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Exploring breast cancer memoir

Gina Marie Wagner, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This précis explores the lived experiences of ten English speaking women journalists and/or highly acclaimed authors who have written breast cancer memoirs spanning the years 1975 to 2003. The ten narratives include: Breast Cancer: A Personal and Investigative Report (1975) by Rose Kushner, First, You Cry (1976) by Betty Rollin, The Cancer Journals (1980) by Audre Lorde, In the Company of Others: Understanding the Needs of Cancer Patients (1982) by Jory Graham, My Breast (1992) by Joyce Wadler, Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear, and Loneliness (1993) by Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad, Seeing the Crab: A Memoir of Dying Before I Do (1996) by Christina Middlebrook, Before I Say Goodbye: Recollections and Observations from One Woman’s Final Year (1998) by Ruth Picardie, The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned from Breast Cancer (2001) by Jennie Nash, and Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors (2003) by Barbara Delinsky. ^ The topic of breast cancer is universal. Nearly everyone is touched by breast cancer in some way. In 2008, the American Cancer Society reported that breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among women and one in eight women in the United States will contract breast cancer during their lifetime. In addition, the writing and telling of breast cancer stories provide a deep, meaningful legacy for future generations. ^ The primary questions which guide this study are: (1) What are the common themes which emerge from their stories? (2) How has this genre of literature transitioned from the mid-1970s to the present day? (3) What legacies do these memoirs leave for the next generations of women? The goal of this dissertation is to create a scholarly study of women’s memoir writing that appeals to a wide audience of readers, from cancer survivors and their families and friends to health care providers and activists, from teachers of women’s health to professors of women’s studies. This study provides a template for how women generally cope with a life-threatening illness like breast cancer. Through a discussion of common themes, this précis furnishes the reader with a sense of reassurance and guidance for the caregivers and women suffering from this disease. ^ Included in this dissertation is an extensive overview of the historical, political, and cultural underpinnings of breast cancer as a disease afflicting women for thousands of years and of the evolution of the literary genre of breast cancer memoir. Each memoir is dissected, and analyzed for common themes and evidence of the legacies presented for future generations. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Women's Studies|Education, Health

Recommended Citation

Wagner, Gina Marie, "Exploring breast cancer memoir" (2008). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3325857.