It Takes a Worried Man

In 2000, Brendan Halpin’s wife Kirsten was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer and took an aggressive course of chemotherapy. It Takes a Worried Man is Halpin’s sad, angry, hopeful, and often humorous account of his personal struggle against Kirsten’s cancer, telling how he coped with family, colleagues, child care, housework, and his own emotional state while his wife faced down a devastating illness.

Halpin describes Kirsten’s medical treatment but delves more thoroughly into things that make life bearable for him and/or drive him crazy while he struggles with the possibility of losing her. These include not only his family and his work, but also many comforting bulwarks of popular culture (especially zombie movies, the Powerpuff Girls, Phil Spector’s Christmas album and the hurtin’ songs of Johnny Cash and the Carter Family).

Admitting to his failings as a husband and father, Halpin never presents himself as a heroic or selfless man. He chafes when his mother and Kirsten’s parents miss the mark in their efforts to help, even though they mean well and try their best. Devoted to his teaching job, he reneges on a promise to spend a week at home with Kirsten in between rounds of chemotherapy. He is terrified that his wife will die, yet finds himself noting how attractive her oncologist is.

Honest and irreverent, Halpin offers insights both inspiring (“in a crisis, people will surprise you with their amazing kindness”) and not (“in a crisis, people will get on your nerves”). While Kirsten’s story is not completely resolved by the book’s end, ultimately Halpin learns to find hope in the small joys of everyday life.