Alison Jones feels like she never stops moving. With five school-aged children, a busy husband, and a full-time job as a high school maths teacher, Alison’s days begin before dawn and conclude well after midnight, with gym visits, work, school pick-up, meal preparation, Parent’s Association meetings, and her children’s extracurricular activities all slotted in between. ‘Purposeful pandemonium’ is Alison’s normal, and she loves it.
But everything changes in the summer of 2008. Alison breaks her arm during a family holiday in Tasmania, and routine x-rays show that the break is unusual. Although reassured that it is probably nothing to worry about, Alison is told to see an orthopaedic surgeon, and back home in Melbourne, she makes an appointment. Then, after a series of tests, Alison is given the shocking news: the break in her arm is due to multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, and it is both rare and incurable.
Stunned, Alison initially struggles to adjust to her scary new reality. As a busy mum, she is worried about how her treatment regime will disrupt her children’s lives, and she is terrified for herself, too – her own mother, Valda, died of cancer eight years before, and Alison remembers all too well the soul-sucking treatments that only seemed to leave her mother sicker and more drained of energy.
But then Alison’s community rallies around her, and on every day except Saturday – the Shabbat – friends and family begin to deliver hearty, home-cooked meals to the Jones’s. Alison knows more than anyone that not needing to cook is like having a holiday, and as she and her family navigate the murky waters of her first year with cancer, the daily meals become a comforting constant in their lives, and a heartwarming reminder of their community’s love and support. With her family and her community by her side, Alison soon discovers she is stronger than she ever thought possible – and when her son is tragically diagnosed with cancer, too, she is right there to support him.
Funny, sad and profoundly moving, The Jones Family Food Roster is a powerful new memoir from Melbourne-based writer Alison Jones. Charting the most challenging year of Jones’s life, as she juggles intensive cancer treatment and her roles as wife and mother, the book has its fair share of heartbreaking moments, and you’ll find yourself getting teary-eyed as Jones contemplates the harsh reality of her own mortality, and agonises over the thought of not being around to look after her children and watch them grow up.
But The Jones Family Food Roster also makes for empowering and intensely comforting reading, with Jones’s resilience and hope acting as a reminder that in the face of trauma and hardship, we are so much stronger than we think. Jones says that ‘from the first week of diagnosis I realised I had to make this disease work for me and turn the cancer on its head,’ and her spirited fight against the disease is inspiring to follow. The remarkable support shown by Jones’s family and friends speaks to the power of community, too – and the fourteen annotated Jones Family Food Roster recipes interspersed throughout the book provide us with moving and fascinating insights into the people who rallied around Jones during her cancer treatment.
Beautifully written, deeply poignant, and genuinely uplifting, The Jones Family Food Roster reminds us about the importance of community and of our capacity for endurance and strength, even when faced with the darkest of days. A wonderful read.
Alison Jones is a Melbourne-based author.