A journalist gets more personal with cancer
By Joyce Wadler
My Breast—no words could not be more apt than that. In Joyce Wadler’s book, her breast gets top billing and lands the title-role, having gained her respect as a separate entity with the power to destroy her. She learned it the hard way after all when in 1991, breast cancer interrupted her in the middle of working for People magazine as an investigative journalist, writing her dream book, freelancing for another publication, and trying to keep a rocky relationship stable.
The book actually starts with Wadler discussing where she wanted her lumpectomy scar—a bit of vanity there, she knows—and how she looked her tumor “in the eye.” Her sometimes matter-of-factly, no-nonsense approach already sets the tone to how she later discusses her life in succeeding chapters.
Wadler tells her story with honesty, warmth, wit, sometimes self-deprecation, feistiness, and street smarts. She launches a bit on her family and professional background that indirectly explains what and who she is. Inevitably, she has to mention a lover who is admittedly obsessed with someone else and whose support is not really all there. Hey, it’s her life, right?
Bright and humorous, she tackles her story with a light, sometimes funny, touch, like how she talked of her lump: “I’m starting to feel this thing has a life of its own…like it’s gonna come flying out of my body any minute, like that thing in Alien, and run around the living room and put on the sports channel and ask for a beer.” Most important, Wadler knows her readers want the truth and so she gives it to them.
In details, she describes what it felt like going under the knife (she opted to be awake), under treatment, under inner turmoil while she tried to be brave. She even describes how breast reconstruction is done. It is like a blow-by-blow account of a sort, very informative.
Medullary carcinoma, stage 2, that was what she had despite annual mammograms and having no history of breast cancer in the family. Hers is rare and quite curable, but then it is not something to be lax about. In most part of the book, Wadler tells of doing her own research (force of a journalist’s habit, perhaps), being very inquisitive to doctors and seeking second opinions. She laments how her pool of surgeons seemed to have contradicting opinions prompting her to ask a nursing assistant who exactly was in charge. She finally got her best answer: “…in a sense, you are.”
And so Wadler decided to have a more take-charge manner, making all the decisions when it came to her cancer. The book then ends while she is just sessions shy of completing chemotherapy.
My Breast was actually first published on April 13, 1992 in the New York magazine, stressing the importance of early detection and getting second opinions. It’s surprising readership success then led to Wadler expanding it to a whole book that also became a hit. Much later, it was to be made into a film shown on CBS Television.
Considering the year it was written, some bits of information are a bit antiquated, what with the advent of newer technologies now like the digital mammogram. However, her story is history and the book as a whole is still quite helpful and informative. Cancer, after all, is yet to be obsolete and who best to understand survivors than those who are survivors themselves?
After the book, the author became an advocate of breast cancer awareness, speaking at seminars about her bout with cancer. It was a bout she eventually won.
“Score – Joyce: One, Cancer: Zero.” Yes, she kept score.
NOTE: This article was published in The Big C magazine (exact date to follow). To see more reviews, please visit my CRITIC’S CORNER….Thank you!