Thursday, September 22, 2016
Reading & Writing Cancer
You would expect Susan Gubar to be a good writer. She is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of English at Indiana University. So yes, an English teacher should know how to compose a compelling lead, and how to structure sentences, and support and illustrate an argument.
But Gubar’s gift to us in CancerLand is that she brings her writer’s gift to some of the most unspeakable parts of cancer.
Gubar was the author of seventeen academic books, but her first book about cancer was: Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer.
In that book she made us care enough about her—and other women--to stay page after page through descriptions of surgery, depression, medical negotiation and treatment mishaps. We cared about her and we learned exactly what treatment for ovarian cancer looks like.
We also got to read her New York Times “Living With Cancer” column—where she brought practical info, education and the unanswerable questions too. Those columns helped patients, caregivers and medical specialists. Always of service, and always good writing.
And now, a lasting and last gift, in her last book: Reading & Writing Cancer-she teaches us to fish (and write) by showing how literature about illness and cancer can give us perspective and language, and also, crucially, she invites both the experienced writer and the “Oh, never me” writer to begin writing about our own cancer experiences as a way to heal.
The healing may be of the physical cancer, or of the acceptance of a terrible diagnosis, or of the grief, or over the existential reality of a body’s limitations.
This story book and writing manual and teachers tool is a final gift, and our challenge to take up the pen that Gubar has laid down, as she encourages us to keep reading and writing about cancer.