In January 2010, Tan Siew Khim, in her late 40s, discovered a lump in her right breast while taking a shower. Though single, Siew Khim was part of a large, close-knit ethnically Chinese family, which rallied to support her once she got up the courage to tell them. Her sisters first took her to a traditional Chinese medicine clinic, then older family members arranged for her treatment at a Singaporean government hospital, where she eventually received chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. At a family-owned golf/holiday resort, Siew Khim learned the ancient Chinese techniques of physical exercise, breathing and meditation, as well as “yoga, laughter yoga, walking meditation, driving a buggy, photography, dancing, cycling, golf, English, and public speaking.” Two years after the initial diagnosis, she describes her recovery as “a personal choice to get well.” In her debut work, Lee’s thesis is that recovery is a choice: “Any cancer patient can—if he or she chooses to do so—learn to slow and even reverse cancer’s progression in the body.” While some readers may find their experiences or hopes resonate with Siew Khim’s, many more will find the arguments presented here both pernicious and insulting because they continually express the idea that cancer is the patient’s fault: “Instead of letting cancer triumph over her, she reclaimed her life”; “The perfect patient, and one possessed of an inordinately strong will, Siew Khim follows prescribed dietary guidelines”; by “changing her internal dialogue…[t]he cells in her body have started believing it too.” A list of references is supplied, but the ideas are presented uncritically; for example, poor diet and bad mental attitude don’t explain why world-class athletes (who must cultivate both diet and attitude) or infants contract cancer. Nor does Lee take into account the roles Siew Khim’s chemotherapy, surgery and radiation must have played.
While Siew Khim’s recovery is to be applauded, this book is poorly supported and full of magical thinking.