Book review by Alysa Cummings
OncoLink Poet in Residence
Last Modified: April 27, 2008
Sometimes it’s so funny to me how I connect with a particular CancerLand book: browsing at Borders, reading a review in the newspaper, chatting with a friend, Googling breast cancer poetry.
But Fanny Barry’s name surfaced in a different way entirely – I spotted her on a Wellness Community newsletter calendar featuring upcoming events for cancer survivors. “This spring”, it read, “Ms. Barry will be doing a reading from her I Wish I Knew series in the Boston area.” That’s a new one, I thought to myself.
I have been collecting poetry and memoirs written by breast cancer survivors for ten years now and didn’t recognize her name.
Within minutes, a quick side trip to Amazon.com led me to a description of Barry’s three-book series. Through the beauty of one-click ordering, less than a week later the precious package was in my hands. What a treat...
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, Ms. Barry decided to write three small chapbooks, each filled with her personal observations on how breast cancer has changed her life.
Book I addresses breast cancer survivors directly:
I wish I knew... how wonderful people can be... I am still amazed at the kindness I have been shown while undergoing these treatments... People can be abundantly kind - take advantage of it.
The series is beautifully illustrated by the author, with delicate pen and ink drawings of birds and floating feathers. Turn a few pages and watch how Ms. Barry’s gentle graphics and strong poetic voice work together to calm and center you.
Book II speaks directly to caregivers – friends, family and loved ones supporting the cancer patient going through treatment:
I wish I knew... how to tell my friend I am scared... lots of things are lost with cancer - feelings of health and control and competence. But lots of things are gained as well. By facing this challenge together, you will both grow.
Book III’s message resonates for the survivor who has finished treatment and is trying to make sense of the so-called ‘new normal’ that comes with recovery:
I wish I knew... this is just the beginning... I have started an entirely new chapter in my life. I am just where I am supposed to be and I am exactly who I am supposed to be.
When I shared Book III with a group of fellow breast cancer survivors during our most recent meeting, the response was unanimous: they could absolutely relate to Fanny Barry’s impressions of the cancer experience. The books were a vivid, healing reading experience.
Proceeds from the sale of the I Wish I Knew series flow to the That Barry Girl Thriving, Not Just Surviving Foundation that provides grants to patients in treatment.