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Enduring Ovarian Cancer

by Susan Gubar

Pub Date: April 9th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-393-07325-6
Publisher: Norton

A brutally honest account of the author’s ovarian cancer treatment and a staunch protest against the state of contemporary approaches to the disease.

In telling her personal story, feminist scholar Gubar (Judas: A Biography, 2009, etc.) remains the academic, looking for understanding not just in the medical literature but also in Frida Kahlo's art, Margaret Edson's drama Wit, Barbara Creaturo's memoir Courage and other women's writings, both formal and informal. When the author learned that most ovarian cancers cannot be cured because the disease is rarely diagnosed before it has reached a deadly stage, she made it her goal to help women recognize its early warning signs. A brief, somewhat dry chapter on ovaries and how they have been regarded throughout history precedes her personal account. For her, the treatment began with debulking—a drastic surgical procedure that she calls disemboweling—followed by rounds of debilitating chemotherapy. The surgery launched a cascade of intestinal disasters, including perforation, abscesses, loss of bowel control and an ileostomy. Gubar's description of these indignities is disturbing and graphic. She blames them not on doctor errors but on "the ruthless instruments, technologies, and formulas of the medical machine.” Doctors, she writes, have no alternatives to the standard treatments now available to ovarian cancer patients. In her case, remission followed, but so did recurrence, and she was faced with the decision of whether to undergo further surgery and chemotherapy that could retard but not halt the spread of cancer or to stop treatment and allow the cancer cells to take over her body. Gubar lets the reader inside her mind as she grapples with this issue.

Not just a grueling memoir of facing a deadly disease but a powerful exposé of the failure of medical science to find better ways to detect and treat it.