Being a breast cancer patient can be lonely. Even with supportive friends and family, no one really knows what it’s like to endure the shock, anger, grief, and stress of being diagnosed with cancer, and then to undergo the scorched-earth treatment of it. No one knows what it’s like to put up with exhortations to ‘stay positive’ and ‘be brave’ when you feel like a train wreck. No one knows how you feel when you are surrounded by marketing images that trivialize your disease, that dress up its harsh reality in a gloss of pink.
But suppose you had a kind and thoughtful friend who had also gone through it. Suppose you got to sit down with her and talk for hours. Suppose you could ask her every question you could think of, and finally get to hear all the details of her experience, delivered straight-up, without the pretty-in-pink nonsense that leaves you feeling isolated and ignored. Finally, you think. Someone who really gets it! That’s what it’s like to read Nancy Stordahl’s memoir, Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person.
Many of us have gotten to know Nancy from her popular blog, Nancy’s Point. I came upon her blog some time in 2011, and was struck from the start by her honest, unvarnished prose. We quickly became cyber-friends. Like many of her long-time readers and blog-sisters, we’ve come to know a lot about each other over the years. But, as with any friend, you want to know more. Reading her memoir was, therefore, an opportunity to get answers to all those questions I would ask her if she and I were sitting together in person, with nothing but time to commiserate.
Without giving too much away, I will say that one of the most poignant aspects of Nancy’s memoir is how she weaves the story of her mother’s experience with breast cancer into the threads of her own. As I read, I kept thinking of how such a circumstance would magnify the anguish, and about how many women have gone through exactly that anguish. Bad enough to watch your own mother experience its ravages, but then to be diagnosed yourself? Hell on earth.
All these years after my own diagnosis, I find I can only stand to read precious few books about cancer. After treating cancer patients all day in my job as a physical therapist, after writing this blog for seven years, after reading countless blog posts and research articles, after losing so many friends, sometimes the last thing I want to do in a spare moment is to read another book about it. I’ve lost count of how many blog posts I’ve written rejecting the notion that cancer is some kind of blessing, or some sort of opportunity to build one’s character. In fact, I was writing about these and other aspects of breast cancer, and often feeling like one of the lone voices in the pink wilderness, before Nancy was diagnosed herself in April of 2010, and before she started her blog some months later. Although I hated discovering that yet another vital person had been diagnosed, it was a tremendous relief to find Nancy’s blog, and to know that someone else was willing and able to speak to these and many other issues from a similar perspective. The title of Nancy’s memoir says it all. How could I not read it?
And I’m glad I did. Any good memoir underscores the truth that the personal is universal. And so it is with Nancy’s memoir. If you’ve ever loved someone with breast cancer, cared for someone with breast cancer, faced the implications of BRCA gene mutations, or had breast cancer yourself, you will find something that resonates with your own experience. Even if none of the above applies to you, if you want to understand, to get past the deceptive tyranny of Pinktober, or to learn about the reality of facing a life-changing catatrophe, you will learn much from Nancy.
As she states in her introduction, Nancy’s intent is to share her own story about ‘cancer as I know it[…] because sharing is healing, empowering and hopefully helps us all feel less alone.’ Read it, and you will find a friend in the storm.