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Review: The Red Devil...

books Updated: Nov 29, 2010 17:16 IST

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Book: The Red Devil - To Hell With Cancer - and Back
Author: Katherine Russell Rich
Category: Non fiction
Publisher: Tranquebar
Price: Rs: 275.

Author Katherine Russell Rich's account of her long fight with breast cancer takes the reader deep into the abyss of devastation that a cancer patient goes through in Cancerland. But through the many downslides, there are quite a few, the fighter in her stands out - changing jobs, writing articles, attending group therapy sessions, talking to other patients, actively participating in online cancer forum discussions, even striking up a relationship for a brief while.

But hope and the will to live see the american fiercely get through each time.

The disease first came to notice as a little lump in her left breast, "a blob that felt like oatmeal packed in casing", and she was only 32. It was too early in life to get cancer. Terrified that it just might be the dreaded disease, Rich decided to wait for some time. The lump developed into a walnut sized swelling, now clearly visible. Around the time she first noticed the node, Rich's marriage too broke up and she moved out of her husband's home. It was a double whammy from life.

After the doctors confirmed it was a malignancy, the author toyed with the idea of a mastectomy - or removal of the affected breast. She chose lumpectomy - or removal of the lump - with six months of chemo. As the revelation of the state of her disease hit her, she writes: "Even though I was expecting it, the blast, when it came, side-swiped me, shred me, it flung me into a parched, strange land ... in Cancerland, I was alone in a way that was absolute, foul".

Rich lost her hair due to chemo, felt people in office were avoiding her and, worse, she was alone in her house, with her disease for company. But whenever her spirits touched the nadir, the author would always spring back, holding on to a spring of hope. "Divorce, cancer, pariah-hood on the job - I replayed my tragedies till I was tired of them... I decided to become my own psychic, make my own forecasts...It occurred to me that I was glad to be alive, glad to be who and where I was."

Red DevilWhen the cancer hit her bones, Rich was 37. The oncologist told her she had just one or two years to live. The cancer in her bones one night led her spine to fracture, and she was alone. She had bent down to pick up a piece of paper, when she felt a searing pain and she couldn't get up. While crawling in unspeakable pain to the bed, Rich had the presence of mind to grab the headset of her cordless phone to call the ambulance.

After a series of radiation therapy, her new oncologist advises bone marrow transplant. Standing before the mirror one day, Rich notices something odd about herself. Her waist had gone broader and the pots and pans that she could easily grab from the shelf are suddenly out of reach. From a tall five feet seven, she had shrunk to five-five - "a result of three collapsed vertebrae".

On the advice of a friend she begins to meditate, and that helps soothe her nerves. The bone marrow transplant procedure leaves Rich devastated. She was beginning to lose the will to live when it occurs to her that the procedure had cost quarter of a million dollars. She tells herself, "You cannot spend that kind of money and then kill yourself.".. "The absurdity of the position made me smile".

Three years later, during a review the doctor finds a "recurrence". A fighter that she is, Rich decides to combat the disease with alternative therapy. She drinks carrot, garlic and cabbage juice, starts Tibetan herbs and takes injections of a drug that prevents a second spread to the bone. It works. When she goes to the doctor weeks later, her condition is stable and remains so.

An interesting and informative read, it never gets boring, mainly because of the racy style of writing. Rich has also authored "Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language".