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Cancer Is a Bitch: Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis Paperback – September 22, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books; 1 edition (September 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738213705
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738213705
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,335,460 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

This is a gutsy, brave, powerful, funny and tear-inducing memoir.
Rachel Kramer Bussel
I think having cancer gave you your life back, just like a live, grown-up REAL woman we'll call Pinocchia!
Avid reader
I picked up this book and started reading; before you know it I was done.
Cheryl Koch

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Avid reader on September 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Cheryl Koch VINE VOICE on September 21, 2008
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By skrishna VINE VOICE on September 22, 2008
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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More About the Author

I am a former columnist for Literary Mama, a freelance essayist, an award winning short story writer and poet, an author, a health and patient advocate, a professional keynote speaker, a competitive runner, an occasional yoga instructor, a mother of three, and a breast cancer survivor.

At 16, I went to college where I studied literature and decided I wanted to be a writer. I'd written a "love" poem for a friend who stole my first love who had taken off for Colorado to find himself. I knew him well enough to know exactly what she should say to win him back. And she did and they even got married eventually. That poem was awful... something involving letting a butterfly go... but it ingrained the power of words in me.

By 18, I had my first poem published. By 20, I won my first writing award and was anthologized. But I was writing poetry and I knew that wasn't practical, so after college I moved to New York City where I figured I'd be discovered for some unforeseen talent and make my fortune. I worked at Telerep (the producers of Star Search) where I honed a very fine imitation of my supervisor, which I would perform for my co-workers, and eventually got me fired from that job, but hired as a stand-up comic in Chelsea. The problem was that the imitation wasn't funny unless you knew the supervisor. After that I decided I would be a famous actress, so I studied acting at the Stella Adler studio, where I discovered how much I sucked at acting. And how talented I was at waitressing.

From there I took a job at a yeshiva for Russian Immigrant children at the very end of the D line in Brooklyn mainly because the Rebbe hired me. While I am Russian (half) and Jewish, I don't speak a word of the language and the Hasidic Jews who worked at the yeshiva didn't consider my liberal, reformed, non-practicing, cultural Jewish identity, very Jewish. They tried to convert me (inviting me to Shabbat, offering to fix me up with their brothers) which might have worked, if the Rebbe hadn't absconded funds from the organizations immigrating the Russian Jews, bankrupting the school.

I was back to waiting tables to pay my rent, when I met my future husband, a WASPY oxford cloth wearing Dartmouth graduate, heading to medical school the following year. Not my type at all. But we fell in love anyway and both got jobs at Park West High School in Hell's Kitchen. We were too naïve to worry much about the metal detectors at every entrance, the hallways we were told to avoid, the rapes and assaults in the bathrooms. And our students loved and protected us. It was sort of like To Sir With Love without Sidney Poitier.

The following year we moved to Hanover, New Hampshire for my husband's medical training. I was hired to teach high school English in Windsor, Vermont, an old, run-down, mill town where most of my students were stoned and the chairman of my department was a raging alcoholic. This was the town next to the town where it was rumored J.D. Salinger was holed up (whom, I swear, I saw at the grocery once). I started a master's program at Dartmouth, left the teaching position at the end of the year, was hired as an advertising executive for a television station (I really wanted to be the anchor but not having any experience kind of got in the way), where I sold, wrote, directed and performed in television ads.

After I gave birth to our first child, and my husband graduated from medical school, I stayed home and started writing again. Then the years start to blur...two more husband's residency (100-120 hour work weeks), and nine moves before we ended up in Madison, Wisconsin. The one constant was my writing.

In my early forties, after the kids were finally in school, and the short story publications and awards started rolling in, my right boob turned on me. Seven biopsies in five years, the last one ductal carcinoma in situ.

Almost three years ago, a few weeks after surgery, I kissed and waved my children off to school and thought I should go to my desk and either revise my novel or send out some queries or start a new novel, but instead I sat by the window and stared at the split rail fence and counted knots. My body was knitting itself back together and I was thankful my cancer was caught early, was non-invasive, that the surgeon got clean margins, that I was regaining my energy, doing all the mother things I always did, but inside, I felt numb, paralyzed, utterly confused about who I was. I didn't recognize the skin that covered the flesh that harbored my tainted cells. I didn't know how to be me.

I felt as if the diagnosis revealed the mortal flaw I had managed to hide all these years. As if I had no right to be a part of the healthy world that I had crossed over from, to the unlucky side. No means, no memory of how to throw my head back and laugh, really laugh again. I thought about the future, the one I'd imagined with me launching my children and myself, my world widening after years of driving the car pool, living a life that revolved around other people's lives. Waiting for my turn. And I saw myself at the mercy of the medical world, me and my medication with all its worrisome side effects, me and my fear of recurrence, of letting my children down, of burdening those around me, of forever being The Woman Who Had Breast Cancer and the pity it inspired. I'd lost my voice. I had nothing left to say.

I stared out the window while the kids were at school and watched the late winter wind rattle the trees and picked up my pen and snapped it on and off and on and scribbled in my journal, my hand shaking as the words poured out about my mammogram and core biopsy and lumpectomy and sitting topless in the oncologist's office on Valentine's Day and worrying that at the best I'd live a terrified existence from doctor's appointment to doctor's appointment, in six month increments, and at the worst I'd die and abandon my children when that was the one thing I had always been determined not to do, and I wept and curled into a fetal ball and fell asleep and dreamt about my old black lab and my old self and woke up startled that this cancer thing wasn't just a nightmare.

Those words, culled from my journal, were the seeds that inspired my "Bare-breasted Mama" column, which in turn inspired my memoir Cancer is a Bitch. And as much as the whole cancer thing really sucks, I have to admit that the sense of urgency it spawns, is a kick-a** motivator.

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