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Your Story Is Yours to Tell

Recently I read the novel, Go Set A Watchman, by Harper Lee. When the book first came out a couple years ago, I was excited to read it, but then I started reading reviews in which people expressed their disappointment in it. I ended up not reading it partly because I didn’t want to be disappointed and also partly because since chemo, I make incredibly slow progress tackling my to-read list. Recently my brother suggested I read his copy, and so I did. He also suggested I keep an open mind. I think I did that, too.

What does this have to do with breast cancer you might be wondering?

Let me explain…

Harper Lee’s story was hers to tell, even if we are somewhat disappointed in certain aspects of it. Okay really disappointed.

If you haven’t read this book yet and plan to, maybe stop reading this post right now.

Go Set A Watchman takes place two decades after Lee’s beloved, Pulitzer-Prize winning masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird.

The disturbing thing we discover in Go Set A Watchman is that Atticus isn’t quite the person of stellar character most of us, including me, have come to love in the book and movie, To Kill A Mockingbird. Far from it. Jean Louise (Scout) returns home for a visit with her aging father and discovers her beloved father is a racist. There’s no way to gloss over that.

Understandably, Jean Louise was devastated by her discovery, but by the end of the book, there is some resolution. There are a couple other surprises in Watchman, but I won’t mention those in case you haven’t read it and plan to.

That’s all I’ll say about the story line.

Some people were upset Harper Lee would release this book so many years after her first.

How could she do this?

How could she ruin things for us by turning Atticus into the sort of person who is not so admirable?

Quite simply, because it was her story to tell. It was her truth to share, including the good the bad and the ugly parts. And that racist part was a pretty darn ugly part.

Of course, if the publishing company was trying to cash in and took advantage of Harper Lee, that’s a different matter. As far as I know, that wasn’t the case.

Regardless, Harper Lee’s story was shared with the world.

And the world may or may not like this.

It’s the same deal with my story and your story, too. And not just our cancer stories, but our life stories, period.

Everyone has the right to do cancer, and other parts of their lives as well, the way they choose.

You don’t need anyone’s approval to live or tell your cancer story a certain way.

If your cancer story doesn’t fit the generally more accepted cancer narrative most people prefer to hear, so be it. It becomes more clear to me every day that some people, even some within the breast cancer community itself, will always prefer to hear a more sanitized version of breast cancer than the one I share about here on the blog and in my memoir.

Again, so be it.

Telling our truths matters. Not glossing over the ugly parts matters.

Some will turn away and choose not to listen because of those ugly parts, but some will not turn away. Some will listen.

In the end, truth is what matters most. It always does.

My story, cancer or otherwise, is mine to tell.

Your story is exactly that as well; it’s yours.

And how, or if you decide to share it at all, is entirely up to you.

Have you read, Go Set A Watchman, and if so, what was your reaction to it?

Do you share your cancer truths (whatever they are) openly, mostly privately or not much at all?

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Featured image used under creative commons licensing.


Your story is yours to tell

Go Set A Watchman, have you read it?





Saturday 1st of April 2017

Hi Nancy. I have not read this book yet but I respect and admire writers who share their truths as this is very difficult to do sometimes. It is very important to keep things real, especially when it comes to illnesses. How else can we identify the issues and challenges? I am very open about my cancer experiences. I have thought about my career though and the possibility of being "judged" by my willingness to share everything about my cancer experience. But no matter how much I've thought about that, I feel sharing my story would be more beneficial to me and others. (Not sure I would want to work for someone who discriminates against cancer patients either.) I also feel I am at a different level now and my priorities have changed. Also, we can't please everyone and that's OK. I think every story matters although I have issues with some of the messages and perceptions that can come out of some of those stories (such as the pink-happy-go-lucky-warrior-I win messages). But we are different and we need to accept that too.

Thank you for suggesting this book. xoxo


Monday 3rd of April 2017

Rebecca, Well said. I respect how you are so open about things, even when you know some in your workplace might be "watching" and reading what you write. Not everyone is willing, or able, to do that. Thank you for all you do and for all the support you give me and so many others.

Beth Gainer

Saturday 1st of April 2017

Hi Nancy,

I've not yet read the book, but it's on my ever-expanding to-read list. I agree that our cancer stories are our own to tell. While I don't like the more sanitized version of cancer experiences, I realize that those stories are someone else's truths. Like you say, there's no one way to do cancer.

Lee's book sounds intriguing. Thank you for this post.


Monday 3rd of April 2017

Beth, I wouldn't necessarily move this book to the top of your to-read pile. I totally think Harper Lee had every right to tell this part of her story, too. However, the story-telling itself in "Watchman" isn't as wonderfully told as in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Thank you for reading and commenting.

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