“I want to be brave. I want to be big. I want to be gracious and cool. I want to be the Audrey Hepburn of cancer…” At 45, I was a competitive runner, a yoga practitioner, a life-long subscriber to Prevention magazine, rarely sick, no aches, no pains, a person others consulted for nutrition and anti-aging tips, one of the healthiest people I knew. After raising three kids, my oldest heading off to college, my younger two busy with their own lives, I looked forward to getting back to the writing career I’d always meant to have before marriage and motherhood. I thought it was finally my turn.
Then right before Valentine’s Day 2006, I heard the words that flipped my world upside down: “Just to be safe, I think we should biopsy.”
It was the beginning of my year-long struggle to come to terms with the psychological fall-out of my breast cancer diagnosis that upstaged the midlife crisis I’d thought was waiting in the wings. “I wanted to be feeling bad about my neck. Instead I was feeling bad I wouldn’t live long enough to feel bad about it.” I was suddenly faced with the truth that awaits all of us—this was my life, and I would do anything to hold onto it.
As a doctor’s wife, I knew more than I should about my doctors and caregivers, my diagnosis and treatment. As a mother, the idea of not being there for the next birthday, next graduation, next anything, was unbearable. And as a woman who had put my own dreams on hold for so many years, I felt cheated, but determined to make every minute count.
Cancer Is a Bitch is about the outrageous challenges of marriage, about the joys and unpredictability of motherhood, about the depth of friendship, about finally letting go of old baggage and finding your lost self midlife, about figuring out what you want to do with your life, about wanting to live now.
“Funny, raw, and moving,” this life-affirming story will make you want to hug your husband, your partner, your kids, your loved ones, for all that you have—and for all that you don’t. Will inspire you to wake up with all your senses heightened, your arms and your eyes wide open and do the things you meant to do, be the person you always meant to be.
I am the Accidental Memoirist. I never planned to write a breast cancer memoir, never planned to get the cancer that would inspire it.
But in January 2006, soon after completing my second novel about a woman who finds a lump in her breast and thinks she might have breast cancer and wonders if she’s lived a meaningful life, and sent it off to my then-agent, I went in for my annual mammogram and was told it was “suspicious.” A week later I was having surgery and while I was waiting for my own results, I received an e-mail from my agent (who didn’t know about my health scare) that said something like, I don’t really like the breast cancer novel. I’m not sure I care whether that woman has breast cancer or not. Ouch!
But the writing disappointment was a minor blip compared to how the diagnosis rocked my world and shattered my sense of self. I was about the healthiest person I knew. I never got sick. No aches or pains. I ran. I practiced yoga. I ate mostly vegetarian, whole grain and organic. I was the person others consulted for health and anti-aging tips.
I felt like a fake, a fraud. Even after I was told I had the “good” cancer, it was non-invasive and they got it all out, I knew, because I was relatively young that I was at high risk for recurrence. I felt panicked and paralyzed. I couldn’t write, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything other than Google health sites and obsess about recurrence rates and make homemade batches of organic facial creams. I thought about starting an organic facial cream company for vain hypochondriacs like me. I asked my husband to bring home an electro magnetic field measurer (I’m still waiting for that… do those even exist?). I suggested we move to Utah and live off the land (even though I don’t know the first thing about gardening or farming).
Finally after weeks and weeks of this, my husband pressed a journal into my hands and said, “You have to write this down.” I shook my head. I was not a journal keeper, never had been and I did not want to write any of this down. But one day I picked up the journal and a pen and without even thinking, I started scribbling and my deepest rawest craziest most intimate thoughts on the page.
The first lines were: “I’m sitting topless in the oncologist’s office on Valentine’s Day. Cancer is a Bitch.” Once I started writing, the words just flooded out. I shook and wept and fell asleep and woke up and wrote some more. The ironic thing is, as I poured these crazy thoughts out, I thought I would never EVER show those words to anyone. I thought this was a way I didn’t have to burden my friends and family with my crazy thoughts. (And now you can go buy them on Amazon right now!) Eventually, I wrote those thoughts into an essay I called CANCER IS A BITCH and sent it to some trusted writer friends who said it was powerful and I should do something with it. But what was it? What would I do with it?
