December 2002

Sonia Pereira

nonfiction

The Victoria's Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer by Jennie Nash

Now, I'm one of those women who are a little too spooked by the c-word (no, not that one), to ever want to voluntarily read a story about one woman's nearly deadly experience with the terrible female eating saber-toothed monster. But after listening to the statistics lately (one in eight women) and all the advertising going into breast cancer organizations, I decided to sweep away my fears for the time being and dive into Nash's all too real, devastating, and sometimes sweet memoir, The Victoria's Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming and Other Lessons I Learned From Breast Cancer.

Nash was not a woman in her mid-forties when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She wasn't even a woman who had any history of breast cancer in her family. Instead she found herself, a thirty-six-year-old mother of two girls, grieving for a close friend who had been diagnosed with lung cancer at thirty-five. Grappled by fears of being sick and feeling a slight twinge in her breast, she decided to get the usual mammogram. And instead of confirming her assumption that she was merely a worrier with hypochondriac tendencies, the X-ray declared Nash's breast tissue full of small tumors. A biopsy further stated the tumors were malignant. The weird thing is that if Nash hadn't felt the small tug on her breast she probably wouldn't have gone in for the mammogram. Especially weird, considering it was the breast she thought the healthy one that turned out to be infected.

Nash's journey takes the reader into the obvious horrors of being diagnosed with a life threatening illness that seems currently ubiquitous and which has no found cure. It also forces the reader into a world where women aid each other with the stories of their sicknesses, good days, bad days, and healing processes.

She formats the book so that it's broken up into various life lessons such as: "Bad News Does Less Damage When It's Shared" and "Sometimes Crying Is the Point". But rather than an annoyingly schmaltzy self-help book, Nash's book becomes more of a support-group for scared unhealthy women and scared healthy ones too.

The chapters are often witty, funny, and dryly sarcastic. Though Nash has been through hell and back she never lost her sense of humor. Pretty remarkable for someone with such a terrifying story to share. For instance, the book's title refers to the all around crappy feeling of looking at impossibly gorgeous supermodels with perfect breasts and getting the stinking suspicion that you just don't measure up. Imagine how gross normal women feel when flipping through these catalogs when they're healthy. Now imagine the same gross feeling but emphasized with the fact that you no longer even have a breast to compete with. (I'm not even going to go into how those models use chicken-cutlet type prosthetics to produce the perfect breast effect in the first place...further confusing the situation. Even they can't measure up to themselves, for Pete's sake.)

Yeah, Nash's humor is intact, but the sweet and sour truths of her lessons are hard to argue with. When she points out the inevitable sorrow that comes from noticing other women's breasts and mourning one's own, the emotional obstacles indirectly involved with the disease shine through recovery like spiky nails.

Throughout the book, Nash exemplifies the importance of the little things. Like being the only woman in the room wearing a sexy red dress. Or learning to feel thanks for the never-ending casseroles on the doorstep. Or even just getting up in the morning. Nash's point is so comforting that it seems to transcend advice for the ill. Instead Nash seems to be speaking to everyone who's had a rough time of it lately. Not only the dying, but the tired, depressed, or simply jaded. It's good advice, hard to follow in our caffeinated society, but good nonetheless.

If you're a woman or love women you would do well to read this book. It's a great source of insight into the world of the breast cancer stricken patient as well as the survivor. Not only does Nash write eloquently on the trials of the disease, but she also digs out the often tormented ties between women and their breasts. No matter how healthy or painful they may be.

The Victoria's Secret Catalog Never Stops Coming And Other Lessons I Learned from Breast Cancer by Jennie Nash
Scribner
ISBN: 0743219791
156 pages