Regine Stokke, a seventeen year old living in Norway, was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of leukemia (a blood cancer)—acute myelogenous leukemia or AML—in 2008. She decided that she would blog about what it’s like to live with a life-threatening illness. Her blog became the most widely read/popular in Norway, and her story was known to the entire country. Because of her moving tale, many of her countrymen, particularly teens, were motivated to give blood. Others donated to cancer research. But more than just a tale of a ‘cancer hero,’ Regine’s story is an honest portrayal of a girl grabbing the good in life at a time when she knows she is going to die. It is also the story of having to make anguishing decisions at a young age.
As a part of her survival efforts, Regine has many painful treatments, including several bone marrow biopsies. She discusses what it’s like to be in pain so often or to fear imminent pain, and how she tires of trying when she has “one foot in the grave.” The one thing that helps her go on is her support system of friends and relatives. She often comments on how no one can achieve alone. She has a guest blogger, Ashild, who makes a connection between athletes (people with life-threatening illnesses are ‘survival athletes’), actors (‘the show must go on’) and cancer patients.
Treatments aren’t the only nightmares for Regine. She learns early that her cancer treatments will probably cause her to become infertile. She is asked to decide if she will freeze one of her ovaries although it is unknown whether eggs from the frozen ovary will be viable later, should she live.
Regine is not religious (She is asked in comments to her blog whether she is a Christian and her answer is ‘no.’) Yet a few of her most comfortable discussions are with the hospital pastor, mostly because he doesn’t judge her.
Even Regine’s musings on losing her hair are poignant—she worries about whether to wear a wig or to go bald/wear a hat. She has the courage to post photos of herself bald, but still feels that she has lost part of herself in the loss of her hair. Yet, while she is going through all this, she continues to be concerned about nature and the destruction of the forest behind her house.
Regine fully understands what it means to be grateful for just an ordinary life, and that anything can happen to anyone at any time.
Though I’ve ceased to be amazed at the cruel things people happily do to others, I am saddened to see some of the nasty responses to a few of Regine’s blog posts. One person sends a message that he wants to come to Regine’s funeral. (I guess that’s a compliment?) Another asks, “When will you die?” Particularly awful is a post by NN, apparently a celebrity in Norway who blogs on fashion and other really important stuff. He asks if Regine deserves to be on the country’s list of top bloggers. One of Regine’s friends, Sofie Froysaa, writes a guest post to comment on these nincompoops. Sofie’s witty takedown of them is priceless.
Nevertheless, people are mostly supportive, and Regine’s story becomes news. Several newspapers seek interviews with her and post videos online. (She is bummed that one of them comments that she is “sentenced to death.”)
A goal of Regine’s is to make it to her eighteenth birthday and to be well enough to go to the Quart Festival, a music festival that includes some of her favorite bands and musicians (she’s a huge metal fan). Not only does she get to go, but she has all expenses paid for her and her best friend, and they both get VIP passes so that they are able to take close-up photos of the rockers. (Some of the photos are included in the book.) She also hopes to attend a Metallica concert, but is too ill. Later, when the RaumaRock (music festival) comes to town, the festival manager has Regine picked up in a helicopter so that she can attend.
An important concern about death for Regine is that her family will be devastated by the loss—and that, therefore, it would have been better if she had never been born. There’s a letter from Regine’s mother to the reader, addressing this issue.
The final section of the book is “After Regine” with reflections by her sister, her mother, and her good friends.
This is such a beautiful book—not just Regine Stokke’s writing, which proves her to be a thoughtful, discerning teen—but also the physical book itself, with its high-quality paper and print, its lovely photos and artwork. Regine is a talented photographer whose images were shown in two Nordic Light Photography Festivals; several of these are included in the book. I hope Regine’s Book will move you as much as it did me. I highly recommend it to all teens.