British journalist Gabriel offers an unsparing memoir of life with breast cancer.
The culprit was most likely a rogue mutation, “just the tiniest chemical alteration of one of the bases on a nucleotide on a gene known as BRCA1.” Yet that mutation devastated the author’s life, giving her cancer just as it had likely given the same to her mother. Gabriel tells her story in a bell-clear voice that moderates between a race of words hoping to outpace an inundation of grief—they don’t—and with an unwavering eye trained at the details of the events. “Cancer for me takes place in nineteenth-century buildings,” she writes, “in old stacks of brick, seamed with soot from an era of railway and coal, buildings that have borne their load, done their bit, been rattled by trains and bombs and trucks.” The author charts the progress of the cancer’s treatment as it affected her body, and her fury at circumstance is aching and luminous. The most pungent writing, though, concerns her two daughters—“[t]hat the sight of their golden faces is not possible for me anymore because I know I have to leave them,” that they will live with a confused abandonment and long-lived sorrow like she did. The author laments that this miserable rogue mutation undercuts all matriarchal support, killing mothers and often their daughters. While the wolf circles at the door, Gabriel gathers herself for the uncertainty of the future, pushing at isolation and pulling at her family and her “compatriots in this strange country, the treacherous land after cancer.”
A fully flinching, glowing journey through grief, fear, loneliness, exhaustion and vulnerability.