Subtitled, "Essays from a Cancer Limbo Time," this collection of essays constitutes a memoir of living while dying. It was written during the time following the author’s acute treatment for Stage IV lung cancer, when she felt well enough to write--a period of approximately one year during which she was still taking oral anticancer medication. Based on journal entries and memory, Cumming reflects on what it is like to be in a state of "recovery" while at the same time, and variably, anticipating death. "I knew that my kind of cancer was not curable, and yet, for a spell, it seemed to have vanished" (xvi). How does one go about living in the face of "a very good partial response" to treatment?


Cumming, who died two years after being diagnosed with cancer, was a teacher of writing and literature and also wrote short stories, poetry, and essays. Recovering from Mortality is beautifully written, thoughtful, and honest. It presents the reflections of a woman who seizes on the event that has announced her mortality and is inspired by that event to pare life down to essentials, yet who also recognizes that it is easy to slip into the unaware habits of daily life when the immediate threat recedes. And who recognizes the satisfactions of those daily habits even as she is conflicted about losing "the simplicity, the intensity, the magnitude of days when I could hear each turning of the wheels over the track" (21).

Cumming discusses how, after the diagnosis, her husband did intensive research about treatment and outcomes while she gave little thought to treatment, concentrating instead on doing "the dying well . . . to live every minute of my dying" (65 ). She writes about what she needed from her doctors and what they were able to give, and how that changed during the vicissitudes of her response to treatment. She discusses her relationship with family, friends, neighbors--what she wanted from them, how they responded, and what she withheld from them. Throughout these essays, Cumming is acutely aware of herself but she is always thinking about the larger issue of what it is to be human. She hoped for the transformations she writes about to be shared with those who "might find my experience helpful" (xvi).


Winner, Independent Publisher Award (2006)


Novello Festival Press

Place Published

Charlotte, N.C.



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