SONGS FROM A LEAD-LINED ROOM: Notes—High and Low—from My Journey Through Breast Cancer

Suzanne Strempek Shea, Author . Beacon $23 (204p) ISBN 978-0-8070-7246-2

Novelist and former journalist Shea (Selling the Lite of Heaven) says that while she was never much of a diarist, she found writing about her experience with radiation therapy for breast cancer therapeutic. In order to help other women "who'd been in [her] boots," the author decided to publish her account of the six and a half weeks she spent going to a "lead-lined room." Her straightforward memoir reveals exactly what her radiation treatment involved: the drive to the hospital, the overly air-conditioned waiting room, her favorite technician, the hard little dish she rested her head in when she lay down in the machine, and the music she listened to through headphones to take her away from it all. She also shares her shock and anger at being diagnosed when she was a healthy 41-year-old woman who "liked [her life] the way it was" and her unwillingness to embrace the positive attitude many people demand cancer patients adopt. Though she connects with a handful of people on her own terms, Shea emphasizes her need for solitude. One person she feels akin to is Molly Bish, a teenager from her area who disappeared around the time of Shea's diagnosis; Shea weaves news of the search for Molly into her own story because she feels she has "vanished in a way as well." Yet despite Shea's candor and often poetic writing style, her memoir lacks focus and can leave the reader feeling bogged down in minor details. As Shea slogs through treatment, readers are given yet another comprehensive description of a waiting room. Nevertheless, the book is an important addition to a small but growing number of realistic cancer memoirs. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 216 pages - 978-0-8070-7215-8
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