My grandmother fits into both of those categories.
This Sunday I will be exercising and supporting breast cancer awareness while participating in the 2010 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. In preparation, for my walk I have been reading some breast cancer memoirs. I have found that there are a number of really great ones (and a couple horrible ones).
Here are five memoirs that inspired me, cracked me up, made me cry and, more than anything, helped me to understand the ups and downs that come with being a breast cancer survivor.
"The Adventures of Cancer Bitch"
By S.L. Wisenberg
University of Iowa Press, $25, 160 pages
Written in chunks that read like diary entries, Chicago-local S.L. Wisenberg's "The Adventures of Cancer Bitch" is funny, touching, sad, uplifting and informative - all at the same time. The book, which was a blog first, starts with the story of finding a "suspicious place on a routine mammogram." It then takes readers through Wisenberg losing a breast, using her bald head as an anti-war billboard and ends with a list of some of the things that Wisenberg has learned from her cancer battle. In addition to personal stories, Wisenberg uses historical sources to discuss different ways the disease has been viewed over the years. In one such entry, she describes some of the first mastectomies in cringe-worthy detail. Overall this is a well-rounded look at a woman who is not only facing this horrible disease head-on, but is laughing in its face.
"Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics"
By Miriam Engelberg
Harper Paperbacks, $14.99, 144 pages
Engelberg turned to cartooning as a way to cope with her breast cancer diagnosis. Despite the fact that she was not a trained cartoonist, her drawings demand respect. They show a woman in pain, stuck in the harsh reality of having breast cancer, and what she goes through to deal with her disease both mentally and physically. Some of the most gripping points come when the Engelberg character communicates with any sort of medical professional. They way she describes their words and general coldness will make readers stifle a laugh while, at the same time, hope that your loved one is never spoken to like that. The real charm in the book lies in the juxtaposition between the subject matter and the childlike comics, which seem to make this woman's journey even more relatable.
"The Middle Place"
By Kelly Corrigan
Voice, $14.95, 288 pages
At the start of this book, Corrigan is undergoing treatment for breast cancer only to find out that her father has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, after previously surviving prostate cancer. As she describes her cancer struggles, she weaves in stories of her childhood, growing up with a big family in suburban Philadelphia. After lots of transitions between childhood and recent treatments, Corrigan eventually declares herself in "the middle place," which is the time in her life where she is both daughter and mother. It is also, she realizes as she writes, the point in which she truly comes of age as an adult.
By Susan Deborah King
Holy Cow! Press, $15.95, 135 pages
King has been a minister, teacher, therapist, poet and breast cancer survivor. In this collection of poems she channels her fears, desires, gains and losses into beautifully written short pieces that perfectly capture her struggles with cancer and her understanding of the nuances of the English language. She is a master of vivid imagery and her poems will readers to have visceral emotions. This is a quick read, but it is the type of collection in which readers will find a couple of poems in which they find particular meaning.
"My One Night Stand with Cancer: A Memoir"
By Tania Katan
Alyson Books, $15.95, 208 pages
The cover of this book is a cupcake covered with bright red frosting, which is immediately jarring considering the subject matter is cancer. Katan is a Jewish lesbian who found her first a lump at 21. In this memoir, Katan discusses what it is like to live through two separate cancer scares, but does it with humor. She talks about her past as an unfortunate, and dateless, high school drama kid and transitions to her present life of picking up women while bald and fantasizing about being a lesbian porn star. It is written with a dry kind of humor. But despite its laughs the books still shows the intensity and spirit that Katan used to fight cancer - twice.