Thank You, Gail … by Deb Jess Riley

Gutsy.

Brave.

Honest.

Funny. (“Fuck you, Joan Didion.” “Eat a lot of red dye.”)

True.

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.

Deb Jess

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9 thoughts on “Thank You, Gail … by Deb Jess Riley

  1. Jess, this post is soo beautiful, I’m choking up here. I didn’t know you went through that, hon. Thank you for sharing that. That’s the whole organic food vegetarian thing we both embrace. Okay, I’m still choking up here. Can’t wait to see you and D in Madison. Maybe we can find some organic cocktails for our after the WBF night out!!!

  2. Jess, your final post reveals the truth and beauty of Gail’s memoir — all of us have (or will have) something to face, conquer and hopefully move on as better and improved for the experience. You most certainly did and, yes, your writing reflects/shares wise understanding. [Applause]

  3. Larramie, our comments crossed mid-stream! Thank you so much; you are so right that we will all have something to face and hopefully learn and grow from…and Gail captured this so beautifully. 🙂

  4. Yes, Larramie, that’s exactly what I’ve been discussing with audiences after my readings, It isn’t just CANCER. It’s anything that pulls the rug out and knocks you down. It could be divorce or a bad injury. And I can’t tell how grateful I am that you could see that the book is about suffering and triumphing over suffering. Something we all have or will face. Thank you Jess and Larramie!!!

  5. Great post, Jess!

    And Gail, that’s why I’m most looking forward to reading your book… like a lot of books, my writing is all about people who have the rugs pulled out from under them–except yours is TRUE! I think collapse under pressure is a universal fear, and that you’ve been through it and come out stronger (with sense of humor intact!) is really inspiring.

  6. Oh I just love all you women! Jess, loved your post and p.s. just finished Driving Sideways. What a fun trip it was. Thanks for that. And Gail, you made me cry at Chapter Four!!! I am LOVING your book.

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