Buffalo enters "The Cost of Hope" just once, on page 145.

In a passage describing the desperate hunt she undertook to help her husband Terence Bryan Foley find a cure for the rare kidney cancer that was ravaging his body, journalist Amanda Bennett lists some of the places holding clinical trials of new cancer drugs and kidney-centered therapies that the couple considered joining. And so, this passage:

"So what did we consider over the years? On a white lined pad I recorded notes of the trials we were investigating. I scribbled place names: Memorial Sloan-Kettering. MD Anderson. Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Where is that? Buffalo. Buffalo? Fox Chase in Pennsylvania, from long before we have any idea where Fox Chase – a suburb of Philadelphia – even is. The University of Alabama and University of California, San Francisco. Even one in Nebraska. Nebraska?"

OK, so it's sort of a shrugged-off reference. But Buffalo's appearance in the text of Bennett's poignant new memoir of trying to save her husband from a cancer with near-certain mortality – a fight she will not win, though she believes to the end she must – shows, even in its brevity, how exhaustive Bennett's efforts on Foley's behalf were, and just how far she plumbed her own depths in order to expend them. If Roswell Park had been necessary to Foley's case, Bennett would have been here. No question.

Make no mistake, "The Cost of Hope" is not an easy read, nor a comfortable one.

The story of Terence Foley's seven-year struggle with a very little-known form of kidney illness, a saga that spanned 2000 to his death at age 67 in 2007, will hit close to home for many families who have seen devastating disease develop, all too abruptly, in their midst.

Bennett has clearly lived every moment of this experience, and had a notebook in her back pocket for most of it.

On a broader level, the memoir is not just a story of illness. It is a story of the relationship between Bennett and Foley, an erudite and colorful man, older by nearly a decade than the author, a guy who dressed formally, valued manners and new experiences and travel, and could speak five – or was it six or seven? – languages. Early in their marriage, Bennett used to wonder if the rumors were true and Foley was really a spy. He was that little bit larger than life, always. And they had a very real relationship, filled with passion and arguing and friends and children, the way the best relationships can be.

But, dark as the subject matter of cancer and loss might seem on first glance, Bennett's story is well worth the time, for a couple of reasons.

First among them is simple: Bennett is a thoughtful, riveting writer. A reporter who learned the trade as a young newswoman at the Wall Street Journal, including as a foreign correspondent for the prestigious newspaper – which is how Bennett met Foley to begin with, while on assignment in China – Bennett has since mastered her craft at news organizations across the country. Through her career, she has risen through the ranks as an editor, serving as managing editor at the Oregonian in Portland, Ore., editor at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Along the way, Bennett won honors for her work, including sharing in two Pulitzer Prizes. She now directs special projects and investigations at Bloomberg News. Those sorts of accomplishments don't always go hand-in-hand with a fine writing style, but in Bennett's case they do.

A second reason to read this memoir is the approach Bennett takes with her material.

Yes, this is a story of illness, and the shock and grief it brings in its wake. But Bennett – drawing on her journalistic training – turns Foley's illness into an opportunity to explore the costs of what it takes to bring a loved one through months and years of advanced medical care.

The fight to save Foley is one Bennett does not regret and would do over again in a minute. But it also is a window onto, as she terms it, the "cost of hope."

And so we have the analytic side of the memoir, in which Bennett looks at hospital bills and spreadsheets and asks, why did some of Foley's 70 CT scans cost more than others? Why did doses of certain drugs cost one amount under one insurance plan in one city, and another amount in another place, under a different plan? And on and on, to get at the true costs of her husband's final years.

"Terence never knew any of this, of course," Bennett writes, toward the end of her story. "He knew neither what was billed nor what was paid. I wonder now what he would have thought if he realized that the life-extending one-hour drip was billed at the cost of half an Ivy League tuition every time he sat down. I try to imagine his reaction."

Foley doesn't win his fight. By the end, despite knowing the high "cost of hope," in his particular case, the reader wishes along with Bennett that there were one more drug, one more treatment, one more possibility. Human beings are like that. When his death arrives, and despite the 200 pages we have traveled with Bennett, it comes like a punch in the gut.

Because, even when it seems to cost a lot, hope is still a bargain.

Charity Vogel is a News reporter and the manager of The News Book club.


The Cost of Hope: The Story of a Marriage, a Family and the Quest for Life

By Amanda Bennett

Random House

$26, 229 pages