By Olivia Garrett
Keith Hardeman wrote the book no one ever wants to write.
Part memoir and part how-to-guide, Hardeman’s 2020 book, “The Shadow of Trepidation: Reflections on Caregiving During My Wife’s Battle with Breast Cancer,” details his family’s experiences with the illness.
“The first line of my preface is, ‘I never wanted to write this book,’” Hardeman said.
Hardeman — a professor of communications at Westminster College — learned that his wife, Shelley, had breast cancer in December 2017.
For more than a year, Hardeman detailed his wife’s illness and treatment online at CaringBridge, a website where individuals can share medical updates with friends and family. Using CaringBridge, the Hardemans were saved the emotionally draining ordeal of having to update everyone in their lives at every step of the journey.
Instead, Hardeman could write one post every time there was good or bad news to share. The writing also helped him work through his feelings.
After Shelley Hardeman beat cancer, he realized he had a book on his hands. Keith Hardeman turned his blog posts into a book, with the intention of helping other caregivers with loved ones diagnosed with cancer.
“I wish I would have had a book like this when my wife was diagnosed,” he said.
Shelley Hardeman knew about the CaringBridge updates, but she didn’t know her husband wanted to turn them into a book until he’d pieced together the narrative. When he had it put together, he asked what she thought before going forward with publishing anything.
She read it in three installments.
“When she finished, her face was red and puffy and she had been crying,” Hardeman said. “She said, ‘It was beautiful and I think you should publish it.’”
Rereading his old posts, texts and emails for the book was difficult for Hardeman too. When she was sick, Hardemann said he and his wife were in an emotional hell.
“I clearly was in a bad place during some of those times,” Hardeman said.
But for those facing the same tough road, Hardeman hopes his work will be helpful.
After former student and cancer survivor Heather Gehlert read the book, she wrote for the Columbia Daily Tribune it is also a love story. The Hardemans have been married for 30 years.
“As it turns out, it’s also a book about interpersonal communication,” Keith Hardeman said.
Hardeman’s professional focus is on interpersonal communication. Cancer, he said, changes relationships — not only between those with cancer and their caregivers, but also with everyone else in their lives. The book focuses on that reality.
“The thing about cancer is you don’t quite know if you’ll ever beat it,” Hardeman said.
Even after remission, cancer can come back. That fear has stayed with Hardeman and inspired his book’s title.
“You get on edge with every scan,” he said. “That’s why it’s called ‘The Shadow of Trepidation.’ It changes you.”
“The Shadow of Trepidation” can be purchased at the Westminster Bookstore or online from Amazon.