Posted by: platmap | October 16, 2006

Cancer Memoirs

Cancer memoirs.  Not a category of book that I would normally gravitate to, given free choice.  But now my wife and best friend has cancer and so we will write our own cancer memoir, if only through the stories we tell about it.

So I become curious.  How do other people told their stories.  How have they stumbled through the disease and the treatment?  Have they rewritten important parts of their stories in order to emphasize “fight against the disease” theme?  The “hero prevailing against all odds” plotline? The “found a miracle cure despite the arrogance of western medicine” meme?  Does one spouse or friend or partner tell the story?  Does the person with the disease become a silent voice on the page?  Tonto peeking out from behind the Lone Ranger?  The Madwoman in the Attic?

The few memoirs I have read thus far (my wife’s diagnosis came only a little over a month ago) all have male authors. 

One, Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About The Bike , has offered the best introduction to the cancer diagnosis and treatment process.  I especially appreciate his unflinching and realistic descriptions of chemotherapy, which my wife and I are discovering have not changed much in the past ten years despite glowing marketing from the anti-nausea pharmeceutical crowd.   But Armstrong himself is an aggressive, narcissistic and altogether unattractive character.  He throws over the woman who stood with him during his treatment, took up with “a stud” named Kik, whom he promptly wedges into a Barbie show-wife role.  He praises her for the attentions she lavishes on him, but resolutely ignores her when she does non-Lance things…like go into labor.  “OK honey, let me order some beers and I’ll fly home…”

(Do go to Armstrong’s LiveStrong.org, however, and read, learn, donate, volunteer…great site, great organization).

Brendan Halpin’s It Takes A Worried Man at least is honest.  Halpin worries about getting laid during and after the cancer treatment.  He ogles the nurses.  He cries about losing his wife.  He does all the sorts of things that many men probably do in the same situations, and that’s the problem.  Stereotypical male behavior is unattractive, and I forever wondered what was happening with his wife, who after all is the one suffering through the disease and its treatment.

Gene Wilder’s memoir, Kiss Me Like a Stranger, offers sections on Gilda Radner’s cancer and death, and also on his own treatment for Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  The latter description is more detailed than the former, but both sections dwell on “when do I get laid again?” themes to a greater extent than I was hoping for.   Dissapointing overall, but I confess a renewed desire to watch all the old Wilder movies like Start the Revolution Without Me, All You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, and Young Frankenstein.  (We own Willie Wonka, and our Oompa Loompa tank is full).

I know that there must be a million other cancer memoirs out there.  Let me know what you’ve read and what has been useful to you.  I’ll read ’em all.

-J

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