Garn Press Book Excerpt: Nancy Rankie Shelton’s 5-13: A Memoir Of Love, Loss And Survival
“Read this book,” a reviewer writes on Amazon. “That’s all I can say. Nancy Shelton does a phenomenal job taking the reader through this heartbreaking diagnosis and shows us the power of family and love. You finish this book feeling empowered because you learn that no matter what the outcome may be love never dies. This book stayed with me long after I finished it. I highly recommend it.”
At Garn Press we agree with this reviewer and would like to invite visitors to the Garn Press website to read the first chapter of Nancy Rankie Shelton’s memoir. The Press would also like to invite readers close to New York City to hear Nancy read from 5-13 at the Garn Press Author Celebration in the Rare Books Room at the Strand Book Store on August 26th and to come and talk with her about writing and publishing at Mercy College on August 27th.
5-13: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Survival
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-942146-35-3
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-942146-36-0
eBook ISBN: 978-1-942146-37-7
Hardcover & Paperback: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Waterstones
Imprint: People & Society
2011: Tuesday, December 27
I see all of him. His broad shoulders. His jeans sagging off his slim hips. His unshaven face. The Gator mug in his hand. His smile. Those killer blue eyes.
“Are you feeling as good as I am?” he asks.
We both love these slow mornings. The kids are back at work after a few days off to celebrate Christmas. The temperatures are moderate. We have the French doors open, exposing us to the vast green of our back yard. Few kids live in the neighborhood so, unlike our home in Baltimore, we hear birds chirping instead of children playing.
“Yea, I am. I love it when we have time alone together,” I say, my computer resting on my lap.
“Me too. It feels great to be back home.”
“You don’t have to remind me Mr. Florida Boy. ‘Born with sand between your toes.’ I know.”
“I’ve just finished reading the paper. I’m getting ready to wash the car.”
I’m not surprised Jack has his morning planned out. Even during our vacations, he maintains a routine. “Ha. So my dad got to you did he?” We had driven to Sun City Center to celebrate Jack’s 58th birthday, which falls so close to Christmas that it’s usually just given a nod, and Christmas with my parents and to show them our new car. In their usual banter, my father had pointed out the dead bugs on the grill, inevitable when one drives Florida highways for any distance.
“Yea, but he’s right. We don’t want to let those bug guts ruin the paint.” Jack smiles as he admits this. He and my father have a relationship based on teasing. They get their messages across to each other with a few jokes. A few challenges. Even a dare here and there.
We hadn’t really planned to buy a new car during this trip, but with our sights set on retiring and returning to live in this house in a few years it seemed like a good time to trade in our aging SUV. I was able to convince Jack that I wanted a car again, no pick up truck, no SUV. Just a plain old car. We’ve not owned a car for about two decades.
But we didn’t get a plain old car, instead we treated ourselves to a Mercedes Benz, something I’ve always dreamed of owning – never believing I would. We stumbled upon a great “deal” on a 2006 CLS 500 and negotiated the trade-in just two days before Christmas.
“How’s your grading going?”
“It’s going.” I set my computer on the chair’s arm and watch Jack. He’s not a leaner or one to sit down very often. He’s still standing, weight balanced evenly on both feet in a stance left over from his days in military boarding school. He’s got that twinkle in his eyes that I know means he’s going to tempt me away from my work.
Grinning, he says, “I see you didn’t shower yet. Wait for me. We’ll shower together after I finish the car.”
I can’t stop myself from matching his grin. I feel young again, sneaking sex when Conrad’s not home. “You know I’ll wait. That’s the best invitation I’ve had all day.”
Our friends typically spend their vacations surfing in Costa Rica, skiing in Colorado, or squandering their money in Las Vegas. When Jack and I are away from Maryland we almost always come to Gainesville to spend time with our son Conrad, his wife Kiley, and each other. When we left Florida in 2003 for me to start a position teaching in higher education, we decided to keep our home in Florida. After a few years, we sold the home where we had raised Conrad, and bought this house, in a golf course community, where we plan to live when we retire. Conrad and his wife Kiley live in the house now, which is a perfect arrangement for all of us.
