Read of the Week

Cancer: A Love Story

Lauren Segal

M F Books

Review: Karen Watkins

This book is a memoir about surviving cancer four times before the age of 55. It’s also a love story, for Lauren Segal’s family, friends and community, but mostly for herself.

Lauren survived a melanoma and a double mastectomy, but two liaisons with this disease were not enough. Two years later, a phone call from her husband, a medical doctor, informed her of the biopsy result from a lump. It was thought to be scar tissue from the mastectomy and reconstruction surgery, instead it had been misdiagnosed and the cancer had returned, this time on her chest wall. The only course of action was chemotherapy, an operation to remove what was left of the tumour and radiation.

Born from a series of journal entries and reading a lot about breast cancer, Lauren ended up writing a book. The idea was to inspire and inform others, and there is a useful list at the end (Lauren is good at making lists), of chemotheraphy and dietary tips and resources.

With no holding back, Lauren takes us on her journey, exposing her tears, fears and fury. Sometimes her intimate descriptions are excruciating, triggering memories of loved ones who have gone through endless drips of drugs with the potential to kill. The chemotheraphy cocktails are followed by days of nausea, tiredness and pain.

However, the story is also peppered with a good laugh now and then, such as when her surgeon asks what shape and size she wants her new breasts to be. She had never thought of having bigger, smaller, perkier or more rounded breasts. She tells him she wants them to be exactly the same as the ones being taken away. Another fun story is when this fiery redhead loses her hair and is taken wig shopping.

Reading Lauren’s story, I could not help think of other women struck down by this harrowing experience. Women with no support system – financial, emotional or physical.

Lauren has the means to procure the best medical attention and advice and also to indulge travel whims.

It is while at an airport that a breast cancer advocacy blogger chats to her about pressuring the government to develop a more progressive breast cancer policy.

Lauren learns that one in eight women in South Africa get breast cancer and that women in the public hospital system die every day because of the time that passes between diagnosis and treatment.

This book will appeal to anyone suffering from breast cancer and those treating these women. It will also guide those close to someone with breast cancer and instead of helplessly standing by not knowing how to deal with the sufferer, there are many ideas of ways to help – such as the coffee girls who give Lauren a goodie bag of fun gifts before each of her chemotheraphy sessions.

Another friend gave her a jar with 18 marbles so that she could remove one after each chemotheraphy session.

We received 86 entries in last week’s competition for Do Not Open This Book by Andy Lee and the lucky winner was Dorette Kotzé of Paarl.