Soon after that, I read that Literary Mama was looking for columnists and on a whim I pitched the idea of a breast cancer mama column and they said yes and I started writing “Bare-breasted Mama.” To be honest, it was painful to write and I felt naked, like I was exposing myself both physically and emotionally. But the responses from readers were so soulful and many hadn’t even had cancer but they either knew someone who had or were just responded to the midlife issues about motherhood and marriage and career that I wrote about. They thanked me for making them laugh (because believe it or not the book is funny!) and cry and think. Their words gave me the courage to keep writing and opening up and eventually leave my then agent and pitch the idea of a breast cancer memoir to a new agent.
Next thing I knew I had a new agent, a new book, a new lease on life.
So not only did I not realize I was a writing a memoir but I also didn’t realize I was writing my way out of my crazy funk.
I know that the word cancer scares people and they wonder why they should read about it. But I have learned from my readers that the funk I describe in my book and ultimately emerged from… could be a divorce, losing a job, a bad injury, anything that knocks you down and makes you wonder how and when you will get back up.
And I did…. eventually. Got back up stronger and more determined than ever. As a result, since my diagnosis two years and ten months ago, I have written a book, finally launched my career and my two daughters to college, run two half marathons, gone to yoga boot camp and Italy and trained two yellow lab puppies. But more significantly, I discovered that the more I opened up, the more the world opened up to me.
So why not? I say most days now. Why not live more urgently, more openly, more curiously, more honestly, more lovingly? Why not be the person I always meant to be?
My hope is that by vicariously experiencing my downs and ups and downs and ups again that you will be inspired to be your own most amazing self. Right now.
"What a powerful book! It is beautiful to read, it is honest and powerful. By talking so privately about yourself you
touched so much of my own life and I am sure of many others. Our stories are not parallel, yet you touched some kind of
essence in the relationship process (at least in our western society). You touched me both at the individual and at the
couple level, even if my story is different from yours. I consider myself a very strong woman, but it empowers me to
read a book like yours. I cried and laughed and was left with a very positive feeling.
Your book will make many woman and many couples feel they are not isolated and in an indirect way will validate their inner feelings and maybe give them the strength to deal with them. You are a great writer.”
“i finished your fabulous 'novoir' at breakfast this morning and it was spectacular ! Virginia Woolf would be proud (and
so am i)… the truth i wake up to every morning is, ‘everything and nothing has changed.’ great line, Gail. even more, i
loved the 'Miss American Pie' lyric, the seamless, subtle thread you used to tie the tapestry together. the subterranean
connections ('february made me shiver') to the death of the innocence of rock and the death of the innocence of the
pre-cancer days . . . LOVE EM! if i had the time (i certainly have the inclination), i'd write a critical essay Gail,
because your book deserves it. it straddles commercial and literary… we can all resonate with Cancer.”
-- Brian, 23
“I started your novel today and had to finish. I can't explain the connection. Honestly, besides your humor and wit, the
novel resonated with me like nothing ever has. Not because of the breast cancer, but being a doctor's wife. I cried at
so many parts. It was so real, as though you were inside my marriage. The inadequate feeling of being home, trying to
write. The attitude like I should thank him for being married to me. I came away from your novel knowing one other
person understands. One other woman has felt the way I have. It's very comforting--empowering in a way. The wife, the
kids, can't compete with the hospital or the patients. Maybe after so many years of playing second you begin to believe
it. I took far more away from this novel than a great read. Thank you so much for your candor, I've never connected on
so many levels with a book. Your words have forced me to take a good hard look at so many things. Your novel is a very
special gift to all women, especially me.”
“I just wanted to say thank you for your book. I just finished Cancer is a Bitch and thought I'm so glad I stumbled upon
it at the library where I work. I was just diagnosed with ADH and am awaiting a biopsy to see if it is DCIS as well.
Reading about you has made me feel like I am going through this with a friend. So thanks for being there for me and
understanding the pain, discomfort and fear associated with the procedures I've had and the procedures yet to come. I am
38, live in the suburbs of Chicago, and have noone close to me who has gone through any of this before. Your book came
it the right time for me and I just watched to say thanks.”
