‘I’d Rather Be Dead Than Deaf’: An Unflinching Glimpse Into One Teen’s World of Art, Poetry, Music, Family, & Liver Cancer


I remember about a decade ago, while sitting in on an interview for what would turn out to be an incredible internship at a cancer-centered publication, I discussed with the publication’s President the importance of how we talk about cancer and how we communicate with those who have cancer. The main takeaway: a person who has cancer is not “just” a cancer patient or cancer itself; they are a mother, a doctor, a poet, a mathematician, a tennis player, a lover of orchestra, a brother… who has cancer. It’s an important distinction.

That’s what initially drew me to the journal of Adrienne Wilson, I’d Rather Be Dead Than Deaf: A Young Woman’s Journey with Liver Cancer, a posthumous mixed-media collection of diary entries, conversations, poetry, art, and musical selections experienced by Adrienne during her teenage years, while she was also living with a liver cancer diagnosis. It was immediately confirmed for me that this journal aligned with my beliefs about cancer diagnoses, found right in the title of the book and its introduction: Adrienne would not agree to certain treatments because those treatments would have led to traumatic hearing loss, if not full deafness, which would have taken one of her greatest loves, music, away from her, and Adrienne ascertained, “I would rather be dead than deaf,” pushing us (and those in her life) to remember that there was so much more to her life than liver cancer.

I'd Rather Be Dead Than Deaf by E. Adrienne Wilson

For someone who also went through her formative years in the ’90s and early 2000s, this book was rich with nostalgia, from the music selections to artistic inspirations to email chain response surveys, but more importantly, it was rich with a real person’s thoughts, feelings, experiences, and budding personality. Repeatedly, Adrienne addressed growing into herself, becoming her self, and celebrating her uniqueness, and it was as easy as slipping on a denim jacket in the fall time to celebrate those milestones with her.

Though I personally have mixed feelings about posthumous publications and whether or not publication is what the artist, writer, or performer would have wanted… I can’t help but believe, from this prolific journal that I read, that Adrienne would have been okay with this. It’s this beacon of artistry, originality, experimentation, and despite how we know this ends, hope—and hope is surely something that Adrienne would want more people, especially teens and other children with cancer, to have.

While it might not be written by one of today’s leading poets or most complex contemporary authors, this journal was heartfelt, raw in the best of ways, adventurous, and just so, so good. The former teacher in me was enthralled with this entire project, often laughing and often with tears in my eyes as I devoured the pages, honored to get to know a young woman I knew I wouldn’t get to know beyond its pages—and somehow finding comfort in being one of the fortunate people to keep her memory alive. May I be one of very, very many to do so, because this book was such a joy, and again, an honor, to read.



I'd Rather Be Dead Than Deaf by E. Adrienne WilsonGet Your Copy of I’d Rather Be Dead Than Deaf Here

I’d Rather Be Dead Than Deaf: A Young Woman’s Journey with Liver Cancer

Written By E. Adrienne Wilson, Edited by Andrea Wilson Woods

Blue Faery (March 19, 2024), 442 pages

ISBN-13: 979-8989552405



E. Adrienne WilsonE. ADRIENNE WILSON was a talented artist, gifted writer, voracious reader, and a budding musician when she was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma in May 2001. Some of her academic achievements include a UCLA Creative Writing Scholarship, Principal’s Honor Roll (all three years in middle school), Presidential Academic Achievement Award, California Junior Scholastic Federation Gold Sealbearer, and Outstanding Portfolio Award (8th grade). When Adrienne was diagnosed, she was finishing her first year of high school at Burbank High, where she maintained a 4.0 GPA. She completed two years of fine art studies at the Ragan Art Academy and was the youngest person accepted into the program at that time. Adrienne received honorable mentions in many art competitions, and her artwork was displayed in three Los Angeles galleries.



Andrea Wilson WoodsANDREA WILSON WOODS is a keynote speaker, a writer who loves to tell stories, and a patient advocate who founded the nonprofit Blue Faery: The Adrienne Wilson Liver Cancer Association. For over ten years, Andrea worked in the education field as a teacher and professor for public and private schools as well as universities. Andrea obtained her master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California; her nonfiction writing has won national awards. Her best-selling and award-winning book, Better Off Bald: A Life in 147 Days, is a medical memoir about raising and losing her sister to liver cancer.

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Written By McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan (she/her/hers) lives and writes in Europe with her family (originally from the Midwest). In addition to being the Editor-in-Chief of Lit Shark Magazine and the Banned Book Review, she is a novelist, poet, and book reviewer. She received her MFA in Poetry from Western Michigan University and her BA in English/BS in Education from Indiana University South Bend, where she began her work in publishing. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, Young Ravens Review, The Birds We Piled Loosely, and Encore Magazine, among others; and her book reviews and essays have appeared in The Rumpus, Green Mountains Review, Memoir Mixtapes, The Life Collective, Her Journal, Motherly, and more. When not writing, she enjoys reading, appreciating nature, and spending time with her husband and three children.




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