Standing out in a sea of cancer survivors
With a detailed eye and keen honesty, Rabinovitch has chronicled how life goes on while you manage cancer.
TAKE OFF YOUR PARTY DRESS
While she was pregnant with her fourth child Elon, British journalist Dina Rabinovitch found a lump in her right breast.
By the time she consulted a surgeon about it, Elon was three years old. The cancerous tumour had become so large, the doctor?s face momentarily turned grey.
With a detailed eye and keen honesty, Rabinovitch has chronicled how life goes on while you manage cancer. Apart from negotiating a sea of alienating medical professionals and their jargon, she has to keep up with mothering seven children ? including three from her husband?s previous marriage.
Incidentally, her husband Anthony ? a gentle, benign presence in the book and a conduit between her and her male doctors ? is a top British lawyer. He represented Princess Diana, and now Heather Mills, in their divorce proceedings.
She notes wryly that well-meaning friends send her food and books on cancer ? both to feed her body and her mind with information, as though it will keep the cancer cells at bay. Consequently, she remains sceptical of the ?think positive? messages advocated by self-help medical books.
Rabinovitch?s strength lies in how she takes readers into the treatment rooms with her, describing the mammograms, biopsies, surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy with equal parts good and bad humour. Here is the waiting, the needles and the cold hands; doctor?s appointments segueing into one another.
I happened to lose my place in the book once. So similar were some of the descriptions of hospital stays that I continued reading a few chapters down
without noticing my mistake until much later. That is the kind of narrative and reality you get with Dina?s cancer: it throws a family?s ordered routine out of whack, only to replace it with a hazy monotony of drugs and fatigue.
While shopping for a book deal for Take Off Your Party Dress (parts of it first appeared as a column in London?s The Guardian newspaper and her royalties go towards breast cancer research at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Middlesex), Rabinovitch was told by one rejecting publisher that ?the breast cancer memoir is a crowded market?.
Perhaps, to stand out from the sea of cancer survivors, Rabinovitch has refused to let the illness take over her writing. The book ranges over various territory: from her Jewish faith and second-nature observation of religious traditions, to her job interviewing children?s book writers for The Guardian. Celebrity authors make cameos here: Anne Fine (Mrs Doubtfire), Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), and even a phone call from Madonna.
But this defiant eclecticism, unfortunately, can be confusing ? especially when the author touches on these different facets without giving deeper insight into each.
Nevertheless, the book is highly readable and has a lyrical quality in places. One of the most touching passages occur when post-mastectomy, Rabinovitch stares into a full-length mirror at her bandaged chest: ?Fluent breast-feeder, I could always summon milk at will. And what do you know? I can still do it. I am absolutely sure of the sensation, that old internal rush, and I can feel it to my right breast...and the tears are running down my face because I?ve made a mistake and let the grief in after all.?
It is a moment most women can identify with ? cancer or no. And this, ultimately, is the pragmatic human face of a once-taboo disease.
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