If you need a primer on how to face terminal cancer with courage, grace, and even joy, pick up a copy of My Turn on the Couch: Our Cancer Journey, by Carol, Tony, Chris, and Darcy Alimenti (available on Amazon). The couch of the title refers to the family’s tradition of assigning any sick family member—whether suffering from a cold, flu, or cancer—to the same worn leather couch, where s/he was coddled and treated like a king or queen.
Over the course of this book, various family members get their turns, including the primary author. Carol eloquently narrates this heart-rending story of a family’s multiple battles with cancer, starting with their son Chris’s diagnosis of Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (ALL) in 2006 and followed only two years later by her own diagnosis with Uterine-based Leiomyo-sarcoma (ULMS), to which she succumbed at the age of 62 in 2015. The book also includes the CaringBridge journals for the nine-year span of both battles, epilogues by the caregivers, tributes presented at Carol’s memorial service (including a song composed by Chris), brief biographies of each family member, and other resources that might prove useful to those facing a similar situation. A gifted writer, Carol’s joie de vivre shines through every page.
In the course of these two primary preoccupations, the family also lost their grandmother (Carol’s mother, Anna Lemma) and their dog. Yet through it all, Carol, with a degree in environmental science from U.C. Berkeley, enthusiastically pursued her bucket list—taking lessons to develop her love of painting which led to exhibits and commissions, taking seven family vacations to Europe and the U.S., growing in faith with the support of Christ Community Church in Woolen Mills in Charlottesville, gardening, and writing—in other words, enjoying to the fullest what she had come to realize were the waning days of her life. She wrote children’s books— recently self-published with illustrations by a friend—made videos of herself reading favorite children’s books for future grandchildren, and wrote birthday, Christmas, and graduation cards for her own children to enjoy in their future without her. She even painted the cover art for this book. “It was too crazy to believe it was reality,” recalled Old Trail resident Tony Alimenti, still living in the house they built in 2014 to accommodate Carol’s disability. “Life has a different meaning for me now,” he adds. “I’m still young enough to decide to do something worthwhile with the time I have left.” He—like his daughter Darcy, now studying to become an acute care gerontology nurse practitioner at the University of Pennsylvania, before him—volunteers at U.Va. hospital as well as with the Crozet Trails Crew, among other activities. Chris, a thriving cancer survivor, inherited his mother’s writing ability and is studying English at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Editing the book was cathartic for the family, binding them together more closely.
Peppered throughout with inspiring quotations—some biblical and others literary—this book is a testament to the indomitable power of the human spirit to rise above death and disease. “Life was not meant to be easy,” counseled George Bernard Shaw, “but take courage: it can be delightful.” This book will move you to tears, as you listen to a voice from beyond the grave celebrating life, family, and faith. To learn more about Carol, visit www.carolalimenti.com.