This week we round out our discussion of “The Middle Place” by Kelly Corrigan. The selection for next month is entitled “Called Back” by Mary Capello. This book, by yet another breast cancer survivor, will stake out familiar yet unique territory as we see how different people react very differently in their response to cancer. Each narrative reveals not only a story of a cancer but also the story of singular personalities struggling with what life throws at them. The first discussion of this book will be on March 8. You can order from Amazon thru this site by using this link Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life
“Although we’ve never met, I love Kelly Corrigan like a friend. Her work gives me a rich sense of intimacy with someone who is full of life and hard-fought wisdom. She’s hilarious, tender-hearted, tough, loyal, wild, and screwed-up–like all the coolest women I know.”
–Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies
I liked this quote. I think it captures the spirit of this book. And it’s appropriate that it was written by another woman. At my cancer book club there was a bit of a reaction to Kelly’ headstrong nature and her seeming over-dependence on her bigger-than-life father. She certainly has her flaws, like any human. I think there is a certain tendency to view cancer survivors as saints, as people who have risen above the shortcomings of their own personalities.
In this last section of the book more time is devoted to both her relationship with her husband, Edward, and to her struggle with her own cancer. First she succeeds in finally painting a portrait of Edward with little reference or comparison to her father. Her telling of his never-ending proposal is precious. She then presents us with some discerning observations about motherhood. This is not a departure from the narrative but rather fills in the context. As breast cancer so often effects younger woman, as surgery threatens the very symbol of motherhood, and as hormone therapy mitigates chances of another any further pregnancy, this disease would be hard to understand outside of this maternal context. Indeed so strong is this bound that later, in a scene in which she thinks her daughter has wandered away towards a Pacific beach, Kelly makes an impulsive, secret deal with God to take her father instead.
Still she has difficulty breaking with her old life. When a plan for her family to move back to Philly from California falls thru, Edward must remind her, “…regardless of how much you love your dad and your mom, they’re not your future…This is your future. This is your life. We’re your future.”
After her chemo is completed, Kelly explodes with anger as the revelation that she must go on hormonal therapy to prevent recurrence. “They talk about cancer like it’s something to get through, to treat, to beat. They never said it was going to change everything, all my plans, and take things away from me that I have wanted since I was a child.” And later in the narrative, overhearing two athletic male friends discuss their training programs, her anger again boils up. She points out the fallacy of believing one has much control over one’s body. During therapy she has the “realization that your body owes you nothing.”
Kelly’s description of radiation treatment is right – the massive lead door closing you in as the staff step out. The book ends gracefully. Kelly and her father have beaten their cancers, at least for the time being. All are wiser. At the end of the book, Kelly is sitting with her daughter on her lap. He mind wanders “Someday, some layter day, I’ll find out what it is to be an adult – to bury someone essential, someone you don’t think you can live without, someone attached in so many places you almost fall in after them.”
Be sure to read the essay at the end “Transcending” – it’s worth the price of the book.
Kelly Corrigan is the author of The Middle Place, a New York Times bestseller. She is a YouTube sensation whose beloved “Transcending” video was sent woman-to-woman to more than 4 million viewers. She is also a contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine and Good Housekeeping, and is the founder of circusofcancer.org. She lives outside San Francisco with her husband and children. Order from Amazon: The Middle Place