Semester breaks are not a “vacation” for a full time professor. I keep up with the demands of my job, spending time each day grading, analyzing data and writing reports, or revising my syllabus for the upcoming semester. Jack is not faculty, he’s a research scientist. He stays in touch with his colleagues in the lab, but when he’s away, he really is on vacation. He uses the time to catch up on weeding, trimming the hedges, and making the constantly needed repairs to our sprinkler system. He has a 15-foot Stott Craft fishing boat, and he putters around keeping it in good running order. Once the boat’s batteries are charged and Jack’s made sure its motor is fine, we always spend a few days on Lake Sante Fe. No trip to Florida is complete without a drive to Crystal River where we swim with the manatees and spend time with our friends, Pat and Sue.
It’s not just the sunshine, cloudless skies and inviting waterways everyone associates with Florida that draw us to return every chance we get. We long for the spacious landscapes, green environment (not politically green but grass, trees, gardens), single-family homes, and roads lined with sidewalks. Gainesville is quite a contrast to Baltimore, where our other home is, where multi-story buildings block out any sunlight that might escape through the ever-clouded sky.
Jack ambles out of the study and disappears around the corner heading to the other end of the house. It’s quiet again. I easily sink back into my work. I’m making good progress and quickly put myself back in the “zone” and focus on the task at hand, shutting out the world around me. The semester’s end always means mountains of mental work. It’s not just about “grading papers” but the much more important work of reflection. Questions such as What did my students learn? How well did they understand the theoretical foundations of literacy development? and What adjustments will I need to make next semester? are constantly in the forefront of my mind.
I work for another hour before I’m slowly dragged out of my zone, realizing the dogs are barking too loud and too long. I turn my head towards the study door to hear better, wondering, Where is Jack? Why is he not responding to Gus and Juno? I continue to listen and realize there’s another sound coming from somewhere. It’s a guttural cry. My hearing impairment disallows me to identify the sound. It’s getting louder. I start to panic. I thrust my computer off my lap onto the floor and run out of the study calling out to Jack. “Where are you? Jack, what’s wrong? Why are you making that sound?”
The only responses are the dogs’ continued barking and an odd human-like sound I can’t identify. My hearing is unilateral and I can’t tell the direction of the sound. I run from room to room looking for Jack. After circling the house twice my fear turns to panic. I force myself to stop running. Standing motionless in the hallway, I ask myself, How will I find Jack? As soon as I stop, I realize the dogs are right by me barking and will lead me to the noise, to Jack, if I let them. I follow them back into the kitchen where I had already been but hadn’t seen Jack. Within seconds, Gus is standing next to Jack, who is lying on the floor.
I run to Jack. He’s flat on the floor, his body stiff but one hand is above his chest, shaking. Not knowing at all what to do, I sink down beside him and start pounding his chest because I think he might be having a heart attack and I don’t want his heart to stop. Crying out, “Don’t you dare die on me Jack. Oh my God Jack, you can’t leave me. Don’t you dare die.” I watch him long enough to know this isn’t a heart attack, but some kind of seizure.
I run back to the study to grab my cell phone. I dial 911 as I run back to the kitchen. I put the phone to my ear. There’s no sound. I can’t hear anything. Damn! The Bluetooth is on and it’s still in the study where I was working. I rush back to the study, grab my Bluetooth as fast as I can and hurry back to Jack. He’s still seizing.
Finally. “911. What is your emergency?”
“My husband is having a seizure or a heart attack or something. I need help.”
“Are you with him?”
“Is he conscious?”
Jack’s hand finally stops shaking and he’s able to speak. I tell the dispatcher everything Jack tells me. Jack was washing the car when he felt stroke-like symptoms. He explains to me, and I to the dispatcher, that he was able to negotiate himself back into the house, but only with great difficulty. He first felt his hand curl into his body, then his facial muscles pulled down making speech impossible, then his right leg became stiff and finally his left leg did the same. With deliberate determination he was able to get to the kitchen counter, which he leaned over to lower himself down onto the floor so he wouldn’t fall. Though he couldn’t speak because he was seizing, he cried out to me for help – that was the guttural sound that finally jolted me away from my work.
