Funny. (“Fuck you, Joan Didion.” “Eat a lot of red dye.”)
Damn good writing…magnificently written.
All of these were thoughts–some redundant, none adequately capturing quite what I feel–that I scribbled while reading Gail Konop-Baker’s amazing debut memoir, Cancer is a Bitch.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Gail, and she’s just as honest, funny, and true as her writing. She’s also incredibly kind, gentle, and generous. (Apparently, my adjectives are like pairs of tube socks: they come in sets of three.)
Cancer is a Bitch resonated with me on a level I didn’t anticipate before I opened it. Because it so eloquently sent me back to a time in my own life that I don’t like to remember…and I’m not sure I’ve ever blogged about it. When I was a junior in college, my annual gynecological exam revealed moderate cervical dysplasia. Sadly, a common enough finding for many young women today—but at the time, at the naïve, still relatively unbruised age of 21, all I heard were the words “cancerous cells.” And then, “biopsy.” And “cryotherapy.” And my world unraveled.
The worst part of my own diagnosis was not the understanding that I would need to go through myriad humiliating, cramping tests and treatments, or the fear that the dysplasia would return again and again and again (it did), or the worry that I’d have so much of my cervix melted off that it would never help hold a baby inside when that time came…the worst part to my 21 year-old mind was the belief that I did this to myself through my own carelessness. And all of the shame and self-reproach and reckoning with my own fledgling sexuality that entailed. Compounding this was the awareness tucked in the back of my mind that I was damn lucky to have the regular medical care that caught those ugly, insolent cells early, that my parents’ insurance would pay for my timely treatments, that most likely, I’d be alright. Thousands of women don’t have that luxury. So knock off the self-pity already, right?
Anyway, I parlayed some of those emotions, and my resultant hypochondria, personal lifestyle changes, and obsession with my own mortality into lots of bad poetry (“Like turtles flipped on their backs before oncoming trucks, we don’t consider the sky until forced to.” Urgh!). I also funneled those feelings into a major health challenge I inflicted upon my protagonist in Driving Sideways.
The bottom line: Gail NAILS it in her response to her cancer diagnosis and treatment—from the ‘blurry pods of artificial light’ above an operating bed to the sudden and alarming urgency of time, and the aftershocks sent throughout her relationships with her husband, family, friends, and herself. And she does so beautifully, in a way so raw and real, brave and afraid, that reading her memoir actually felt like a form of therapy for myself. Her honesty is uplifting and heartbreaking. It made me laugh and cry and worry and cheer, it reminded me that every day is a gift. Look around, make peace, be grateful, be authentic, revel in life…call that friend, the one you always promise to meet for lunch. Just do it. No matter how busy you are.
Gail’s memoir is a gorgeously written love letter to life–one to savor, one to learn from, one to celebrate. One that will have an honored spot on my bookshelf.