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The cost of illness

Memoir takes reader through grueling ordeal

By Kurt Rabin

The Free Lance-Star

THE  AFFECTING story Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amanda Bennett tells in “The Cost of Hope” of the history of her marriage to Terence Foley,  and its ending, when her husband of 20 years and father of their two children, succumbed to cancer, would appear to be prime Lifetime movie material.

Especially the part where Bennett, unable to get her head around the fact that Foley, at 67, has finally lost his seven-year battle with kidney cancer, keeps refreshing her email, still hoping to see his name in her inbox.

Except there wasn’t anything about Foley—a Chinese historian who earned his Ph.D. in his 60s, an expert on film noir and Dixieland jazz and a man who had held such wildly disparate jobs as sports photographer and San Francisco cable-car conductor—that would comfortably fit on the small screen. Or even a widescreen.

Bennett, an executive editor for Bloomberg News and former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Herald–Leader of Lexington, Ky., first met Foley , then 44, in 1983, when as a 32-year-old she worked as a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Peking, the city now known as Beijing. Back then It was a dark, silent city and, as an American, she was keenly aware of the “aloneness” of her surroundings.

Perhaps that explains why one time—even though she was on deadline for a story on Chinese–Russian relations—she was unable to pass up an invitation to a party at a fellow journalist’s. That’s where, at 32, she became acquainted with 44-year-old Foley, an eccentric, overweight gentleman with owl glasses and bow tie. He had an outsized personality, and it seemed that for him,  anything was possible. Indeed, to curry favor with the journalist he passed himself off  as a Sino–Soviet expert, when in fact he was  director of the American Soybean Association.

When she eventually learned his real identity, she called him every name in the book and informed him, “You could have gotten me fired!” Then she stomped off. It’s a story she would tell 24 years later, at his funeral.

When Foley was diagnosed with cancer in 2000, Bennett never gave up hope.  “The dailyness of our lives,” writes Bennett, “that is what hope buys us.”  And the cost of that hope?  Their medical bills totaled more than $600,000.

Was the fight worth it? Absolutely, says the author.  Would they have fought the fight the same way? They’d have made smarter choices, cared more that the money was well spent. Health care prices,  the author would come to find out, are set as in a Chinese bazaar.

Kurt Rabin is a copy editor with  The Free Lance–Star.


By Amanda Bennett

(Random House, $26, 240 pp.)


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