Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cancer Is a Bitch

Gail Konop Baker bares all in her memoir Cancer Is a Bitch: (Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis). I have no idea how Gail and I connected on Facebook, but I'm so glad we did. Once I discovered that she had written a book with such a hysterical title, I knew it was one that I'd enjoy reading.

"I imagine all the biopsied areas are cancerous and it spreads and...I become a pothead because why the hell not? I'll call my old pot connection from college and order the best. I'll get a giant purple bong and spend my days with my head floating in pillows of bong smoke, except I hate smoke. Smoke hurts my throat, which is why I was never much of a pot smoker in college. So I'll move to California instead and go to one of those bakeris for medically sanctioned users, like the one I saw on Weeds, and Mary Louise Parker and I will become best friends. I really like her. She's so down to earth and real and honest, except for the whole drug-dealing thing. But I'll help her find a better guy and do something about that brother who's driving her crazy. And when my hair falls out, she'll help me find a Farrah Fawcett wig. Finally, the hair I wanted in seventh grade. Hair that can't be mussed at night and saves me time in the morning - maybe this isn't so bad. Me stoned with good hair."
Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I fell in love with the characters, and at one point felt a little guilty, as if I were watching this family through their kitchen window. So much emotion is exposed through Gail's descriptions, conversations and she reveals her most intimate thoughts that I now feel I know her so well.
"I want to be brave. I want to be big. I want to be gracious and cool. I want to be the Audrey Hepburn of cancer. I want to be like that girl who went to my high school, Heather Arnold. Tall and lithe and wide-eyed, she had leukemia and when her long diaphanous white-blond hair fell out, she tied the most gorgeous silk scarves around her delicate head, sloped bell-bottom pants off her jutting hips, wrapped her bony wrists in loose sheaves of silver bangles. She wore it well. She made cancer look sexy. As if the very fact that she wouldn't be here forever made her mysteroius and irresistible, more valuable than the rest of us."
The funny thing about this book is that it's not really about cancer. I know, many people would argue with me. But the way I see it, this book is about life. Life as a Mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a lover and a woman who just so happens to have breast cancer.
"I'm not sure I trust the future anymore. It doesn't exist until it happens and it doesn't happen if you don't exist."
For many of us, the crazy, scary things that life throws our way are oftentimes more uncomfortable and more distracting to those around us. Moms will relate to Gail's need to make everyone around her comfortable and secure instead of being concerned for herself.
"I stare out the window and count illuminated mile markers and think, I don't want Mike to lose me, because he hates losing things and I hate being lost so it really wouldn't work out for either of us."
I've read other memoirs about dealing with cancer but none are so real and raw as this one. Gail's family loves her to pieces and it's obvious from the way she refers to them that they are an amazing group of people who is lucky to have her in their lives.
"The things I want, I've told him, many times, in therapy and out, can't be bought.

I want a deep and abiding companionship and partnership. I want each of us to be the soft spot for the other to land on, I want our home and our family to nurture and enrich all of us, I want our level of trust to be so solid that we can laugh and cry out loud, with our entire being. I want us to feel open and free to be our best selves and now I want my health. But he can't buy that either, can't give me what I want, and that makes him feel utterly powerless as a physician and a husband."
Gail's cancer is definitely not something she takes lightly, but the fact that life must go on allows us to see that Gail, or anyone, can live a "normal" life despite a positive diagnosis.


Anonymous said...

"I want to be the Audrey Hepburn of cancer." That quip alone is enough - I'm sold. Definitely going to check this out. You find the most interesting books, you know that?

Anonymous said...

Great review of a wonderful book -- wishing Gail all the best!

Katie Schwartz said...

Beautiful review, so accurate. Gail's book is brilliant and a great reminder of how important life is and those we choose to share it with.