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Stanford University School of Medicine

Talking love, loss and making choices with novelist Joyce Maynard

I discovered novelist Joyce Maynard's new memoir, The Best of Us, through -- how else? -- social media. Earlier in the summer a mutual friend posted on Facebook that the best-selling author had written a new work detailing her husband's battle with and subsequent death from pancreatic cancer.

As Maynard is a prolific writer, it wasn't hard to find a website with an email. I reached out to inquire if Stanford Medicine could do an excerpt for the fall issue, and she responded immediately with an enthusiastic "Yes." And then, after a weekend mulling the proposal over, she came back with an even better idea. She said she read the issues I sent, loved the magazine and wanted to write an exclusive article based on the memoir.

Maynard's second marriage to San Francisco attorney Jim Barringer was all too brief. They wed in a New Hampshire meadow in the summer of 2013. Fifteen months later he was diagnosed and, after a grueling fight, he died in June 2016. For our Stanford Medicine readers, Joyce had something specific in mind: She wanted to expand upon issues raised in the book about the complex treatment choices one faces when challenged with the horrendous nature of cancer. In a Facebook post, Maynard wrote:

If you are diagnosed with a life threatening cancer, as my husband Jim was nearly three years ago -- or if you love someone diagnosed with a grave disease, as I did -- a profound question faces you. Do you fight the disease with everything you have and hold fast to the belief you will survive... no matter what the odds.... regardless of the pain you may both endure?  Or do you quietly and soberly consider the statistics, and -- when the situation becomes unmistakably grave - make the choice not to pursue further treatment?

She's written a beautiful tribute to Barringer's valiant fight, and we've called it "In the Fog of Loss". It's a look back at the choices they made together about his treatment. It's also a story about finding love late in life and losing it quickly. It's raw and wrenching and eye-opening, too. Anyone who has ever walked through the valley of death with a loved one will understand Joyce's journey as a witness.

She closed the article poignantly; I envisioned the soldiers of Gallipoli when I read it. The last line stings with sadness, and sits there for you to absorb:

From those first days after I met him, he was my guard dog, and the fight he undertook came out of his fierce commitment to remain at my side, no matter what. I see him now, in my mind’s eye, like one of those hero foot soldiers from long-ago wars, marching into battle to almost-certain death — the bullets whistling past his head, with one surely destined to fell him. He did not break his stride.

Maynard is the author of sixteen books, and her two most famous novels, To Die For and Labor Day, were made into major motion pictures. The Best of Us will be published in September by Bloomsbury USA.

More on Maynard's story can be heard in my 1:2:1 podcast with her, above. Maynard will be speaking with me on campus Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Previously: Stanford Medicine magazine reports on the future of vision
Photo by Catherine Sebastian

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