Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors

A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors
Adams Media, Avon, MA and

Review by Rene Schwiesow

It is a yearly inconvenience, the mammogram. First one, then the other breast clamped in between cold plates, flattened, not into a pancake, but a crepe. Yet it is this yearly inconvenience that offers the authors of “A Cup of Comfort for Breast Cancer Survivors,” the opportunity to share their stories. As the subtitle says, the book is full of inspiring words that celebrate the courage and triumph of woman, man, family and friends over breast cancer. Here, the saying it takes a village to raise a child expands itself into it takes a village to birth a new life, to grow in ways previously unimagined as these woman have.

My initial reaction to the first few stories was fearful and sad and sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for a routine check-up, I wondered if bringing the book to read had been a grave mistake. I mean who wants to read about long-term illness, about loss of hair, about painful recovery when waiting to see a doctor? Indeed, who wants to read such material anytime? Yet, though tears leaked their way out and rolled down my cheeks despite my attempts at swiping them away, it only took those first few tales to uncover the real story and the depth of honesty brought realization. The depth of honesty made it very clear that the common bond those diagnosed with breast cancer have is one that will never be severed. These are soul sisters who can and do show us how to live.

A few years ago, I was excited to have two out-of-state girlfriends visit me. We spent a couple of relatively sleepless days in laughter, playing tourist, rehashing old parties, sharing stories about our children in preschool, then elementary school and beyond. On the last of our evenings together while we sat on my screen porch, each wrapped in a blanket on a crisp October evening, two of us received the news that the third had breast cancer. She was clear and articulate in her goal of overcoming the dreaded diagnosis. Her breast cancer had been detected in the very early stages and treatment allowed us to be together again, just two years ago. This book is a legacy for the millions of women who share her story.

Maria Judge, who was born in Germany and raised in Ireland, Chili and India, is a Boston area writer and survivor of breast cancer. In her story, between the covers of this Cup of Comfort book, Maria writes with conviction and courage. She tells the tale experienced by many who sit in the chemo chair, while red poison flows into them, killing deadly cancer cells but leaving them weak and without hair. Maria speaks candidly but with humor about confronting her hair loss, preparing herself to let go of her tresses bit by bit, about the process of acceptance and the vulnerability and insecurity one goes through to get there. She not only writes it, but also lived it admirably. With love, support, Dove bars and Dolly Parton wigs, Maria survived her deepest fears and while she may sport a few physical scars, she spins any psychological trauma into reminders that she has endured, and that not even the tears, could scar her survivor spirit.

But before you write this off as a chick-book, the men that have put pen to the page in this book will set you off on another swell of emotion. These men are the wind beneath the wings of their cancer diagnosed wives, mothers or girlfriends. And they are a reminder to all of us that breast cancer is not just a woman’s disease. It is a disease that affects all members of a person’s family as well as their co-workers and friends. It does, indeed, take a village and what an inspiration these stories are for us to embrace those who are part of our lives. What an inspiration for all of us to live now, in the moment, when it counts.

Rene Schwiesow, co-owns an online poetry forum ( and is a co-host for The Art of Words: Mike Amado Memorial Poetry Series in Plymouth, MA. Rene can be reached at

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