Category: Book Review

New Primer for Facing Breast Cancer

Madhulika Sikka’s A Breast Cancer Alphabet 

BreastCancerAlphabetFor years, my mornings have begun listening to National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” broadcast. Madhulika Sikka, news editor for NPR, is a name I have heard regularly as a producer of newsworthy and provocative stories.  When I heard that she had written a book about her experience with breast cancer, my curiosity was aroused to put humanity to her faceless radio presence. I was very pleased by what I found.

Her new book, “A Breast Cancer Alphabet,” is part memoir of her personal encounter with breast cancer, part social commentary about the “Cancer-Land Culture,” and part intuitive self-help advise for any woman facing dark days.


Madhulika describes how each detail of the day she received her cancer diagnosis was stamped on her brain. Sikka was at the White House for an interview with President Obama on the day she was waiting for the fateful call from her doctor.   She talks about the impersonality of having her breasts suddenly become objects of inspection by technicians, residents and doctors.  She calls this both manhandling and “woman-handling” of her private life.  She describes the “I is for Indignities” of mammograms, claustrophobic MRI exams, and special needle localization biopsy where your body has to adapt to the rigid Plexiglas box machine while positioned on your stomach.  

She describes her mastectomy and chemotherapy and how her new diagnosis affected her marriage and her relationships with her children. She describes how losing a breast and losing her hair gave her a different relationship to her body. The rapid change was assault.

“The thing about breast cancer is, it does things to your looks, and not necessarily good things. So, whatever category you fall into–plain or primpedyou find yourself thinking: Why am I so worried about looks right now?”

She recognized that if she needed to look better in order to feel better, “almost like applying a shield.”

Social Commentary

“Cancer-land” was the name she gave to the all-encompassing world of oncology, a land you can never leave once you enter. She was critical of the social pressure to use warrior images of the patient’s treatment endeavor. She disliked the gauzy breast cancer world of pink ribbons and sexy, glamorous warriors fighting back.

“But I am not a woman warrior. I am just a woman, a woman who has been diagnosed with a horrible disease; a woman who has gone through brutal surgery; a woman who has had her body poisoned to “kill” the disease. Can I just be a woman who is going through that? Can I not be a woman warrior? Please?”

Self Help Advice

A Breast Cancer Alphabet is readable, thoughtful and genuine. Her “R is for Reconstruction” chapter  encourages you to think of your reconstructive  plastic surgeon as your very own Michelangelo, who sees each woman’s breast rebuilding as an original artistic creation.Her “T is for Therapy” chapter encourages a variety of ways to heal from the Cancer-Land experience. 

“Therapy is all about healing, and the beauty of healing is that it can apply to your body, your soul, your mind, and your surroundings.

Her writing is beautiful and her word choice speaks to deep reflection on the subject of facing loss in life. Her book is about breast cancer, but is really a healthy reminder of how to respond to many types of dark days, whether they be the result of cancer or not.  

Announcements, Book Review, Breast health, Doctor-Patient Relationship

Tracy London: The Truth About Style

I am a closet fan of the “What Not to Wear” show…not that I want anyone to know that I watch a reality TV show….but I love the concept that everyone should be comfortable with their own body and that external changes can make a world of difference for one’s psyche. Stacy London, co-host of TLC’s What Not to Wear, has just come out with a new book, The Truth About Style (Viking Press, 2012) in which she describes her philosophy of style. Her Zen-like mantra is “take what life has given you, accept it wholly, and then build on it.”  With that as a baseline style can be healing.

Style, according to London’s philosophy, requires an unbiased acceptance of self, where your body is and what your life circumstances are. Style starts with your brain before it gets to your body.

Stacy discusses how to dress well, why to dress well and why we often do not. She helps us get into the mindset that leads to a happier and healthier sense of self. She talks about the kinds of psychological obstacles we place in our own path that keeps us from owning our personal style. Style, unlike fashion, is personal. It’s about the individual. 

Style is about enhancing who you are and not attempting to look like someone else. 

“By changing your style, you are forced to change the way you perceive yourself. And if you can see yourself differently, you can start to feel differently.” Eventually we believe because we can see.  

In her book Stacy tells stories of ten women that she helped to see themselves differently. Each is a metamorphosis from cocoon to butterfly.  Her tales provide a “kick in the step, a swing in the hips, and a twinkle in the eye.” Try her short enjoyable read and see how comfortable you are in your own skin!

Anti-aging, Beauty, Book Review

Does Beauty Pay? New Literature On the Subject

Daniel S. Hammermesh is an economist who has spent the last two decades in a scholarly pursuit of the impact of beauty on society. In his new book, “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful” (Princeton University Press, 2011), he provides study after study that measure the influence of good looks on economic behavior and on outcomes in the workplace.

The advantages of beauty in a culture are not unique to the United States. An emphasis on human appearance goes back at least to the ancient Egyptians and is the subject of studies in Asia, Europe, and South America. Vanity rears its head in both genders and it spans multiple age groups.

In the United States 5% of consumer spending is directed towards personal appearance. Studies have shown that the average man spends 32 minutes in the morning grooming and the average woman spends 44. The time spent on grooming does not diminish as we age. Magazines are dedicated to beauty secrets and fashion tips. The average American believes that disadvantages based on looks are real, and many report having felt the victim of such discrimination.

Preference for beauty represents pursuit of an ideal. Just as Justice Stewart identified pornography as “I know it when I see it” we know beauty when we see it. Even though there is cultural variation and generational differences of opinion, studies of people’s facial image show that there is a large degree of consensus about which people are most attractive. There is substantial agreement upon what constitutes human beauty, male and female.

Within each profession you find some who are good looking and some who are not. Those seen as more beautiful are more likely to earn higher wages and more likely to get promotions. Do good looking employees raise sales? Customers are attracted to the more beautiful sales people and are more likely to buy the products they endorse. If looks are a part of a product or service than we assume that customers will value that and better looking sales people can raise revenues.

So what about the unattractive? Beauty benefits the beautiful and can increase a company’s sales and profits. But “lookism” is a form of discrimination. There is more discrimination based on looks than there is on ethnicity. Check Dr. Hammermesh’s book to see what studies measured this effect. It is a fascinating study in how to look scientifically at our prejudices and preferences.

Beauty, Book Review

Plastic Surgeon Reviews Fonda’s “Prime Time” as Proactive In the Negotiable Aspects of Aging

If ever there was a woman who could reinvent herself at every age it would be Jane Fonda. She has just released her new autobiographical book of wit and wisdom entitled “Prime Time.” For Jane, her prime is being in the moment and that moment for her is at 70, Act III of her life. She has always strived to be her best self at every phase of life.

“Prime Time” is a look back at how Ms. Fonda recognized that she wanted different things at different decades. She came to learn that she pursued her dreams most happily when she took charge by making informed decisions. She reminds us of the adage that “luck is where opportunity meets preparation”.

As she enters her late life, Act III, she explores how much of aging is negotiable. Can we maximize our health and happiness by the choices we make.  Jane has eleven ingredients she recommends for being proactive about the quality of one’s life. She details healthy habits regarding diet and exercise.

She advocates life long learning, strong friendships, and connection to larger causes. She speaks openly about her own goal of increasing her ability to be present in her own body, to experience her body with self empathy. She talks about how plastic surgery for her was a proactive way of embracing embodiment, getting comfortable in her body. At 72, Jane had surgery on her jawline and eyes to look and feel her best for her third act. She gives the analogy that aging is a bit like martial arts. When the force comes you don’t oppose it, you just try to guide it. Jane Fonda is a gentle guide for all of us facing the force of time.

Visit this link to see an interview.

Book Review

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