Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage and Cancer
by Antoinette Truglio Martin

She Writes Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-631-52262-0.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 07/24/2017
Review of the Month, August 2017

Nonfiction: Memoir

Antoinette Martin is a Stage IV breast cancer patient. Hug Everyone You Know is her compelling memoir about the importance of community while navigating a life crisis such as cancer. It is also a testament to the importance of mustering courage and not allowing a cancer diagnosis to define one's self. Initially diagnosed in 2007, her cancer battle has spanned more than 7 years. In 2014, her cancer returned. At the time of the writing of her memoir, she shared that the cancer has spread to her spine.

Martin always knew that she wanted to write about this experience. That's why she saved all of the e-mails and her hand-written journal throughout the cancer journey. But she found it a very difficult story to write. She credits the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) writers' program, "Visible Ink," with providing her the enouragement she needed to write the book. Visible Ink pairs current cancer patients with former patients who mentor them in writing about their experiences. Hug Everyone You Know is the result of that effort for Martin.

Martin refers to her circle of friends, family and colleagues as "My Everyone". Recognizing that the written word has always been her most powerful form of communication, she began to journal her cancer journey and craft e-mails addressed to "My Everyone." She viewed her cancer as a detour that required a community of caring individuals to keep her grounded. Martin wrote her emails to inform, update, encourage and reassure the people who mattered most to her. She did this because she recognized that her cancer diagnosis was not solely about her. It affected everyone who mattered to her. And she felt that her regular, honest (sometimes gut-wrenching) communications would be mutually supportive.

Some members of her My Everyone had already experienced their own cancer journeys. Others would begin their cancer journey during Martin's treatment. ALL members of her My Everyone would be an important link for her throughout the course of diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. "I credit the magic of e-mails with saving my sanity," she writes. "Because of e-mailing, I did not have to explain over and over again the latest episode of cancer treatment; instead I was able to send a single note to My Everyone. This saved me from hearing and saying the words out loud."

This memoir reflects the many different voices and loving intentions that were found in the e-mail responses from her My Everyone. These responses were validation to Martin that she was never alone. She credits her My Everyone with helping her learn to find courage through their loving responses. It is also a honest depiction of the trials of navigating the healthcare community, dealing with side effects of treatment and the challenges of trying to live a 'normal' life despite cancer treatments in progress.

As an oncology nurse of many years and a cancer survivor myself, I found Martin's writing to be a refreshingly real depiction of life as a cancer patient. Her writing also is a testimony to the endurance of the human spirit, the importance of love and community and the need for hope each and every day of the journey.

Antoinette Truglio Martin is a speech therapist and special education teacher by training "but really wants to be a writer when she grows up." She has been a regular columnist in local periodicals and had several essays featured in newsletters and literary reviews. Her children's picture book, Famous Seaweed Soup was published in 1993 (Albert Whitman Co.). She has an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Stony Brook/Southampton University. She is a Stage IV breast cancer survivor who lives in her hometown of Sayville with her husband Matt.

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