“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard
If the author’s name sounds familiar, it is because this is a sequel to her tremendously popular “Why I Wore Lipstick To My Mastectomy,” published 10 years ago. At the time of her mastectomy, she was 27 years old, enthusiastic, open and determined to enjoy every nanosecond of life.
Now, 18 years later, she is in her mid-40s, graying, sagging, moving up in pants size, with a teen daughter who is, well, you know, and an 8-year-old competitive-chess-playing son. The bloom is off the rose with her relationship with her amazing husband as they barely have time to speak to each other much less have a meaningful conversation; they are in couples’ therapy. “All the things I wanted so desperately, clung to life so I could keep, just feel like a drag at this moment. I sigh into the mirror.”
“Then Came Life” contains 17 chapters, each an essay on an element of her life. It is a very easy read in the sense that her words flow smoothly, and she lathers almost every situation with humor and wit. Also, it is educational and deeply poignant in sections. Educational in that she does point out the common misdiagnosis of young women, especially those with dense breast tissue whose nodules or tumors might not be picked up by mammogram. They absolutely must have additional diagnostic workup, MRI and/or ultrasound. Most do not get it and are not diagnosed until the late stages of the breast cancer or after it has spread, elevating their risk of not surviving. She also acknowledges the fact that most women know very little about breast health, cancer diagnosis, treatment options, and that too many women are reluctant to actually get the mammogram performed. She names some organizations that are working to educate and assist women.
One major issue she writes about is the role family history plays in breast cancer. She had no family history of breast cancer when she had her right mastectomy at age 27. Yes, family history, especially if a mother or sister has had breast cancer, does greatly increase a woman’s risk, but it is vital to remember that just being female is a risk factor. Men have breast tissue, but because they have relatively low levels of estrogen, they are at very low risk. However, fathers can pass the BRCA1/2 mutation on to their children, so an assessment of family history of breast (and ovarian) cancer should include both mother’s and father’s sides of the family. (breastcancer.org)
In the first third or so of thebook, the essays describe mostly the past, the mastectomy era, then afterwards when she and her husband, Tyler, experienced not one but two miracles — conceptions and births of their two children. The doctors were sure the cancer would make conception impossible. The middle of the book covers the more recent years. Lucas writes fearlessly about the ravages of middle age on her body and her spirit. I think most women over age 40 will identify with much of what she writes, but of course only cancer survivors can completely understand that aspect of her self-doubt/self-criticism. There is a chapter on 2-year-old Hayden’s (their son) interviews for nursery schools, that madness Manhattan parents buy into to ensure their child’s future admission into one of the “best” universities. The madness is revisited a few years later when Hayden goes on another round of Kindergarten interviews. Towards the end of the book she gives an update of 8-year-old Hayden and his life so far.
The final section of the book is the most poignant, the heart of her story. Lucas unflinchingly describes a period of dire crisis in her life. These final few chapters are like reading a letter from an old friend. She holds nothing back. This is a book that can be re-read when you feel stymied by life or, as a popular Righteous Brothers song states, “You’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.” What she writes about her relationships with her mother and with her own daughter will take your breath away.
“Then Came Life” is for anyone who cares about women and their health, not just women with breast cancer. If you have a friend or family member with breast cancer or who has survived it, you might want to gift them with this book. They will be educated, entertained and moved by this eminently enjoyable read. Think about giving a copy to the men in their lives as well, as this is as frank a description of what breast cancer does to a woman’s psyche as you are likely to find. There is so much more involved than just the loss of a body part.
Rating: 4.0/5.0. The book was just published and is not in the Collier County Public Library catalog, but is available in audio, e-format and hardcover editions at several major outlets. Visit her website at geralynlucas.com for further information.
Maggie Gust has been an avid reader all her life. Her past includes working as a teacher as well as various occupations in the health care field. She shares a hometown with Abraham Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, but Florida has been her home since 1993. Genealogy, walking on the beach, reading, movies and writing, are among her pursuits outside of work. She is self employed and works from her Naples home.