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After the Cure

The Untold Stories of Breast Cancer Survivors

Emily Abel, Saskia Subramanian

Publication Year: 2010

2009 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

2009 Association of American University Presses Award for Jacket Design

Chemo brain. Fatigue. Chronic pain. Insomnia. Depression. These are just a few of the ongoing, debilitating symptoms that plague some breast-cancer survivors long after their treatments have officially ended. While there are hundreds of books about breast cancer, ranging from practical medical advice to inspirational stories of survivors, what has been missing until now is testimony from the thousands of women who continue to struggle with persistent health problems.

After the Cure is a compelling read filled with fascinating portraits of more than seventy women who are living with the aftermath of breast cancer. Emily K. Abel is one of these women. She and her colleague, Saskia K. Subramanian, whose mother died of cancer, interviewed more than seventy breast cancer survivors who have suffered from post-treatment symptoms. Having heard repeatedly that "the problems are all in your head," many don't know where to turn for help. The doctors who now refuse to validate their symptoms are often the very ones they depended on to provide life-saving treatments. Sometimes family members who provided essential support through months of chemotherapy and radiation don't believe them. Their work lives, already disrupted by both cancer and its treatment, are further undermined by the lingering symptoms. And every symptom serves as a constant reminder of the trauma of diagnosis, the ordeal of treatment, and the specter of recurrence.

Most narratives about surviving breast cancer end with the conclusion of chemotherapy and radiation, painting stereotypical portraits of triumphantly healthy survivors, women who not only survive but emerge better and stronger than before. Here, at last, survivors step out of the shadows and speak compellingly about their "real" stories, giving voice to the complicated, often painful realities of life after the cure.

This book received funding from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Published by: NYU Press

Front Cover

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Front Matter


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pp. v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

DURING THE SPAN of my career in medicine, breast cancer has been transformed from a disease that was hidden from family and friends to one that has a public face with a strong advocacy movement. Most women and men have familiarity with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer based on frequent newspaper and magazine articles...

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pp. 1-17

WHEN EMILY ABEL finished six months of breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation in 1993, she assumed her troubles were over. Doctors, friends, and family reassured her. She read scores of triumphalist breast cancer narratives; “Now I’m cured...

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“Standing on New Ground”

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pp. 19-38

ALTHOUGH MEDICAL RESEARCHERS have begun to investigate a number of posttreatment symptoms, we wanted to know how survivors themselves understood their various complaints. Greta Shaw began by discussing a problem that is virtually absent from the existing literature...

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“We Saved Your Life. Now Leave Us the Hell Alone”

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pp. 39-64

PAT GARLAND HAS little good to say about any of the doctors she saw either during or after cancer. When we interviewed her in her small studio apartment, eleven years had elapsed since she learned that a breast lump was malignant. Nevertheless, she vividly recalled that...

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Remedying, Managing, and Making Do

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pp. 65-80

LEANNE THOMAS NEVER expected doctors to resolve the many health problems she faced after breast cancer treatment. “I’m not one for taking a lot of medications,” she told us. “I’m one for holistic. My family didn’t go to doctors. They had things that you took that you didn’t have to go to doctors for, natural things.” Physicians...

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“Like Talking to a Wall”

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pp. 81-96

THREE AFRICAN AMERICAN women met during a focus group to discuss the ways breast cancer affects social relationships both during and after therapy. Ida Jaffe began: My family was very supportive in helping me. My husband was very supportive, and I have two daughters, and they were just right there for me. But I did have an experience with a so-called...

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Narrowed Lives

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pp. 97-117

ALTHOUGH ROSE JENSEN used to work as an engineer, she is now an office manager. Interviewed during two successive lunch hours, she began by explaining why she has a job far beneath her ambitions and qualifications: I went from someone who kept phenomenal amounts of very sophisticated, concrete data in my head...

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“Turning a Bad Experience into Something Good”

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pp. 119-137

BECAUSE MARGE BARLOW was writing a Ph.D. dissertation while undergoing breast cancer therapy, her memory loss was especially troubling. But during our long conversation in her tiny Craftsman-style house, we realized that she is more likely to be derailed by an expanded sense of self than by a diminished...

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pp. 139-142

“THE HEALING PROCESS begins,” according to physician Rita Charon, “when patients tell of symptoms or even fears of illness—first to themselves, then to loved ones, and finally to health professionals.”1 In the stories we heard, that process was badly flawed. The primary response of “loved ones” was to urge...

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pp. 143-148

BECAUSE POSTTREATMENT SYMPTOMS are long-term, we wanted to know how they change over time. In the spring of 2007, approximately five years after the initial interviews, we spoke again to ten of the eleven women who figure most prominently in this book. (The remaining woman could not be contacted.) Only one...


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pp. 149-152


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pp. 153-167


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pp. 169-181

About the Authors

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pp. 183

E-ISBN-13: 9780814707777
E-ISBN-10: 0814707777
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814707357
Print-ISBN-10: 0814707351

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2010