Maybe you saw Kelly Corrigan interviewed by Katie Couric or Ann Curry on the Today show for separate segments showcasing breast cancer survivors. Or maybe you’ve visited Kelly’s website Circus of Cancer (www.circusofcancer.org) where she has posted photographs illustrating her own journey through cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve been lucky enough to receive a copy of her book, The Middle Place, which is, without a doubt, the best cancer memoir I’ve read in a very long time. (And trust me on this, I read as many as I can get my hands on; I confess I just can’t help myself). Bottom line: I absolutely loved this book.
What makes The Middle Place so very special? In a word: George. a.k.a ‘Greenie,’ Kelly Corrigan’s beloved father, who battles bladder cancer at the same time that Kelly is being treated for stage III breast cancer. The Middle Place truly is Kelly’s love letter to her Dad. But truth be told, George may well be the parent that we all dreamed of having when we were little:
‘You’re George Corrigan’s daughter? What a guy. What a wonderful guy.’ I think people like him because his default setting is open delight. He’s prepared to be wowed-by your humor, your smarts, your white smile, even your handshake-guaranteed, something you do is going to thrill him. Something is going to make him shake his head afterward in disbelief, and say to me, ‘Lovey, what a guy!’ or ‘Lovey, isn’t she terrific?’ People walk away from him feeling like they’re on their game, even if they suspect that he put them there.’
What else makes The Middle Place a winner? Kelly Corrigan. She tells a great story, moving fluently from one memorable anecdote to another. Her clear, honest voice and breezy writing style bring the colorful Corrigan clan to life on the printed page in a heartbeat. We meet her mom Mary (who relishes the act of re-gifting), brothers Booker and GT, husband Edward and daughters Georgia and Claire. The reader moves back and forth in space and time from Kelly’s prom to the author getting chemo in the Infusion Center, from the Philadelphia suburbs of Kelly’s childhood to her adult home in California with adventurous stops along the way in Nepal and Australia. We watch her moving slowly but surely into adulthood – as a wife and mother – all the while attempting to juggle her family of origin and her very special role as George Corrigan’s daughter. This balancing act is the so-called ‘middle place’ of the book’s title. The challenge becomes even more dramatic when both father and daughter are diagnosed with cancer:
In the pre-op room, Edward, GT and I settle in. I get into the bed, and the guys take seats and talk NBA. After an hour or two, Dr. Laura Esserman comes in, her long Stevie Nicks hair tucked into a Betty Boop surgical cap. After I introduce GT and we do a little small talk, I tell her my dad has bladder cancer-a bad case-and that the Hopkins doctor told him to keep doing chemo instead of removing his bladder surgically. I want to know what she thinks…
Yes, even as Kelly herself is being prepped and heading into surgery, she is busily advocating for her father and looking for second opinions. The book ends on an uplifting note, with both father and daughter cancer free and well on their way to recovery. But in the final chapter Kelly tries to imagine herself at her father’s funeral; she knows that one day that loss will be real.
It’s often said that cliches abound in CancerLand. Cliches like “cancer impacts the whole family” and “if cancer comes into your life, live in the present moment; it’s all that we have.” But maybe within these cliches there’s more than a few kernels of truth. The Middle Place tosses the reader headlong into the heart of the Corrigan family to experience their journey; but after some reflection you will no doubt see bits and pieces of your own.