Magazine writer Nash (Altared States, not reviewed) shares her experience of breast cancer.
The author was in her mid-30s, married with two young daughters, when she learned that a close friend had lung cancer. She quickly became convinced that a sore spot in her own left breast must also be caused by cancer. It was not, but the mammogram did show suspicious calcifications in her right breast. Nash writes frankly and movingly about the emotion-packed period that followed: she had a second mammogram; a very painful biopsy revealed that she indeed had cancer; and she underwent a lumpectomy that was supposed to solve everything. It didn’t. When told that she would need a modified radical mastectomy, Nash began exploring her various options for breast reconstruction. After meeting women who let her see and touch their reconstructed breasts, she chose the “free-flap” procedure, which utilizes abdominal skin and tissue and provides relatively normal-looking results but requires a considerable recovery period. Her description of successful reconstruction will make this account of surviving breast cancer especially comforting to many women. Nash has distilled her story into 13 short chapters, each of which is called a “lesson” and opens with a one-paragraph summary of the message she wants to pass along to others. These range from admonishments to trust your instincts (i.e., if you think you have cancer, keep pushing until you find out for sure), to reminders that courage takes unexpected forms, bad news needs sharing, caretakers are only human and may not behave as you need them to, and the culture’s pervasive images of beautiful bodies cannot be ignored. As Nash’s story ends, she is busy counseling other women who are facing mastectomies, showing them by example that “cancer can make you strong and courageous and peaceful and pleased.”
A survivor’s story that is both upbeat and candid.