2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title
2009 Association of American University Presses Award for Jacket Design
Chemo brain. Fatigue. Chronic pain. Insomnia. Depression. These are just a few of the ongoing, debilitating symptoms that plague some breast-cancer survivors long after their treatments have officially ended. While there are hundreds of books about breast cancer, ranging from practical medical advice to inspirational stories of survivors, what has been missing until now is testimony from the thousands of women who continue to struggle with persistent health problems.
After the Cure is a compelling read filled with fascinating portraits of more than seventy women who are living with the aftermath of breast cancer. Emily K. Abel is one of these women. She and her colleague, Saskia K. Subramanian, whose mother died of cancer, interviewed more than seventy breast cancer survivors who have suffered from post-treatment symptoms. Having heard repeatedly that “the problems are all in your head,” many don't know where to turn for help. The doctors who now refuse to validate their symptoms are often the very ones they depended on to provide life-saving treatments. Sometimes family members who provided essential support through months of chemotherapy and radiation don't believe them. Their work lives, already disrupted by both cancer and its treatment, are further undermined by the lingering symptoms. And every symptom serves as a constant reminder of the trauma of diagnosis, the ordeal of treatment, and the specter of recurrence.
Most narratives about surviving breast cancer end with the conclusion of chemotherapy and radiation, painting stereotypical portraits of triumphantly healthy survivors, women who not only survive but emerge better and stronger than before. Here, at last, survivors step out of the shadows and speak compellingly about their “real” stories, giving voice to the complicated, often painful realities of life after the cure.
This book received funding from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
A professor and an assistant research sociologist, respectively, at the University of California, Los Angeles, Abel and Subramanian speak with scores of breast cancer survivors to explore, in depth, the post-treatment symptoms caused by radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, "giving voice to a neglected aspect of the breast cancer experience." The women talk with Pat Garland, for example, whose treatment left her with several debilitating symptoms, including chronic joint pain in her arms and legs, that her doctors dismissed: "there was no validation... They saved my life, but then the value of my life after they saved it with the chemotherapy was zero." The authors hear similar stories from other women such as Ida Jaffe and Leanne Thomas, whose post-treatment symptoms include "hot flashes, dental and vision problems, insomnia, memory loss, fatigue and depression." With cogent, compassionate analysis, Subramanian and Abel (herself a survivor) remind us of the lasting effects of cancer diagnoses, and the tremendous work still ahead for patients who must learn to trust their gut, and doctors who must learn to listen more considerately.