When you open I’m Too Young to Have Breast Cancer, you will be faced with this statistic: “This year, approximately 11,000 women under age 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and close to 1,300 will die.”
Published in 2004, the author Beth Leibson-Hawkins wrote this book when she could not find a book about young breast cancer survivors for her friend Roberta. She was looking for a collection of intimate conversations between survivors and readers, rather than a prescriptive medical text. She searched bookstores and cruised the Internet, but couldn’t find any that were devoted to women diagnosed at or before age forty.
Roberta turned the tables, and suggested that Beth be the one to write such a book. The moment of reckoning came when Beth “looked at Roberta’s greenish complexion, her thinning hair, accented with a touch of gray that she couldn’t dye during treatment. “Of course,” I said. “Of course I can write a book about breast cancer.”
This personal anecdote left me teary-eyed, but I was sceptical about the actual results. Surely, not every person who thinks they can write, and who goes on to publish, will produce a book worth reading. I was wrong and glad to be. I’m Too Young to Have Breast Cancer is a true labour of love by an extraordinary woman who cares and possesses the sensitivity and maturity to carry this subject matter with the dignity it deserves.
I was quickly drawn into the story of the first survivor – who else but Roberta – and swept away by the whirlwind of events which Roberta experienced. It was brutally honest, brave, and all in all, inspiring. I went on to read another account, and another. I found myself crying at some parts, empathising with how some women had to go for multiple surgeries – from lumpectomy to mastectomy, or even opting for prophylactic mastectomy. There are sixteen in total – women from all over the United States, in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Some have a life partner, others live alone; some have children, others do not. I found myself looking forward for the italicised text at the end of each account elaborating how each survivor was doing or how her life has moved on since breast cancer – a happy ending of sorts.
I’m Too Young to Have Breast Cancer considers how breast cancer affects the young women’s lives into these sections: Work and career; Sexuality and dating; Pregnancy, children and family; and lastly, Family, religion, and spirituality. Though neatly categorised, I liked how Leibson-Hawkins interweaved accounts from previous themes where applicable in subsequent ones so we could have a more complete picture. The book does show how women came to terms with dating during treatment and after, with their altered bodies and sexuality, and making decisions about breast reconstruction.
If you are a young woman who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer or if you know a young woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should consider getting this book. This book will be a valuable resource. Each person’s journey may be different but one can find some solace and comfort in knowing that she is not alone.
Dr. Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching. She is a certified sexologist with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality. She provides sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conducts sexual education workshops and speaks at public events. For more, visit www.eroscoaching.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.