Author: Alysa Cummings
Publisher: iUniverse.com, 2012
Hardcover: 160 pages
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. Ever since, I’ve felt compelled to read personal accounts of others with cancer. There have been books that I’ve especially admired (e.g., Because Cowards Get Cancer Too by John Diamond and My Breast by Joyce Wadler), but Alysa Cummings’s new book,
Cummings writes of breast cancer awareness month, “One thing I know for sure; I don’t need an entire month every year to remind me of things I can never, ever forget.”
Of the surreal realization that this cancer was her own, she wrote, “I couldn’t conceive of the words cancer and me even being in the same sentence.”
Of a little girl’s magic wand, “But, you know what? In CancerLand, I’ll take whatever kind of magic I can get my hands on.”
Me, too! Me, too! Me, too!
Greetings from CancerLand is a compilation of Cummings’s essays and poems from OncoLink, the website of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The book recounts her surgeries and other treatments, various complications, and, most of all, her spot-on observations of the world around her and the world within her.
The book isn’t a diary or a linear narrative. Rather, it’s episodic and highlights those moments when living in the cancer world is especially vivid. Specific moments crystallize everyone’s cancer experiences and Cummings captures them with clarity and eloquence.
Like the time at an annual checkup when she responded to her oncologist’s question that her year had been, ‘Unremarkable, I say, my year was unremarkable.’ When you’ve lived through a decade of cancer and its aftermath, an unremarkable year is to be relished. Cummings understood the importance of that moment with her oncologist.
I appreciate that the book is so honest and balanced. Cummings can be light-hearted one day and cranky the next. That’s how life is with cancer. When describing the hurtful and sometimes bizarre things that people said to her, she writes:
After a few too many painful cancer-related conversations with various members of the healthy world, I began to interrupt when I sensed things starting to go badly. Sometimes I put my hand up and did a fine imitation of a school crossing guard stopping traffic. Then I said the following words: Not helpful. What you’ve just said to me is not helpful. At that point, I just walked away. Or in the case of a phone call, I hung up with as much grace as I could manage in the moment. Either way, the conversation was over, I could exhale and focus my energies elsewhere.
I wish I had done that.
And she writes that, “Cancer teaches that I can’t change what has happened to my mind and body, (there are no do-overs in CancerLand), but I can try to accept my losses with grace and move forward.”
This is a terrific book. Everyone going through cancer should have Alysa Cummings somewhere near.
Bob Riter is the Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes in Ithaca, NY.
See Alysa Cummings Greetings from Cancerland blog.