Dr. Mark Tungesvik is a medical oncologist, hematologist and author of The Narrow Path, a fiction book series that explores themes of grief, finding hope and picturing the afterlife. Tungesvik, who is passionate about not only providing his cancer patients with medical care but also treating their emotional and spiritual needs, hopes his writing will help patients reflect, grow and find peace along their cancer journeys.
What inspired you to write your first book, The Song of the Bear?
The Song of the Bear was designed to reorient people to a new reality that allows for hope and meaning. My cancer patients often convey a sense of hopelessness and lostness. With The Song of the Bear, I hope to give them a positive picture by offering them a world that they can fall into.
The story focuses on a man named John, who lost his wife and is overtaken by grief to the point of almost going mad. The reader follows John’s path as he is pulled into a larger story. My hope is that patients can join in with John’s journey and find themselves being drawn into a similarly larger story healing a portion of themselves in the process. For cancer patients, I think this book is most helpful near the time of diagnosis.
What inspired you to write your second book, A Ship Called Eros?
This book was actually written for one of my breast cancer patients who has since passed away. She was getting bogged down with the burden of treatment and the restrictions placed on her by her cancer. Before her diagnosis, she led a very vibrant life, so the diagnosis completely upended everything.
A Ship Called Eros centers around a woman who has a debilitating disease and who is rejuvenated for several weeks to engage in a quest. The book is designed to give the reader a sense of breaking free from the weights that drag them down, enabling them to live a life free from those burdens. Sometimes, patients have been beaten down with treatment for so long, they can no longer picture what it would be like to be free. But they need that picture. They need that hope. The process of writing the book helped this particular patient greatly. My hope is that it can provide the same type of benefit to others. For cancer patients, I think this book is most helpful after being on treatment for some time.
What inspired you to write your third book, The Lake of Fire?
The Lake of Fire is the third and final book in the series. It was designed to give a picture of the afterlife. Many of my patients have a lot of anxiety when they think about dying, and a lot of what is written on the subject is not very helpful. What they need is a solid picture of what things will be like for them after they pass away — one that gives them hope. How we view the afterlife deeply affects how we live our present life.
This book was primarily written for my children so that they could have peace in this life. I have already given several copies of The Lake of Fire to patients who are within a couple of months from death. My hope is that it will bring them and their families hope and peace. Both of the patients have young children. Fiction is a medium that can reach people of all ages, which is what is needed to bring peace to the family unit as a whole. For my cancer patients, this book is intended for anyone suffering from anxiety over dying.
How do you approach death and dying with patients facing terminal illness?
Dying is walking through a doorway from this world into the next. For patients who have only a vague concept of what will happen when they die, this is nerve racking. I think the default picture of death is an endless cold void. If a patient is nearing death and still has this perception, the transition is very difficult. Some people have a vague picture of the afterlife from their faith but still harbor anxiety and fear from their conception of hell. We comfort patients as well as we can by discussing how we think their cancer will progress and assuring them that we can control any pain or air hunger as we near the end, but that type of comfort only goes so far. What these patients really need is a framework to understand the afterlife so that they can see death as only a door to be passed through on our journey to be reunited with our Father.
Is there an insert or a chapter that is your favorite part of the book? Why?
I love the first chapter, Running Free. It gives a picture of how we were originally designed to be and who we will be again when the world is once more made new. For followers of Christ, heaven is not an ethereal existence but instead, being remade and placed into new bodies that are able to tap into the endless power of the Father. I have never read another account of what society would look like, filled with such empowered people, or how it would feel to be one of those people. The chapter gives me a definite picture of what to hope for and makes me feel comforted.
How did you know you wanted to go into the field of oncology? What particularly drew you to the field/specialty?
As with others in the field, I did not pick oncology; it picked me. It was one of my last rotations in medical school that I took just to fill a slot. I had no intention of actually pursuing it.
The rotation was on the hospital floor. As I met the patients and the nurses who took care of them, I was overwhelmed by how real the interactions were. Cancer patients are vulnerable and, thus, very open as to who they are. It is a gift to be a part of such a person’s life. It is the close relationships we develop with the patients that draws us in and keeps us in.
You are a lawyer, as well as an oncologist, and now an author. Do you have any plans for another passion project?
My new project is to implement the three books into the clinic and assess how they help my patients. My thought is to give free copies to patients and have those that were helped by the books write a short blurb as to how they were helped that we can share with patients down the road as a way to further help people.
Purchase any three of Dr. Tungesvik’s books on Amazon