A couple of weeks ago I received a review copy of another book, The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. (The first link will take you to the book on Amazon.com, the second link to Corrigan’s website and a gorgeous picture of her and one of her daughters.) The book will be published in just a couple of days on January 8, 2008, and this is one that you might want to pre-order. I will be recommending it enthusiastically to all breast cancer patients who are mothers, to the people who love them, and to all women my age who have a parent dealing with cancer or another illness.
I haven’t mentioned it here before, but my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the beginning of last year. He’s doing well now, but the diagnosis gave us all a scare. My cancer diagnosis came just a few short months later and I remember thinking a lot about my roles as a daughter and a mother dealing with cancer…both my own and that of a parent. When the publicist sent me an e-mail describing this book, it sent a little wave of recognition right through me and I couldn’t wait to read it. Kelly Corrigan is the mother of young children and was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 30s. Shortly after that, her father was diagnosed with cancer. Her book is about her experience in straddling what she calls “the middle place—that sliver of time when childhood and parenthood overlap.”
That introduction does not do the book justice, however. Corrigan is a very talented writer who finds the words to describe in detail what it is like to be a mother with cancer and to be a daughter whose beloved parent has cancer. She describes her own heartbreaking and yet hopeful experience, but she is also describing the emotions of all of us who have lived through one or both of these experiences, and she does it in a way that is humorous and poignant and lyrical and compelling.
I loved reading this book from the very first page. I found myself wanting to call Corrigan and invite her on a coffee date because she knows exactly what I have experienced in the last few months. As I read, I marked pages and underlined passages to come back to because there are moments when it is as if she is in my head, pulling the words right out. At times I felt as if I was in the middle of a Southern Baptist congregation, saying, “Yes! Sing it, sister!” as she struck some particularly perfect chord.
An example of her ability to capture the details of any given moment comes when she describes her inadvertent discovery of a lump in her breast, in many ways very much like my own inadvertent discovery. She was doing something else, just going along in the middle of her normal routine, when her hand brushed against her breast. It is a split second…such a tiny little moment in time and you can hardly wrap your mind around what your hand seems to telling it. Corrigan says, “I touch it once, pressing it lightly with the open palm of my hand, and then, after a flash of shock passes through me, I force my full attention to bathing the girls.” That sentence alone captures so much of what it is to go through this as a mother with children at home. You can’t stop and investigate, and you certainly can’t show your utter fear and terror. You can’t deal with it at that precise moment because you have to finish bath time and get everyone dressed and ready for bed and make sure teeth are brushed and stories are read and then there are children to be tucked in. Your kids need you…you are their mother. You are supposed to be strong and to know what to do and to be able to protect them from the bad things in the world. There is no room and no time for lumps.
Kelly Corrigan has quite a story to tell and she does it so well that I think this book would be a comfort to other mothers going through the same thing. She evokes a mother’s all-encompassing love of her children and how painful and poignant that love can feel when you find out you have cancer. At the same time, she describes how difficult it is to come to terms with a parent’s illness and how you can be a grown-up mom and a little girl all in the very same moment, switching roles almost from one breath to the next.
I give this book two thumbs up and five stars. It would make a wonderful New Year’s gift for a mother who has been diagnosed with cancer, whether that is yourself or someone you know. I wouldn’t limit my recommendation to cancer patients/survivors, though; it is so well-written and deals with so many universal emotions that I think any mother would enjoy it. I hope that we will hear more from Corrigan very soon.