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“Segal’s account compels because of its visceral honesty.” Terry Shakinovsky reviews Lauren Segal’s Cancer: A Love Story

Published in the Sunday Times

Cancer: A Love Story
****
Lauren Segal, MFBooks Joburg, R265

“If this book helps just one person cross an invisible line of terror in their lives, I will have succeeded,” says Lauren Segal. And succeed it does, because this four-time cancer survivor’s book extends beyond cancer and illness.

We read of a childhood “like The Sound of Music before the war”; we warm to the insouciant optimist more concerned with her student romance than a first diagnosis of cancer. Decades later, a third diagnosis of cancer threatens that ebullience and “I am a cancer factory” becomes the pitiless internal dialogue. We recognise the stricken descent into terror as a universal one with familiar markers: self-contempt, shame, recrimination. “I circle the question of blame like a vulture,” Segal writes.

The fight for resilience, to remain capable of both taking and giving love, becomes a map of terror. Segal’s account compels because of its visceral honesty: a list of concerns about a mastectomy includes, “My fears are irrelevant. I won’t be here. I am dying.”

It is not only dying that the author has to stare down. Segal’s needle phobia adds further torment to her chemotherapy. We marvel as she chooses the “immersion therapy” of acupuncture and are aghast when it goes wrong.

We laugh at the coffee girls’ pink feather fan; we relish the chicken soup and flowers; we note the self-help truths intoned by an American therapist on a Skype call.

There are practical tips about what helped Segal, like: “I use anger and fear to paper over the long dark void that is opening up inside me;” or “I have tools and resources to conquer my distress.” – Terry Shakinovsky @terry_shak

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