Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer

Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer

Susan Gubar

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 0393345890

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A 2012 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

"Staggering, searing…Ms. Gubar deserves the highest admiration for her bravery and honesty." ―New York Times

Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, Susan Gubar underwent radical debulking surgery, an attempt to excise the cancer by removing part or all of many organs in the lower abdomen. Her memoir mines the deepest levels of anguish and devotion as she struggles to come to terms with her body’s betrayal and the frightful protocols of contemporary medicine. She finds solace in the abiding love of her husband, children, and friends while she searches for understanding in works of literature, visual art, and the testimonies of others who suffer with various forms of cancer.

Ovarian cancer remains an incurable disease for most of those diagnosed, even those lucky enough to find caring and skilled physicians. Memoir of a Debulked Woman is both a polemic against the ineffectual and injurious medical responses to which thousands of women are subjected and a meditation on the gifts of companionship, art, and literature that sustain people in need. 2 illustrations

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historical curiosity quite soon, as soon as possible, sooner than possible. • 1 • DIAGNOSIS WHEN I HEARD the diagnosis of ovarian cancer on November 5, 2008, I assumed it was a death sentence. Lying on a gurney in a hospital hallway, I concentrated on accepting my impending mortality with equanimity. Scientific advances have not yet made a significant impact on detection or treatment and ovarian cancer remains largely incurable. The January 2010 Mayo Clinic website contests my judgment by

York: Knickerbocker, 1919), 3. (82) “pseudosocial conduct”: Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (New York: Picador, 1995), 193. (84) “draw a circle”: Kathlyn Conway, Ordinary Life: A Memoir of Illness (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007), 3. (84) “Treated . . . feel”: Ibid., 59. (85) “Cancer means . . . happen”: Joy Erlichman Miller and Monica Vest Wheeler with Diane Cullinan Oberhelman, Cancer: Here’s How You Can Help Me Cope and Survive (Peoria, IL:

indecisive or inefficacious. Frequently misdiagnosed, abdominal bloating or fatigue or indigestion finally gets explained by a CT picture of cancerous masses, probably deriving from the ovaries. There’s no talk of clean margins in these domains or of counting lymph node involvement, at least not to this patient. There’s no talk of a discrete tumor the size of a lemon or grapefruit either. At a glance (if the cancer is advanced), technicians will immediately deduce from the CT image that debulking

buckets or bags. Curiously sensitive to the touch, the belly feels defenseless, vulnerable, puffed out a bit (not bloated as before), but very delicate, uncannily skin-deep for the first time, instead of cushioned by a pad of flexible fat. Impossible not to place the pinky right above the pubic hair and stretch the thumb up toward the reconfigured belly button to sense under the palm a new bump (is that the bladder?), a series of wiggly tentacles (rearranged intestines?). Because of the new

woodchips to measure the lowest wingspan, which turns out to be forty-four times the length of my foot. Its roots must be yet more massive below the ground. When I return to the front door, as the bottom of the tree disappears in the darkness and the cicadas’ chirps build in a crescendo with the frogs’ croakings, I pray to the tree for acquiescence in what the future holds, thinking of the end of Rilke’s Duino Elegies: Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too, just once. And never

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