One morning in the shower Joyce Wadler, "a journalist, forty-four, Jewish, never married," discovers a lump in her left breast. In this brief, bright, and very readable account, Wadler describes what happened next, taking us through medical examination, diagnosis, and successful lumpectomy and chemotherapy.

But this is much more than a simple patient’s story. For one thing, Wadler is an intrepid researcher, and we learn a good deal about breast cancer and the often agonizing therapeutic choices its victims face. For another, she does not separate her medical adventure from the rest of her life, which includes a day job as a writer for People magazine, a book project, a semi-functional relationship, and a Jewish mother.

Finally, Wadler uses her ironic-sardonic sense of humor to great advantage--remarking, for instance, that through her post-diagnosis impulse to live in the present and not worry about her lover’s monogamy, cancer had made her "the dream girl of every uncommitted man in Manhattan"!


Wadler begins her story by describing how, the night before the operation, she had drawn a line on her breast to guide the surgeon, putting it just below the top of the black strapless bra she wore with her favorite party dress. This image of vanity is far from frivolous, and in fact sets the tone for this autobiographical account which frankly and amusedly describes the many ways Wadler’s breast cancer affected her life.

We see her dealing with the impact of cancer in numerous ways, trying to hold on to an acceptable version of herself as a professional, a good child, and a sexually attractive woman. She panics about work and health insurance, and she worries about making her mother worry (it is one of the worst things in a Jewish family, she tells us, for a child to die before a parent). She goes through several stages of metaphysical turmoil. And she vacillates maddeningly in her relationship with an extremely self-centered man, until the very end, when a new, more focused sense of her own needs outweighs her old general neediness, and she overcomes her ambivalence and dumps him for good.

This book is both accessible and rich, which makes it ideal for teaching. In a unit on breast cancer, it would make a provocative pairing with Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals (see this database) or Matuschka’s art works (see Matuschka Archive in this database), two artists who, presumably driven by their more painful experience, reconstruct themselves at a deeper level and take a very different view of cosmetics.


First published in book form by Addison-Wesley in 1992. Both editions contain an afterword by Susan M. Love, M.D. Wadler first published her story in New York magazine in April 1992.



Place Published

New York



Page Count