The dispatcher asks a series of questions. Jack can talk. He can think. He can tell the dispatcher his medical history better than I can.
After I get Gus and Juno in Conrad’s bedroom and close the door, I open the front door so the medics will have immediate access to the house. I rush back to Jack.
The paramedics arrive. Jack is fully conscious and he has most of his body movement back under his own conscious control, but his right hand is paralyzed. He is stable enough for me to walk away while the EMTs examine him. I call Conrad. He’s going to meet us at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida.
While the paramedics move Jack onto the stretcher I call my brother John to let him know something has happened to Jack – that he has had a seizure or stroke or something and we’re on our way to the hospital. The paramedics are pushing Jack out of the front door just as our neighbor, Eric, walks up.
“Nancy, what can I do?” Eric asks.
I hand him my house key. “Please let the dogs out of the back room and lock the house after we leave.”
“Of course. Here’s my phone number. Call if you need anything.”
I watch as the medics load Jack into the ambulance and then I climb in the cab next to the driver. Jack is stable again so there are no sirens, no lights – just a dreadfully silent ride to Shands.
As soon as the ambulance turns into the ER entrance, I see Kiley and Conrad. By the time I can climb out of the ambulance, the medics are already unloading Jack. Kiley and Conrad are next to me as Jack flashes Conrad a “thumbs up” to assure him he’s okay.
Within a short time frame, neurologist, neurosurgeons and internal medicine physicians surround Jack. As the physicians try to sort out whether or not Jack has had a seizure or a stroke, they take him out of the ER bay to complete tests.
Kiley and Conrad are talking to another physician on the other side of the glass doors that close off Jack’s ER bay. Conrad has his arm around Kiley’s shoulders. They look intimately connected. I’m grateful they are here. I walk out of the little room, which feels cold and empty. Conrad hugs me. Feeling his warmth gives me strength.
Soon I see someone pushing Jack’s bed back towards us. There are too many people in white coats moving in tandem with the bed. Jack, who just a few hours ago, was standing in our study in full control of his body, his direction, his decisions, now seems to be a miniature of himself, swallowed by white sheets, white coats, and white hospital walls.
The transport staff skillfully wheel Jack’s bed into the ER bay, lock down the bed’s wheels and turn to leave.
“Thanks guys,” Jack calls out to them. The ever-cordial man showing his gratitude.
We slowly file into the ER bay. Only one person has anything in his hands. That must be the doctor. Yes, he’s holding a clipboard. He’s taking command of the room without voicing a single word.
He’s a big man. He has dark hair and kind eyes. He rolls his stool up close to Jack, directly across from where I’m leaning on Jack’s bed, trying to remain upright. My body is shaking. My stomach hurts. There is no stool for me. There is one empty chair but it’s several feet from Jack’s bed and I’m not leaving Jack’s side. I feel tension in the quietness of everyone’s movements. No one is speaking.
Kiley and Conrad position themselves behind me. I feel the warmth of their presence even though I can’t see them. I grip the rails of the hospital bed. I squeeze hard to keep myself steady.
Jack reaches out and cups his left hand over my right. At first his skin, dried and cracked from the winter weather we left behind in Maryland, feels scratchy, but when he squeezes my hand all I feel is his love.
The doctor glances down at the report on his clipboard, focuses his gaze at Jack, and in a soft voice asks, “Is it okay to talk about the test results with everyone in the room?”
“Yes,” Jack’s voice is clear. “This is my family. They need to know whatever it is you have to say.”
No amount of bedside manner is enough for the words spoken next.
Jack has lung cancer.
About 5-13: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Survival
In 5-13: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Survival, the realities of sharing life and death exemplify what it means to live and to love and will resonate with readers.
