Blackly humorous debut memoir about surviving cancer.
An African-American married to a Frenchman and living in Paris, Norton was misdiagnosed by four French doctors before learning during a visit to her parents in California that she had inflammatory breast cancer. Over the course of the next 20 months, she underwent chemotherapy and suffered the attendant baldness, hot flashes, rashes and fatigue; then she had a mastectomy, a course of radiation and more chemotherapy. Into the gut-wrenching details of these treatments, the feisty author splices a kaleidoscope of delightful anecdotes: growing up in an affluent family under the scrutiny of an intellectually demanding father; sharing a treehouse with a novice taxidermist after college; her misadventures as a public schoolteacher; the stresses of life in Paris as a young wife and mother of a toddler. She also includes a scene in Tangier, where she blocked her dentist’s attempt to pull out her broken front teeth and then filed down the jagged edges herself. Norton is one plucky dame, and she displays a sharp eye for the human condition. Her challenging, awkward encounters—with doctors, nurses, even with well-meaning but clueless sympathizers—all have the ring of truth. Rejecting the model of super-survivor Lance Armstrong with his “excessive drive and talent,” the author indulged in Krispy Kreme donuts, counted on friends and family to pull her through and took long naps. When she was sick, she was very sick, and she leaves no doubt about how awful her experience was.
Norton calls herself a storyteller, and the tale she has crafted from a life-altering event is indeed hard to put down.