almost 8 years ago, my own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember the apprehension and constant worry surrounding the disease as my mom went through treatment. The uncertainty as to whether the chemo was working. The constant sickness my mom had and, eventually, the slow recovery. I could recall all of this as I read Nina’s story. This memoir really made an impact when it made me consider what would have happened if my mom’s cancer had also resisted treatment and went terminal like Nina’s.
When I got to the section of the book titled Stage Four, it got tough for me to turn each page. I could not help but imagine my own mom in that very place, trying to come to terms with a terminal illness. There was that terrible ‘what if’ thought floating through my mind that I kept super-imposing over Nina’s story. I believe this is why The Bright Hour resonates so well – many people know of someone who have had (or currently has) cancer.
There is no happy ending here. Nina was unable to see her own book published earlier this year. Nina Riggs died at the age of 39 on February 23, 2017. Consider picking this book up.