Author Susan Gubar: Ovarian cancer not a ‘happily ever after subject’

Susan Gubar spoke on Wednesday with “Talk of the Nation” host Neal Conan about her new book, “‘Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring ovarian cancer.”

Susan Gubar's new book, "Memoir of a Debulked Woman," about her experiences with ovarian cancer

I recommend listening, as Gubar, an award-winning author and professor emerita of English in Indiana University Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences, discusses the cancer and decisions she must make concerning treatment, quality of life and other matters.  The interview can be heard here, where highlights from the interview and an excerpt from the book also can be read.  The Chronicle of Higher Education also wrote about the memoir, in an article that I found both touching and painful. 

A pioneering feminist and culture critic, Gubar offered a discouraging picture of the cancer in her radio interview, saying little has changed in terms of treatment since the ’70s. She described a “Catch 22,” where one can expect the cancer to be fatal and the treatment to be debilitating. Pretty bleak stuff from Gubar; yet callers to the NPR program thanked her for writing about it.

The Chronicle article describes how Gubar “was enjoying the success that comes from a long and illustrious academic career” when she was diagnosed in 2008 with ovarian cancer and underwent a surgery called “debulking,” where surgeons remove a woman’s uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, appendix and a portion of the intestines.

“It was like I was a bird, flying,” Gubar told the Chronicle, “and then I got shot out of the sky and just dropped.”

Immediately after her diagnosis, Gubar “turned to eminent writers to help her understand her condition,” she says in the Chronicle, yet she found little written about the cancer — in part, she says on “Talk of the Nation,” because “The story isn’t a happily ever after subject.” Her gritty book, published by W.W. Norton & Co. Inc.,  is a “no-holds-barred” account of her experiences. “I wrote my memoir because it seemed to me that ovarian cancer had become an unspeakable subject that affected 22,000 women diagnosed in the States every year,” she told the Chronicle.

She’s got people talking about it.


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