I've never been so glad and yet so sad to receive post as I was today. I'm torturing myself with trying to write formal poetry for the creative writing course, which means a preoccupation with counting syllables, noting stresses and getting very stressed indeed.
Take Off Your Party Dress arrived today, sent from Minx, which came from Lowebrow. It has come from the UK to Ireland and will be going back there once I've finished this piece, as Debi Alper has already asked to be the next blogger to write about it. The idea is to raise blogging awareness and funding for the book's subject matter: breast cancer. The author Dina Rabinovitch is a journalist, whose speciality is children's authors.
The book is a collation and expansion of Dina's columns about her experiences of treatment: from her diagnosis, her chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation therapy and follow on chemo. In that vein the book uses the present tense, which would have suited the original journalistic immediacy of the columns, but in this gathering helps establish reader empathy (yep I shed a few too), almost as though we experience with Dina her fight against The Enemy Within.
In my own case, I found myself feeling for Dina's predicament of organising her treatment around her 'blended' family - I too have a blended (largish) family, with kids going off here and there to visit with dads. Dreaded school runs, organising meals, holidays - just generally being there, whilst having some sort of thing/money/writing to call mine own...
And so I found myself drawn hugely to Dina's secure sense of familial relationships underpinning her journey through the various stages of physical treatment and psychological changes. In particular her smallest son Elon's breast feeding is a major consideration, when considering the first stages of diagnosis. Her dilemma of choosing between herself and her child demonstrates in microcosm the beginning of many decisions that change her and her family life. Dina's story rings true with me, because it is a story of Everywoman. Some day, some of us will face the same trials. A real heart-breaking moment of identification comes when she examines, post op, the area where her breast used to be, and feels the moment of milk-summoning still within her body.
Rabinovitch comes across as a real fighter: getting on with life because she must. Coping with the changes of mastectomy, by looking for clothes that work with it, rather than hiding it, because this is how she is - not a person who tells untruths to her children about her condition, but someone who wears it as it is, even when caught in the bathroom!
We read how long it takes her to master her own fears and what her coping mechanisms are. But underpinning all is Dina's sense of faith in her own family, what they are and what futures they have too. There are answers too, to the small questions - the gloriously mundane ones like, what will I do while enduring chemo injections, or what moisturiser should I use to speed the scar healing process?
I won't lie and tell you that Take Off Your Party Dress offers miracles. What it does offer is an honesty so often unheard, and imbued with the wonderful quirkiness of a writer whose deft writing skill is admirable. I would urge you, if you have had your interest piqued to go out and buy a copy. Not enough is spoken about this disease and how it is treated and Rabinovitch marshalls this story with a huge deal of grace and dignity under immense pressure.
Indeed this blogging support that has began with Lowebrow and Minx for Take Off Your Party Dress will hopefully highlight how Dina's courage in writing her story of breast cancer can indeed become, paraphrasing her, a 'necklace of women across the world.' I really do wish Dina better, as we used to say to each other in school.
Makes stressing about stresses quite small, really.