of Uplift, by Barbara Delinsky |
This book is a "must read" for anyone who has a family history of breast cancer, is currently undergoing treatment for it, is a survivor, or is close to anyone who has breast cancer or has survived it.
Breast cancer, while predominantly a "female disease" does strike men (it also strikes transgendered individuals, especially those on female hormone regimens).
The need for a book with a title like "uplift" becomes apparent when we stop and think about the place of the female breast in modern culture. Mass media and many aspects of our culture fixate on breasts in such a way that many women feel defined by their breasts. Consequently, breast loss can have a profoundly diminishing effect on a woman's self image.
In some locations, the emphasis on breasts has become extreme. I live in Kansas City, which is second only to Hollywood for the number of breast augmentations done per year (both in actual numbers and per capita). In the late 1990s (while in KS), I had a girlfriend who was so striking that my buddies referred to her as "that goddess."
But she didn't see her incredible beauty. She agonized over the fact she was small-breasted (an A cup). Not only was she beautiful, she was intelligent, articulate, and entertaining. If you had a list of the 1,000 most desirable characteristics a woman could have, you could check off one after the other in her case.
Despite her looks, brains, and personality, she was immensely insecure. She even chewed her nails down to the quick. The problem, in my opinion, was she succumbed to false comparisons that left her feeling she was somehow deficient because she wasn't carrying around huge levels of silicone, saline, or adipose tissue on her chest.
One time, she asked, "What do you see in me?" I was so stunned by the question, and so incapable of knowing even where to begin, that I couldn't reply quickly. She took this as confirmation that she wasn't "woman enough" and said so. That's about on par with saying Lance Armstrong isn't "biker enough." Yet, this idea dominated her self-image. She typifies what many women go through, even without breast cancer. Imagine the feelings after losing a breast or two.
How could this woman, with so much going for her, become emotionally impoverished over what is basically a minor cosmetic attribute? Especially when, only a few generations ago, women in America bound their breasts in an effort to hide them? That's a good question. It's one to think about.
In the meantime, think about how devastating it must be for most women to lose a breast or both breasts. That is one of the many issues facing women with breast cancer. Men with breast cancer don't face that particular issue, but they share all of the other breast cancer issues with their female counterparts (including, for most men, the loss of hair).
Of course hearing "You have cancer" is devastating to anyone. While cure rates today for most cancers are high (if the cancer is caught early), we still think of it as "the deadly disease." Most of us want to survive, so we avail ourselves of modern medicine in an attempt--one that is usually successful--to beat the cancer. But the process is grueling, painful, scary, exhausting, and risky. With breast cancer, there are additional emotional pressures--especially for women.
Uplift takes us through every stage of the breast cancer victim's long ordeal, and it even follows up with survivors five years after. The book is essentially a well-organized collection of thoughts of people who made the journey, along with some thoughts contributed by those who traveled with them. Delinsky's commentary helps the reader keep those thoughts in perspective, and she does an excellent job of prefacing the material in each section.
I don't know how much material Delinsky actually sifted through. But the result of her labors is a mix that is variously uplifting, instructional, and insightful. There's nothing sappy or boring in any of it.
For example, how do you feel after reading this excerpt from a woman who talks about hiding her bald head from her husband of thirty five years. She'd let him see her only in a wig or turban (towel wrapped around her head after a shower). The pressure apparently got to her one day, after she let him in the bathroom:
"...but suddenly I decided to just take the stupid towel off my head, and I immediately started to cry. Mike held me, smiled right into my lashless eyes, and said, 'So what?' And I thought the best I'd ever heard was 'I love you.'"
Uplift brings real power to people who are fighting breast cancer, whether on the front lines or in a supporting role. Those who've read Uplift can stride into this ferocious battle, this fight to the death, with greater calm and a deeper well of reserve to draw from. Those who are in supporting roles will not have to clumsily grope their way through, but can instead understand how to be a powerful ally to the person they don't want to lose.
Most books have one or two strong chapters that stand above the rest. I can't say that about Uplift. It's all strong. It's all good. It's all worth reading again.
Unfortunately, I won't have the opportunity to re-read my copy any time soon, because it is going to a breast cancer survivor and then on to make its rounds. Yes, the borrowers will eventually buy a copy for their own bookshelves, but my copy will be gone for quite some time.
It looks like I'll have to pony up for a second or third copy, so I have one on hand. But that's not all bad, either: all of the author's proceeds will be donated to breast cancer research.