Book Review: Breast Cancer Inside Out: Bodies, Biographies & Beliefs

Phyllisa Deroze //

Kimberly R. Myers (editor). Breast Cancer Inside Out: Bodies, Biographies & Beliefs. Peter Lang Press, 2021. ISBN: 9781788747356, $82.95, E-book.

It is a rare treasure to find a book that provides such rich and in-depth perspectives into the lives of people experiencing breast cancer. Kimberly R. Myers’ latest book, Breast Cancer Inside Out: Bodies, Biographies & Beliefs, brings together varied voices to create a collection of writing that exceeds expectations.

The book begins with a personal account of how Myers searched for a book on breast cancer that would educate and empower her as she endured and survived a breast cancer diagnosis. However, after not being able to find the text she desired, six years after her diagnosis, she created it herself. Myers brings a unique gift to the genre of breast cancer narratives because she weaves in her knowledge as both a medical professional and breast cancer survivor. She is vulnerable about how the shift and expansion of her knowledge from textbook understandings to personal encounters propelled the design for a book that would merge these two worlds.

The preface has much to offer our health humanities community because it offers a critique of the gap between medical humanities and health humanities scholarship. She writes, “For the first five or six years that I worked in medical humanities, I did so from the ivory tower, where the starting point was theory: Scholars with little knowledge of—or first-hand experience with –how humanistic dimensions of medicine played out in actual clinical settings provided insightful and potentially helpful theories that, we hoped, would find their way into clinical settings in order to, for one thing, improve the whole enterprise of healthcare.” In large part, this book aims to bring diverse readers together and have them meet on the common ground of breast cancer.

From this common ground, the book begins with one of the most vulnerable accounts of personal health that I have read in a while. Part I opens with Myers confessing to her readers, “Since I was in my twenties, I knew I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. With no family history, no risk factors, no suspicious test results, and therefore no credible reason to anticipate this diagnosis, I nevertheless knew intuitively that I would get breast cancer.” Myers choice to begin with a validating stance on alternative ways of knowing foreshadows the more than thirty entries in the collection that are spread across three parts. Part 1, A Trajectory of Breast Cancer: Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond; Part 2, Enhancing Your Health by Honoring Your Self; and Part 3, Shaping Cancer, (Re)Shaping Self.

The contents are combinations of writing that span from creative writing to scholarly essays. The beauty of this project is that there is something for everyone if you’re interested in both personal and professional accounts of breast cancer. For the academic looking for a textbook for their syllabi in health humanities, medical humanities, or narrative medicine, there are gems in this collection that will undoubtedly evoke lively class discussions. While this book has ample to digest, I wish there were more space to unpack the impact of disparities in care and how to avoid them in the future. The entries that brought up these topics were the most intriguing to me and my work. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

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