LBBC Writer and Editorial Coordinator Erin Rowley reviews Madhulika Sikka’s book, A Breast Cancer Alphabet.
Cancerland is a place you never planned to visit. Author Madhulika Sikka didn’t want to go there either. But through her book, A Breast Cancer Alphabet, she volunteers to be your tour guide as you navigate life after a breast cancer diagnosis. “This book,” she says, “is for all of you who have become members of a club you did not want to join,” as well as for your friends and family members.
A Breast Cancer Alphabet is a quick read – Ms. Sikka, a broadcast journalist who was diagnosed in 2010, writes that she wanted “a short book that wouldn’t tax my chemo-addled brain.” But she manages to address many topics, from the more obvious ones (B is for Breasts, D is for Drugs, M is for Mastectomy) to ones that may seem frivolous next to the question of survival, but are important to your quality of life (S is for Sex, H is for Hair, L is for Looks, F is for Fashion Accessories). In the chapter T is for Therapy, she stresses that treatment should go beyond chemotherapy and physical therapy. She says it should include psychotherapy and aspects of everyday life that are therapeutic for you, like watching a marathon of your favorite TV show or staying in bed (P is for Pillows, X is for eXhaustion, Z is for ZZZ’s.)
The book has a lot of information that could be helpful to someone just starting their breast cancer journey, including a section of blank pages at the end and the suggestion to take notes while talking to your healthcare team (N is for Notebook). It could also be valuable for you if you’re far along or done with treatment and would enjoy hearing another person’s perspective on what she went through. The short, engaging and easy-to-read format also makes the book a good resource for family and friends who may be unfamiliar with the language of cancer.
Ms. Sikka has a blunt, honest writing style and she embraces a number of difficult topics related to worrying or wanting to give up (A is for Anxiety, Q is for Quitting). The book’s length doesn’t allow her to bring up every aspect of breast cancer though. One important part of the experience is figuring out how to navigate insurance and pay for treatment, and on this topic, the book is quiet. (For information about paying for breast cancer treatment, read our Guide to Understanding Financial Concerns.)
Ms. Sikka often seems to assume that her experience will be your experience, too. But your decisions about, and reactions to what’s happening to you are valid, even if they differ from hers. She touches on this in the chapter G is for Guilt, where she writes that you shouldn’t feel guilty – not for feeling sorry for yourself, not for missing the way you looked before treatment, not for depending on other people.
“It is perfectly appropriate to have your world turn its direction toward you,” Ms. Sikka writes. “It is a useful advantage of carrying the cancer card – use it to its utmost benefit.”
In addition, you certainly shouldn’t feel guilty if your experience is or was different than that of the author’s, or of any other person with breast cancer. Every person who goes through breast cancer treatment has unique experiences, and unique feelings about those experiences. But one thing that brings the members of this “club” together is that everyone is getting an education in working through a difficult situation. Through A Breast Cancer Alphabet, Madhulika Sikka helps you learn the ABCs of breast cancer and may even inspire you to think of some of your own words that match your experience with the disease.
Have you read A Breast Cancer Alphabet? What did you think of this book? What books did you relate to while you were diagnosed and treated for breast cancer? Tell us in the comments section below.