Update: Sadly, Uzma Yunus died from metastatic breast cancer on January 30, 2019. #wewillnotforget
Originally, Uzma Yunus, fellow author and blogger, intended to contribute a #MetsMonday featured post in which she’d planned to talk about, among other things, her new book. We were both looking forward to this. Unfortunately, Uzma’s health makes this no longer feasible.
I decided to review her wonderful new memoir, Left Boob Gone Rogue: My Life with Breast Cancer. Publisher, Uzma Yunus, MD, 2018. 168 pages. I know how important it is to her to get the word out about her book. So, it’s my pleasure to share about it with you, Dear Readers.
Left Boob Gone Rogue is a poignant, powerful read and not just for those directly impacted by cancer.
As stated on the book’s back cover:
This is not just another cancer memoir. It is a manifesto on life, love, and strength.
I could not agree more.
I know it’s cliche, but when I sat down to read this memoir, it was hard to put it down. I read it quickly, in two sittings, which is a rarity for me these days.
I have known Uzma Yunus for a few years. We’ve interacted now and then online, so I don’t know her well. I know she’s a psychiatrist, a wife, a mother and like me, a daughter who misses her beloved father, a blogger and author. I know she is smart and someone who has always advocated in her own unique way. I know what she has shared via her blog and Facebook, but that’s about it.
Left Boob Gone Rogue gives readers a far broader glimpse into her life, which as is the case for anyone with a cancer diagnosis, is about so much more than cancer.
Left Boob Gone Rogue is a collection of 42 brief but powerful, candid essays, each one taking us a little deeper into the harsh world of cancer. Yunus’ experience began years earlier, as is often the case when cancer is part of your family’s DNA. Two beloved aunts had been diagnosed with breast cancer prior to her own. Fittingly, “It’s in the Family” is the title of essay #6.
Essay #7, “Breast in a Jar,” is especially powerful. As Yunus waits for her own diagnosis to be confirmed, she shares haunting thoughts and images about her aunt’s surgery years before that ran through her mind:
I was anxious…Every thought would end at that ghastly image: the image of my aunt’s breast in a jar. I stole a glance at my breast, the one that might have the rogue cells…I could smell the alcohol, feel the cold OR air, the sounds of that machine, the clunk of the gurney, the haze of the lights. I could sense it all; it was waiting for me. The OR is ready and so is another jar.
Cancer forced Yunus to tackle tough questions about her beliefs, desires, and following a stage 4 diagnosis in 2016, terminal wishes.
Yes, Left Boob Gone Rogue is about a serious topic, but reading it does not make the reader feel downhearted.
Yunus chooses to embrace her life—all of it—even the incredibly difficult challenges a stage 4 diagnosis brings. She gently leads by example, hoping her experience learning to embrace the here and now and ultimately finding her guiding purpose, encourages others dealing with “the unspeakable” to find their own guiding purposes as well.
The opening essay, “Disney Channel,” immediately draws the reader in as we learn how Yunus discovered a lump while showering one morning in a San Francisco hotel while her husband and two young children sat unknowing on the other side of the door, watching the Disney Channel, no less.
It’s a perfect, eerie example of how cancer can, and often does, unexpectedly intrude into a family’s life on an ordinary day.
Each essay focuses on another step, another challenge, another tough question Yunus must grapple with.
Some of the author’s most heart-wrenching words are about motherhood. As a mother of two young children, Yunus must decide what and how much to tell them.
How do you talk to your five-year-old and nine-year-old about dying and death?
Though it’s hard to choose, I think my favorite essay might be, “I’m Sorry”. How many times have those of us in Cancer Land heard the words, you can beat this? As if you can stomp out cancer by things you do or do not do. What does beating cancer even mean anyway?
And what if, like Yunus, you are stage 4?
(And yes, people still say things like, we just know you will beat this, to those with terminal cancer.)
Yunus describes how after learning her cancer had metastasized, she often felt apologetic:
I felt like a failure, as if I let down everyone who thought I would “kick the shit out of cancer.” I was no longer the example of how stage III can be a success story and an inspiration. As a doctor, I understood that there was nothing I did to bring back my cancer. But I still felt a sense of shame.
That is powerful and not an uncommon feeling in the metastatic world. Some words should not be tossed around in a cavalier manner.
Another thing I love about this book are the insights, bits of wisdom and observations about cancer, motherhood, being a patient, being a doctor and just life in general that Yunus tucks in. These nuggets are highlighted in gray circles and boxes throughout the book, messages Yunus cleverly has woven in.
Like the one below, each one is a gem with a clear message for those willing to hear it.
Cancer comes with emotional nausea too. The worry about death and dying. My emotional nausea is as intense as my physical one.
Emotional nausea, what a perfect description for the worry many who’ve heard the words, you have cancer, continue to grapple with.
For those in the medical field who care for patients there’s this:
Your manner indicates you consider me a chart, a number, a diagnosis, yet another one at the cancer center. But I am a whole universe for me and those who love me.
A succinct reminder about what every patient is and is not. Again, perfectly stated.
For those who are not stage 4:
Since my recurrence, I’ve often wondered if I scared the other survivors; if seeing me reactivated their own fears of mortality.
A reminder for all of us to be #FearlessFriends. This doesn’t mean we feel no fear, but rather regardless of fear, maybe even partly because of it, we choose to stand by our stage 4 friends. Or we should.
About being a mom with terminal cancer:
At six now, she still worries about monsters under the bed, while the scariest monster that stalks her life, lives within me.
There are more, and they are all so good it was hard to choose just a few to include. I’ll close with one more because it seems a fitting way to end this inadequate review:
I win because although the scans, the meds, the side effects, the fears, the grief, the loss, and the disability are all part of my life, they are NOT my life.
Yes, Uzma, you win.
About the author: Uzma Yunus, MD was born and raised in Pakistan. She immigrated to the US in 1997 and completed her psychiatric residency at University of Illinois at Chicago. She was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in 2013. In 2016, the cancer metastasized. Her advocacy work has continued throughout it all. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two children. Visit her site at uzmamd.com
If you would like a chance to win a FREE copy of Left Boob Gone Rogue, leave a comment below by 5 pm CT on Tuesday, February 5th stating why you want to read this book and that you’d like to enter this giveaway. A US mailing address is required. A winner will be announced here on this post shortly thereafter.
Note: Helen was the winner of a free copy. Congrats, Helen!
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