Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Staying Alive

I am meeting psychologist Janet Reibstein in a few weeks she is the author of Staying Alive, a memoir about breast cancer in America spanning 50 years and she has agreed to be interviewed for my book. I'm thrilled. She is the first of several women I hope to interview about the experience of breast cancer in families and across generations.
Janet's book tells the story of three sisters - Janet's mother Regina, her aunts Mary and Fannie - and Janet herself. The three sisters, born in America to Polish immigrants, grew up in the pre-war depression era in a town called Paterson in New Jersey. All three sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer as young women. "Fannie died first, a young mother of three, followed by Mary... Regina struggled against her recurrent cancer until she was sixty-four, but inevitably followed her sisters." Janet decided to have preventive surgery — a double mastectomy — at a time when prophylactic surgery was still emerging. The intimacy of the telling, and the richly described cultural and historical backdrop in the book, provide invaluable insights into how people coped and still cope with breast cancer and the fear of it.
When I told Janet about my book, Mermaids and Monsters, she wrote this in her email: "I am really pleased to hear about your book and think it will make an important contribution -- for so many women, worldwide. One of the most gratifying things about writing Staying Alive was the response from women around the world who had read it and for whom it had made a difference, or who called on me for information or validation." I found this very humbling. It also fired me up again at a time when progress has been slow. I must keep writing, I tell myself, despite the commitments that often take me away from it, and the difficult emotions that sometimes make writing a struggle.
Thank you, Janet.

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