Book Review: Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer by Susan Gubar

New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2012)

Screen-Shot-2012-05-14-at-8.13.25-AMSusan Gubar was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, and this book is about her treatments and her life with ovarian cancer. A feminist professor and critic of English literature, Gubar also fills her book with references to writers from Emily Dickinson to Susan Sontag. Frustration with the silence surrounding gynecologic illness, and with our society’s embarrassment about female biology, drives Gubar to tell her story.

Gubar believes that saving women’s lives demands openness ovarian cancer’s early symptoms, and Memoir of a Debulked Woman includes frank discussion of Gubar’s own early symptoms (bloating, fullness, and alternating diarrhea and constipation). She also writes about the state of treatment, which for Gubar has included debulking surgeries, several cycles of chemotherapy, and now a Phase I clinical trial.

Gubar’s story can be difficult to read, because the disease and its treatment have done so much damage to her body. Gubar is particularly sensitive to the fact that her story may be difficult for other patients to read, particularly those “in need of resilience” who have sought out her story in search of hope for themselves. Memoir begins with a caution to other ovarian cancer patients and survivors that: “my experiences need not be yours, for yours will and should be exceptional, uniquely your own.”

Includes citations and notes on sources.

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