Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE RED DEVIL by Katherine Russell Rich


To Hell with Cancer...and Back

by Katherine Russell Rich

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-609-60321-3
Publisher: Crown

Sharp and funny memoirs of a bright, tough woman fighting cancer and winning. In August 1988, Rich, then a 32-year-old magazine editor, discovered a lump in her breast. She didn—t know it then, but as she puts it now, she was “entering Cancerland.” Her journey is a rough one and, at least here, has no end. She has a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. But by the time she’s 37, the cancer has metastasized to her spine, and there’s a terrifying episode in which she is temporarily paralyzed. Radiation treatment is followed by hormone therapy, but two years later, the cancer is back again and preparations begin for a bone marrow transplant. Three years after that, the cancer recurs in her adrenals, and hormone treatments begin again. Those are the bare facts, but Rich’s account is much more than a medical log. While in Cancerland, she falls in and out of love, joins and leaves support groups, changes jobs and doctors, meets “cancer queens,” who demand sympathy, and “kick-ass cancer patients,” who fight back. She tells what it’s like to be isolated from one’s co-workers and also what it’s like to have a totally supportive boss. Loneliness, friendship, and man-woman relationships are explored, as is getting used to an altered body. There are the usual medical mishaps and doctor horror stories, but Rich is no whiner. She is a wry and perceptive observer of human behavior and a crisp and spirited narrator of her own experience as a cancer survivor. The title’s “red devil,” incidentally, is Adriamycin, an intravenous drug she encounters in her first chemotherapy session and likens to Drano, for it’s so corrosive that if spilled on the skin it can cause third-degree burns. Read it and weep, and laugh aloud too.