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Janet & Me: An Illustrated Story of Love and Loss Paperback – Illustrated, 1 December 2004
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Jennie Nash author, The Victoria's Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned from Breast Cancer Only an artist at the top of his game -- and the bottom of his life -- could come up with such a quirky mix of realistic, humorous, tragic detail. It charmed my socks off.
Gloria Steinem author, Moving Beyond Words Stan Mack shows that a man can be as caretaking as a woman, and a woman can be as brave, funny, and loving in death as in life. This compassionate, irresistible memoir is a gift to all of us.
Joyce Brabner coauthor, with Harvey Pekar, Our Cancer Year Stan has written and drawn from the heart something for caretakers, the left-behind, the ones wounded in the crossfire of cancer or terminal illness. He speaks to those in love now who would also be in love even after tomorrow is over, by telling an honest story about quality of life, dying, and survival.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
When Janet first felt the lump in her breast, she didn't tell me and didn't do anything about it for two months. She wasn't especially worried because her yearly mammograms had always been normal. And we were so busy, me with my strips, she finishing her new book for teens, Death Is Hard to Live With.
It wasn't until a letter arrived from a young reader, thanking Janet for her book on teen pregnancy, that she decided to act.
Janet didn't have a regular doctor because she'd always been healthy. For any checkups, she went to her friend Virginia, a physician's assistant. But Virginia was in the midst of moving and so she recommended an MD who examined Janet and sent her for a mammogram.
The letter from the breast diagnostic institute, which provided the results, said they'd found some irregularity. Included with their report was a list of recommended surgeons. Janet chose one who was on her insurance plan and went in for a biopsy.
I remember clearly that it was a bright, sunny day when we made our way to the hospital for the results. Janet talked about the two other women from her writers' group who had already been diagnosed with cancer.
The surgeon met us in a busy and narrow corridor just off the main lobby. There, opposite the cashier's office, he gave us the bad news...and rushed off. His abruptness was so unnerving we could hardly absorb the diagnosis.
We left the hospital looking for a lighthearted way to talk about information that was too new, too scary, too shocking to face directly.
Janet didn't seem to have a self-pity gene. First she minimized the cancer. She wrote in her diary that week, "I am bummed out!" Then she got angry at the universe and moved into a practical high gear. She spread her net wide, looking up organizations, experts, and publications, familiarizing herself with the disease.
She also called friends who tried different ways of cheering her up.
A few days later we met with the surgeon, who recommended a mastectomy. He said he knew Janet would grieve for her breast and be anxious for reconstruction. Janet and I resented his paternalism and his assumptions. We left determined to find a different surgeon, one she could relate to.
Janet again called her friend Virginia.
"I met Janet at a women's health conference in '85. I loved her sexy joie de vivre and we became buddies. We used to compare notes on boyfriends and the question of having children.
"She said to me, 'Remember, kid, you can't go by conventional guidelines. You and I live on the fringes.'
"Janet had the body arrogance of the very healthy. Illness happened to other people. When she called, her tone was flip. But I knew her well enough to know that the diagnosis had been a real kick in the head."
"Janet was charming, positive, and obviously comfortable with me. Some women are overwhelmed by their cancer. She was herself overwhelming. I was won over.
"We had a breast cancer chat. Her tumor was large-ish, she was small-breasted, and the margins around the tumor had tested positive, so we decided on mastectomy.
"We also discussed cosmetic surgery, which Janet rejected.
"When I operated I had found that she had an aggressive cancer with five lymph nodes involved, though I thought it was at an early stage and treatable. After the mastectomy, Janet was her usual unflappable self."
Beverly recommended an oncologist, Laura. Janet and Laura met and immediately hit it off. Laura appreciated Janet's candor, but her own words seemed studied and nonspecific, always leaving us with handholds on hope.
"Janet's directness hit me in the face. She wanted straight talk, not euphemisms. I told her there was no way to predict the outcome, but that cancer can be controlled."
Laura set up an eleven-month schedule of chemo and radiation. Janet, reporter's notebook in hand, would press Laura for details about everything from side effects to insurance issues. But there was one question we never seemed to hear the answer to. Was it truly impossible to know? Was Laura's response ambiguous? Or did we just refuse to consider the idea of death?
Whatever the truth, Janet went into cancer treatment having decided she was going to live.
Copyright © 2004 by Stan Mack
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Illustrated edition (1 December 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 176 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0684872781
- ISBN-13 : 978-0684872780
- Dimensions : 17.78 x 1.19 x 23.5 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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Indeed, one of the features of this book that cancer patients and their families might find most helpful is that Mack provides a more realistic picture of the day-to-day aspects of caring for a terminally ill loved one. You get the sense that he wants to prevent others the trial-and-error efforts he had to go through to figure out what worked best. A related moral is that persistence is needed in dealing with insurance companies and the medical establishment. Lastly, his is a precautionary tale of the legal difficulties facing unmarried partners. Janet's will, naming Stan as executor, was challenged by her relatives, resulting in a legal battle that took over a year to resolve.
This last paragraph probably makes the book sound like it is cut and dried and concerned only with practical and logistical details. That is not at all the case. It is, first and foremost, a story of love and loss, and you will almost certainly be unable to read this book without being moved to tears by the depth of Mack's love and pain. But perhaps the greatest strength of this book is that Mack points out that, in real life, love and loss doesn't proceed like you see on bad made-for-TV specials, or "Love Story," where the heroine drifts off to sleep after a very short and essentially painless illness. In real life, love and loss are embedded in a host of not-so-pleasant details like "what kind of bedpan is best for the advanced cancer patient?" (answer: full-size bedside commode) and "how can I get her to take her pain medicine if she can no longer swallow?" The beauty of this book is that Mack shows so compellingly how love can shine through and conquer all those messy details.
Sandra H. Phillips
I met Janet Bode briefly twice. She approached me because, as she said, "I recognize your hairstyle!" I was bald at the time, having also undergone chemotherapy for breast cancer. We ended up having a long talk, and I was devastated a year and a half later to run into her again, and see that she was bald again. She was beautiful, not just cute.
This is a wonderful book. I am giving a copy to a friend of mine who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.