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Cancer Is a Bitch: (Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis) Hardcover – September 23, 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Baker, a former columnist for the online magazine Literary Mama living in Madison, Wis., is busy on her novel—with a protagonist she happens to have diagnosed with breast cancer—when real life intervenes. Shocked by a diagnosis of breast cancer herself, the 45-year-old mother of three begins a yearlong struggle to combat and comprehend the turn her life has taken. Baker and her radiologist husband trek to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Though her cancer has not metastasized and she's spared chemotherapy and radiation, Baker nevertheless faces the fear that the disease may return. As Baker grapples with the demands of motherhood and marriage, she also begins a relentless search to find the cause of her disease and head off its recurrence in the future—turning to organic foods, whipping up batches of organic face creams in her kitchen and avoiding electromagnetic fields. In this heartfelt memoir, Baker proves to be both humorous (she compares waiting for her follow-up mammogram results to a call back for an acting audition) and compassionate, as when a friend is diagnosed with colon cancer. (Oct.)
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From Booklist

Product of a home torn by paternal abandonment, maternal psychological breakdowns, and a brother’s mental instability and suicide, Baker married a radiologist, “a button-down collar guy from earnest, puritanical people” whose “world was clearer and cleaner, less sardonic, more sure than any I’d ever known.” But their nine moves in the first 12 years of marriage followed her childhood’s many upheavals, so having a family and finding and fixing a dilapidated house provided roots and fast-forwarded time, while allowing little opportunity to mull future plans. By 45, she had had cancer, was negotiating an ambivalent marriage, and then her family found her unconscious on the bathroom floor from a boozy mixture of pills and self-pity. Her risk of further invasive cancer is four to five times greater than the average woman’s, and frequent checkups chop life into three- and six-month increments. She has taken the controversial tamoxifen. Should she have preventive mastectomy? Radiation? The abstract risks concretized into everyday worries—indeed, all everyday aspects of the disease—are made wrenchingly authentic in Baker’s down-to-earth account. --Whitney Scott

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition (September 23, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738211621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738211626
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,203,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rachel Kramer Bussel VINE VOICE on September 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In her subtitle, Gail Konop Baker wishes that instead of dealing with breast cancer, she could be battling a mid-life crisis. Well, she manages to tackle both with extreme candor, humor, and an openness that is enough to win over any reader, even if they don't think a cancer book sounds like much fun.

It's not, but that doesn't mean Baker is morose. She worries about her future, and more so, in a way, her family's, continually picturing her husband paired up with her yoga teacher or "Laura New Hampshire," a former neighbor. It's in exploring her almost-20 year marriage and its ups and downs that Baker truly shines, especially as her illness is part of that; her husband is a radiologist, and her fear over his reaction to her having cancer, adds to her overall stress.

She writes: "I love him. I hate him. I want him. I don't. But why doesn't anyone tell you how risky it is to trust another person with the all f you, to imprint your life with their life? How frightening it is to love and let yourself be loved? That to stay with someone you have to get over and get on and be willing to redefine the marriage over and over again. And compromise. Always compromise." These thoughts recur throughout the book, but they are not neurotic worries that can be annoying in memoir or fiction, but rather the very real worries about a life suddenly in chaos.

At one point, Baker notes that all her friends are reading Nora Ephron's I Feel About My Neck, and she wishes she could feel bad about something other than her breasts. When describing the physical changes, she harkens back to her days feeding her children, and later it's her daughters who help her pick out a purple bra.

Baker is not only concerned with her own well-being.
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I just finished your book this afternoon. I couldn't put it down. My first (wildly inaccurate) impression was way off ! I was thinking.... is this going to be merely an intense screed, a wailing against horrid bad luck, an indulgent poor me diatribe against the inept medical community, a cry for help or a selfish attention-getting plea for sympathy?.....and honestly wondered where it would or could go. I kept on flipping the pages.....and the layers of humanity and vulnerability and FEAR began to build and it pulled me in, deeper and deeper until I felt as though I were personally going through your hell. But all the while, you managed to keep your midlife journey funny and poignant and courageous. I'm proud to say," I used to know Gail Baker way back when." I think having cancer gave you your life back, just like a live, grown-up REAL woman we'll call Pinocchia! Thank God you survived intact and sane. Now please, you owe the world some more tender, yet electrifying books!
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Format: Hardcover
Gail Konop Baker brings readers a heart-felt, gut-wrenching beautiful story in her debut book. Cancer is a Bitch is Gail's own personal story. I commend Mrs. Konop Baker on sharing her story as it takes a lot of strength and guts to turn your life into a book and not just any books but an outstanding, wonderful, incredible book. I picked up this book and started reading; before you know it I was done.

One thing that made this book really enjoyable was Gail's sense of humor through the whole situation. There was evidence of this from things like the titles of each chapter to the comments Gail made. I have only one comment to make and that is I will never look at a chicken breast the same way again. I just feel in love with Mrs. Konop Baker and her family. Gail Konop Baker is one author to be on the look-out for as she will blow you away but in a good way. I look forward to many, many more books to come from Mrs. Konop Baker.
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Format: Hardcover
Cancer is a Bitch. Doesn't the title just grab you and make you want to read this book?

I have to say, I really enjoyed Cancer is a Bitch. I was a little apprehensive when the author sent me a copy to review because what was I supposed to say if I didn't like it? "I'm sorry, but your experience with a deadly illness just wasn't interesting enough for a positive review on my blog." Thankfully, Gail Konop Baker didn't put me in that position in the slightest.

Most reviews you will read of this book will probably tell you that the best quality of this book is its humor. And yes, the humor is wonderfully sarcastic and heartbreaking at the same time. But I would argue that its best aspect is its sheer humanity. Gail is just a regular person with a horrible diagnosis. She's at a place in her life where she is questioning everything: her life, her body, her husband, her choices. The full title of this book is Cancer Is a Bitch: (Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis). But Baker is having a midlife crisis - unfortunately, she just has to include cancer along with everything else. She is completely relatable and loveable; she isn't that person who accepts her diagnosis graciously with a serene smile on her face. She does what any of the rest of us would do: she freaks out.

I have to go back to the humor in the book. I mentioned it earlier, but it is such an integral component of the book that I want to elaborate on it. I avoid books about cancer and disease a lot of the time for the simple reason that they depress me. A lot of times, I end up empathizing way too much with a character and their story haunts me for months. If any of you are anxious about that, don't be. Cancer is a Bitch is many things, but it isn't depressing.
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