It is indeed the challenging title of Leonore H. Dvorkin’s latest nonfiction book Why I’m Glad I Had Breast Cancer (WildSide Press, September 2005) that drives one to go for it. Only later does the reader feel glad for his choice as this short book makes a genuine case for looking at life in a positive light.
Dvorkin gives an account of her own experience of contracting breast cancer and choosing mastectomy for cure in the face of little social support, favoring her choice. Being a confident woman, well over fifty but physically strong, and a loving wife and mother, her account of life before and after mastectomy is remarkably unaffected and straightforward. Life came to her as a gift (being born three months premature) and she lived it in full swing, not surprisingly, more fully after her mastectomy. Not only does she retain her self-image of a healthy woman but also discovers the major factors responsible for the gross feminine self-concept with respect to breasts. A new image of the ‘athletic woman’ in American Society is thus born of Dvorkin’s genius.
An unsurpassed merit of the book is that the author is not bent on dramatizing situations. Emotional moments are narrated with their normal force: the news of having cancer, emotional parting with her elder sister before the mastectomy, the sacrifice to let her husband keep his fertility while she undergoes hysterectomy, and the loss of a breast versus more sorrowful losses that we all suffer throughout our lives. Dvorkin’s realistic style of narration adds enormously to the emotional impact of her story.
Lesson after lesson comes as a precious gift of Dvorkin’s brave encounter with cancer. We realize how others care about us; that shadows of suffering can be ousted with the bliss of intellectual achievement; that fear can be harnessed by reason; that aging is not the worst threat; that we must look at how far we can go from here instead of pitying over what we have been. Two great lessons of the book are most inspiring. First, real freedom lies in becoming one’s true self, ever freer of the expectations of others. Secondly, how to be self-conscious to the right degree and in the right way.
Dvorkin’s Why I’m Glad I Had Breast Cancer is the gift of her wisdom and fortitude not to be missed by any woman in particular, and anyone in general.
Note: This book was republished as Another Chance at Life in 2012.