Butler, Sandra and Rosenblum, Barbara
|Genre||Memoir (221 pp.)|
|Keywords||Body Self-Image, Cancer, Caregivers, Communication, Death and Dying, Disease and Health, Grief, Illness Narrative/Pathography, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Issues, Love, Medical Mistakes, Mother-Daughter Relationship, Mourning, Pain, Patient Experience, Religion, Sexuality, Spirituality, Suffering, Women's Health|
At the age of 42, Barbara Rosenblum learns, after several misdiagnoses, that she has advanced breast cancer. This book, co-written by Rosenblum, a sociologist, and her lesbian partner, Sandra Butler, a feminist writer and activist, is a record of their lives together from the diagnosis until Rosenblum's death three years later. Early on, Rosenblum decides that her dying will be exemplary and self-conscious, and she and Butler use their writing as a way to create an illuminating examination of their lives over those three years.
The book's title is accurate; the writing takes the form of alternating meditations by two women, on the effects of cancer on their relationship, their work, their families, and their social, political, and spiritual beliefs. Especially significant are the differences between their voices, and the differences between the experience of the person who is dying and that of the person who is going to have to survive and grieve. The writers bravely explore the conflicts between them as well as their profound bonds.
After a mastectomy and eighteen months of chemotherapy, Rosenblum has a very brief respite, followed by liver and lung metastases, and prolonged further chemotherapy. A few months after ending treatment, she dies at home.
The title's "two voices" are vividly present, not crafted into literary memoir form, but immediate in the access they offer to the process of apprehending terminal illness in all its effects on both patient and loved ones.
Rosenblum's health care up until diagnosis appears to have been astonishingly poor: several physicians failed to consider that the lump in her breast could be cancer, and when she insisted on a mammogram, it was incorrectly read. She sues her health care organization for malpractice and is awarded a large financial settlement. The effects of receiving this "blood money," as Rosenblum calls it, are complex, allowing the couple to travel and to fulfill many of their material desires in the limited time they have but, at the same time, it has a terrible significance, price of a shorter life, and false recompense for the agony of treatment and illness.
The passages in which Rosenblum draws up her will are especially moving; with courageous honesty both writers describe the painful emotions this process generates. Rosenblum resents the idea of others enjoying this tainted money, and Butler struggles not to equate the money with love, not to want it all as a symbolic replacement of her own loss.
Also notable (and a valuable text for teaching) is "Living in an Unstable Body," a sustained meditation by Rosenblum on her changing body, and the way cancer has affected her sense of what it means to be embodied. She analyzes the close interconnections between body, language, and truth, and the way cancer (and perhaps all illness, to different degrees) poses a threat to identity by disrupting these links, making the body alien, its messages incomprehensible.
|Edition||1996 (2nd, expanded edition)|
|Miscellaneous||This memoir received the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Non-Fiction (1992). First published: 1991|
|Annotated by||Belling, Catherine|
|Date of Entry||08/14/01|