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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Read this book: Cancer is a Bitch by Gail Konop Baker

If you are looking for something to read, please do yourself a favor and check out the new memoir Cancer is a Bitch (Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Mid-life Crisis). It's a wonderful, extremely honest account of her bout with breast cancer as well as the ups and downs of her marriage, being a mom, struggling with being a writer and much more. The passage I quote below ("I love him. I hate him...") and other moments where she reflects on the imperfections of her marriage really spoke to me.

As someone with loved ones who have cancer, I found her perspective helpful, too, though obviously each person is different.

She's about to go on book tour. Catch her in your town as well as at The Debutante Ball.

Here's my review:

In her subtitle, Gail Konop Baker wishes that instead of dealing with breast cancer, she could be battling a mid-life crisis. Well, she manages to tackle both with extreme candor, humor, and an openness that is enough to win over any reader, even if they don't think a cancer book sounds like much fun.

It's not, but that doesn't mean Baker is morose. She worries about her future, and more so, in a way, her family's, continually picturing her husband paired up with her yoga teacher or "Laura New Hampshire," a former neighbor. It's in exploring her almost-20 year marriage and its ups and downs that Baker truly shines, especially as her illness is part of that; her husband is a radiologist, and her fear over his reaction to her having cancer, adds to her overall stress.

She writes: "I love him. I hate him. I want him. I don't. But why doesn't anyone tell you how risky it is to trust another person with the all f you, to imprint your life with their life? How frightening it is to love and let yourself be loved? That to stay with someone you have to get over and get on and be willing to redefine the marriage over and over again. And compromise. Always compromise." These thoughts recur throughout the book, but they are not neurotic worries that can be annoying in memoir or fiction, but rather the very real worries about a life suddenly in chaos.

At one point, Baker notes that all her friends are reading Nora Ephron's I Feel About My Neck, and she wishes she could feel bad about something other than her breasts. When describing the physical changes, she harkens back to her days feeding her children, and later it's her daughters who help her pick out a purple bra.

Baker is not only concerned with her own well-being. In "Cancer Snakes Its Way Through the Neighborhood," one of the most moving chapters, she looks around at her neighbors and what they struggle with. Along the way she separately confronts each of her parents over how they handled their childrearing duties, pushing each relationship forward.

This is a book about cancer, yes, but it's really a book about love and family, ambition and hope. The writing hut Baker's husband built for her is a symbol of who she yearns to be, and even though you are holding the product of her efforts in your hand, already know in advance she has succeeded, you feel for Baker's thwarted writing dreams. This is a gutsy, brave, powerful, funny and tear-inducing memoir. Baker doesn't shrug off her diagnosis, but she learns how to live with the uncertainty of it, and embrace each day, and her family and friends to the fullest. That may sound sappy, and maybe it is, but it's sappy in the best kind of way, because it's real and questioning and raw. Kudos to baker on achieving her dream(s) and giving us a peek into her marriage, her family, and her heart, along with her doctors' offices.

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