The Survivor and the Companion: Two Views into Breast Cancer
There are plenty of descriptions in books of boobs, breasts, bosoms, fun bags, melons, bazongas, nice racks and so on. However, there aren’t as many books devoted to them as a subject. Our female mammalian pectoral appendages, which take up so much of our time and male attention, don’t get taken seriously as often as they should.
Until something goes wrong.
While we’ve all laughed about our chest problems and protectors — the books that stay with me about breasts are the ones about breast cancer. And the best of the recent books about breast cancer is absolutely, positively A Breast Cancer Alphabet by Madhulika Sikka in which the author, a prominent DC news executive, details her experience with the disease.
Diagnosed in 2010, Sikka had access to the best information and services, but found she still had questions, anxieties, fears, joys, highs and lows. Hers is not the story of a warrior in pink or a victim in denial; it’s a real, modern woman’s honest, open record of what really happens when your secondary sexual characteristics may hold your death sentence.
Example: When she talks about hair, Sikka writes “You are allowed to be irrational about this one because hair is a BIG DEAL.” For anyone who has ever been through breast cancer and survived, for anyone who has ever had a friend or relative or colleague with breast cancer, and really, for anyone who has breasts, this book is the forthright compendium of emotions and experiences that will help get conversations started.
In an issue devoted to boobs, it might seem odd to move from a frontlist title by a woman to a backlist title by a man, but ESPN commentator Mike “Greeny” Greenberg’s 2013 novel All You Could Ask For is a startlingly original look at how three different women navigate their experiences with breast cancer. Greenberg was inspired to write the book by a woman named Heidi — a friend of his as well as his wife.
“The way Heidi’s friends rallied around her,” Greenberg told me in an interview last year, “was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” He was inspired to write about friendship through adversity, and does so with great empathy (Greenberg enlisted his wife, her best friend and their yoga instructor — all women — to help him get the female voice and perspective right). The result is a heart- and gut-wrenching read that will make you remember that no matter how much breasts might define a woman’s body, all women need to define her own life.
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