STAYING ALIVE: A Family Memoir

Janet Reibstein, Author
Janet Reibstein, Author . Bloomsbury $24.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-58234-266-5
Reviewed on: 07/08/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Paperback - 248 pages - 978-1-58234-301-3
Open Ebook - 978-1-59691-891-7
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-7475-5593-3
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Reibstein, a psychotherapist living in England, is "a member of a breast cancer family"—her mother and her two aunts died of the disease, and she and her cousins have struggled to fight their own cancers. Thus, while this is a "family memoir," it's organized by an illness, rather than by the standard fare of births, marriages and careers. In the prologue, Reibstein tells readers outright that she's elected to have "prophylactic bi-lateral mastectomies"—surgical removal of her breast tissue to escape this genetic curse. With that foreknowledge, she goes back to her mother's story, from Regina's girlhood in Paterson, N.J., to her married life in Great Neck, N.Y., first watching one sister's painful death from breast cancer, then discovering her own lump and hearing of her other sister's untreated cancer and death. In the 1940s, there were "no mammograms or breast checks." Women with diseased breasts felt alone, akin to "damaged goods." With great will and aggressive medical interventions, Regina lived 21 years after her first surgery. Her pain, insight and growing spiritual strength is conveyed through her remarkable journal, excerpted generously here. After Reibstein's mother's death in 1985, she begins confronting her genetic inheritance more proactively, exploring the advisability of elective surgery. While her husband remains sensible about the various concerns of breast removal, Reibstein struggles mightily before she finally says, "I am beyond breasts." There are many fine stories here—about dying with dignity and with disability—and about the courage to sacrifice vanity in order to live without fear. (Sept.)

Forecast:This moving chronicle will resonate with Jewish-American women in their 40s and 50s; a blurb from someone like Gloria Steinem or Susan Love would certainly help sales.

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