Review by Joey Madia
It is a joy when two authors you admire for their positive messaging and high level of craft join forces—especially for a cause as worthwhile as childhood cancer.
Carola Schmidt is a pediatric oncology pharmacist and author of several children’s books, two of which are about her Ukrainian grandmother and her experiences leaving Ukraine and coming to American to escape the atrocities being committed by the Russian army, and then returning to Ukraine decades later. She is also the author of Bald is Beautiful, which is a letter to a young person with cancer.
When a Brave Bear Fights Cancer is filled with photographs by Mark O’Dwyer, the author of the Mawson the Bear children’s series. Mawson—sort of a Winnie the Pooh, especially when considered through the lens of books like The Tao of Pooh—is a dreamer and seeker who is a big fan of naps and working with his equally inquisitive friends to explore just what it is that drives and fulfills us.
The cover advertises this beautiful collaboration as a “Get Well Soon Gift,” appropriate for those five years old to 100+. It truly is generation spanning and a perfect opportunity for all the members of one’s family—and friends—to sit together and learn about the cancer treatment journey. Written in simple, effective language, the book starts at initial diagnosis and goes through the various treatments one many encounter. The text and photographs work together to demystify complex ideas, soften the edge of what can be a scary idea through use of adorable bears, and to provide visuals of the doctor’s office and other venues.
With a background in medicine, Schmidt does not shy away from the technical aspects of what cancer is and how the medical field treats it. There are images of healthy and leukemia cells and definitions of terms such as neutrophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes. Surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation are defined and discussed.
Although explored more fully in Bald is Beautiful, hair loss during and after chemotherapy and radiation is included here because it’s an aspect of the journey that brings out complicated feelings because our hair is a key part of our identity. Exhaustion is also mentioned. Many of my friends and family members who have faced cancer and its treatments have found that exhaustion was their primary challenge.
Through all of the science, there is one theme that this talented pair continually reinforces—you are not alone! Hold a paw, hug one another, makes friends with others on the journey—all of these things help with the physical changes, exhaustion, and bad moods faced by those with cancer. Something as simple as a greeting card can make it all seem better.
Making it all seem better is what Carola Schmidt and Mark O’Dwyer and their furry bear friends do best.
TITLE: When a Brave Bear Fights Cancer
AUTHOR: Carola Schmidt
PHOTOGRAPHY: Mark O’Dwyer