Review: Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person

BY Susan F. Jobs


"Cancer is not a ribbon, a screening test, or a leisure activity. It is not a sassy t-shirt, a proclamation of survivorship or a gift worth giving. It is a disease process that ignites what is all too often a cycle of medical surveillance and interventions. For too many, it will be the eventual cause of death. They deserve better than this, and so do we."- Gayle A. Sulik, Pink Ribbon Blues

And that's where Nancy Stordahl's book Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn't Make Me a Better Person ends. Her book is a harrowing tale of one woman's experience with BRCA2 breast cancer juxtaposed against her own mother's death from the same disease.  Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon, it is a family's loss of a mother, a wife, which is the real story of breast cancer. Too often breast cancer is sold as a victory, a learning experience in a woman's life. But as Stordahl asks, "Why must there be great life lessons learned from cancer anyway? Who needs the kind of wisdom you garner from cancer? Who needs this kind of 'gift'?"

Cancer is scary, and for good reason.  A diagnosis knocks you off your feet, out of your job, sometimes out of life. It is messy, painful, and downright uncomfortable.  The treatment is difficult and often leaves lingering side effects. What Stordahl does is speak of the disease, because it is a disease, with unstinting and refreshing honesty. The book gives you permission to be angry, hurt, sad, all the non-positive emotions often discouraged when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer.

But most importantly, Nancy Stordahl reminds us that people die of breast cancer. Important people die. Beloved people die.  And breast cancer is a horrible way to die.

The pink ribbon of positivity has done good. It has reminded people to get screened, and it has helped to raise a huge amount of funds. But at the same time, it has been used to raise money for purely corporate pockets, including the pockets of several prominent breast cancer charities. It has become a symbol of the idea that everything will be OK, breast cancer is only an annoyance, just a year out of your life, and you'll go on happily from there. The pink ribbon as a brand is a misrepresentation of the truth of breast cancer. And, most importantly, it is not a cure.

Cancer continues to be the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Lung is the greatest cancer killer, followed by colon, stomach, liver and breast cancer. All of these cancers have their own ribbons of positivity, but still, millions die from these diseases every year.

Stordahl's well-written and heart-wrenching story is the loss of her much-loved mother and her own painful experience with the same disease, a tragic reminder that we still need a cure, that not enough money is spent on research for metastatic cancer, that nothing can paint such a horrible disease positive pink.  And in this month of pink ribbons and stories of triumph, that is a fact we all need to remember.

Nancy Stordahl is an an educator, author, blogger and freelance writer. Read her blog and order her book here. Nancy donates 10% of profits from all three of her books to metastatic breast cancer research.

If you would like to contribute money to finding a cure for metastatic breast cancer, METAvivor gives 100% of all donated monies to fund groundbreaking cancer research.

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