Dancing at the Edge of Life

Kirkus Review

A young woman’s articulate and passionate journal of the last 13 months of her life.  Warner, an award-winning poet and journalist, was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 30. Her intensely personal record of living with cancer, filling nearly a thousand handwritten pages at the time of her death, is a remarkable document. 

What is probably most astonishing is the spirit, the optimism with which she battler her cancer, first with chemotherapy, later with radiation therapy, and still later with bone marrow transplant.

Warner’s religious beliefs permeate her journal; to categorize them is impossible, even for her (she entered “private” on a hospital form requesting such information) but the phrase “earth-based spirituality” probably comes close.  A nature lover and an active environmentalist, she saw her cancer-invaded body as a metaphor for the earth: She likened the tumor growing in her chest to “Los Angeles suburban growth,” and when her breath came in wheezes, she thought of “the earth being strangled by overpopulation. 

A close observer both of the natural world and of her own body, she described herself unsparingly yet uncomplainingly as “ripening and aging like a fruit” as radiation took its toll, and she visualized the ordeal of a bone marrow transplant as a ritual of purification involving the mystic elements of water, fire, air, and earth, leading to a rebirth. The nature of evil, disease, healing, love, creativity, prayer, fear, pain, dying, death and reincarnation—Warner recorded her thought on all of these.

Three days before she died, she turned her journals over to her husband, who, in a brief afterword, recounts her final hours. A powerful account of a life fully lived and a death bravely faced.

(Review posted online: May 20, 2010) (Kirkus Reviews issue: May 1, 1998)