It’s two days after Christmas and seven days after Jack’s 58th birthday. Jack and his wife, Nancy, are enjoying their morning in their second home in Gainesville, Florida, when out of the blue Jack has a seizure. That afternoon he’s diagnosed with stage four metastatic lung cancer. In the following weeks, the constant uncertainty and ever-changing diagnoses of his disease, his rapidly deteriorating health, and the stress and confusion of managing his treatment define their lives. After four emergency trips to the hospital that all result in lengthy stays, he fights back from everything, even partial paralysis, absolutely refusing to stay down.
By March, Jack is strong enough to return home to Maryland with Nancy, where he continues treatment while they try to pick up the pieces of their lives. He survives three more emergency admissions to the hospital, but the stays are much shorter and he experiences more outpatient than inpatient care. Though Jack is able to return to work, Nancy is not – she spends her time and energy supporting Jack’s efforts to heal and providing care and encouragement for him. Jack’s health continues to fail. On June 9th he dies.
Cancer is not the sum total of their lives or this memoir. Reflections of the 35 years they were together are woven throughout the narrative. Jack’s childhood, their first date, the birth of their only child, their relationships with others that shaped both their personalities are all part of their story. Nancy’s identity as a wife, mother (and mother-in-law), sister, daughter and friend are all part of the experience.
In 5-13: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Survival Nancy Rankie Shelton encourages readers to overcome their fears of cancer, remain steadfast and loving, survive the death of a loved one, and continue living. 5-13 is a brave love story beautifully written.
Five-Star Amazon Reviews
In 5-13: A Memoir, Nancy Rankie Shelton shares her experiences between the time of her husband’s cancer diagnosis and his death, just five months later. The work – which reads like a diary – is open, honest and confidential. Dr. Shelton invites us to bear witness to a wide range of emotions – heartbreak, anger, frustration and, most important, her abiding love. I could not put her book down.
As Dr. Shelton notes early in her work, our response to different events is entirely affected by the environment in which we find ourselves, and the people with whom we interact. With this in mind, she discusses with candor her emotional responses to both the medical personnel who treated her husband and the facilities in which that treatment occurred. What we see is that while modern medicine can achieve so much, it can also be complicated, intimidating and stressful for patients and their families. Moreover, again and again, we see that while expertise matters, so does practitioners’ humanity. Dr. Shelton longed for her husband to be seen as more than a “case” or a “patient;” rather, she longed for him to be seen for the husband, father, friend and highly-respected geneticist that he was. There was much to take in here, and I am certain that I will be thinking about Dr. Shelton’s words for a long time. I highly recommend this book.
Nancy Rankie Shelton’s 5-13, A Memoir of Love, Loss and Survival is a breathtaking read. It is work of great courage but also a literary triumph. Like an uncut diamond it is rough reading in places and then the light fractures and you feel the surge of an enduring human spirit who is not frightened to love, face death, and then reimagine her life. Death is a common theme in fictional novels, so it should not surprise us that several nonfiction books dealing with issues of mortality have become best sellers. Dying with dignity, end of life decisions, assisted suicide and advances in health care are important topics in today’s society. Nancy Rankie Shelton contributes to this body of work in her book, 5-13, A Memoir of Love, Loss and Survival, which leads the reader through her husband Jack’s cancer diagnosis and his death, with moving vignettes of life and love woven throughout the text. With the publication of 5:13, Nancy takes her place along side Mitch Albom, Joan Didion, Randy Pausch, Paul Kalanithi, Oliver Sacks, Atul Gawande, and Diane Rehm.
What a touching story to read. I have lived with two family members battling cancer. One of these was a child who battled it twice and lived for many years before finally losing his battle in his 30’s. I felt myself reliving all of our family’s experiences during those years and also in the very same hospital here in Gainesville. I also knew Nancy and her family when I was younger, her son was a friend of my sister’s. To hear her talk about her experiences just touches the heart.
Read this book. That’s all I can say. Nancy Shelton does a phenomenal job taking the reader through this heartbreaking diagnosis and show us the power of family and love. You finish this book feeling empowered because you learn that no matter what the outcome may be, love never dies. This book stayed with me long after I finished it. I highly recommend it.
Magnificently written! A great way to find healing no matter your loss.