Reflective, upbeat, and hopeful; offers honest insight into the real trials and tribulations of a cancer patient as well as...

The Cancer Card

DEALING WITH A DIAGNOSIS

A lung cancer survivor offers hope for patients, families, and friends.

Van de Water’s whole life changed in an instant when, at 47 as a healthy nonsmoker, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. In this debut memoir, she traces her illness with first-person candor and an eye for medical detail. She shares her thoughts and emotions openly; just as important, she demonstrates an uncanny strength to overcome fear. “The odds were not in my favor,” writes Van de Water, “and I decided not to pay any attention to that.” There is a real sense of being present at the author’s side as the chapters unfold. Van de Water chronicles meetings with doctors and describes what it’s like to have a CT scan, biopsy, and PET scan (with reprints of her medical results adding to the realism). She also discusses her operation, recovery, and subsequent chemotherapy. All along the way, the author is unafraid to reveal her most vulnerable self, yet she maintains enough composure to rationally tell her story and accurately document her experiences. One of the more poignant chapters, “Hair,” is itself an essay on attitudes toward hair loss caused by chemotherapy. “People don’t question if a man is ill or going through chemotherapy when he steps out with a shiny dome,” Van de Water observes. “Hair, for women, is different.” Later, she proclaims, “Have fun with it.…Here is your chance to never have a bad hair day.” It is this kind of refreshingly candid and humorous perspective in the face of adversity that contributes to the emotionally earnest book’s readability. Particularly helpful at the end of each short chapter are the “tips” the author provides for both the cancer patient and the patient’s “team.” Upon returning home after surgery, for example, Van de Water counsels patients, “Do not feel guilty.…Be unapologetically selfish for one year.” She advises the team, “Do not ring the doorbell unless you are expected.”

Reflective, upbeat, and hopeful; offers honest insight into the real trials and tribulations of a cancer patient as well as valuable advice for those facing treatment.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4834-5496-2

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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