“I just finished your book this afternoon. I couldn't put it down. My first (wildly inaccurate) impression was way off !
I was thinking.... is this going to be merely an intense screed, a wailing against horrid bad luck, an indulgent poor me
diatribe against the inept medical community, a cry for help or a selfish attention-getting plea for sympathy?.....and
honestly wondered where it would or could go. I kept on flipping the pages.....and the layers of humanity and
vulnerability and FEAR began to build and it pulled me in, deeper and deeper until I felt as though I were personally
going through your hell. But all the while, you managed to keep your midlife journey funny and poignant and courageous…
I think having cancer gave you your life back… Thank God you survived intact and sane. Now please, you owe the world
some more tender, yet electrifying books!”
“I just finished your book, literally, about five minutes ago and I loved it. As of this writing, I am awaiting my own
breast cancer surgery… Your book made me both laugh and cry. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one that has had
all the "random" thoughts of blame, guilt, etc. I just want to thank you for putting your heart and soul out there for
people to see. I know it has helped me in my own cancer crisis and is helping many other women and their families as
“just finished your book, literally about 1/2 hour ago and I really loved it… You truly are a remarkable women. Don't
fool yourself, with all that you have gone through, cancer and life in general made me sit and think about my own life
and the words that you wrote hit home with similar things that happened in my own life and have me wondering and
thinking everyday how I ended up where I have… since the day that you and I met I have made changes in my life for the
positive and I have you to thank for that… I am now more positive of the direction I am going to take in my life and
start doing things that I should have done along time ago and didn't… I kind feel that I have a new friend in you and
even though I haven't had cancer, but I did go through the mother thing and the husband thing and the children thing
similar to you, it was just nice and refreshing to know that besides me there are others out there that think and talk
the same as me and have the same scares and thoughts. So in the end Thank You! Because of you I am on the road to
accomplishing anything and everything I set my mind to do and finally finish them too.”
“I just finished your book Cancer is a Bitch and loved it! My mom just finished cancer treatments and is doing great and
I'm going in for my own small procedure tomorrow to get a lump removed. I grabbed your book randomly in a rush at the
library to get something to entertain me on my commute and couldn't believe how relative it was to my life. Thanks for
“I just finished reading your book "Cancer's a Bitch" and thought it was delightful, both funny and candid. Just wanted
to say kudos to you to writing a book that was honest about the disease while also celebrating the joys and pitfalls of
other areas of your life. I think a lot of people will really appreciate it.”
"I could not put CIAB down! You don't have to be going through cancer to appreciate Gail's wit and hysterical
perspective on life in general. For someone with cancer, they will inevitably relate to her raw and realistic
observations on what this diagnosis/ disease can do to a person and her family and friends. That said, Gail takes you
through her journey in such an honest yet light-hearted way and in the end you feel her strength and sense of humor take
her through it all and inspire others along the way. As one who works with cancer patients, I recommend it constantly to
patients. I truly did not want this book to end and felt that Gail was a new friend!”
“I just finished your book. It was so inspiring, enlightening and personal. I had a hard time putting it down.”
“I just finished your terrific book, the thoughts and feelings racing through my head, tears running down my cheeks….
All this to let you know that I love your book—your book about life, being a woman, a mother, a wife, making choices,
struggling, self discovery and cancer too. It’s happy, sad, painful, scary, uncomfortable and triumphant. While it’s
you, it’s part me too and probably thousands of others. That’s your success. Thank you. You shine, girl.”
“I've finished it (two days non stop)...the book is AMAZING!!!!! It was the strangest experience too because I knew some
of the people you were talking about...your hair dresser and his wife, your best friend the runner with the great style
(in clothes and glasses) and of course your family. You know when you read a book and you paint a picture of what the
character looks like, then you see the movie and the director has casted the characters all wrong and ruined the plot?
That was not happening to me...I could see the looks on your children's faces, the love and fear in [your husband’s]
voice and the strength, determination and reality in your thoughts. Your mother and your concerns for your own influence
as a mother speak to me in ways that I can not explain. It was like I was watching it happen...I laughed out loud, I
cried, I prayed and most of all I was so proud that you were able to believe in yourself and your family in order to
create this book! You have a real gift Gail...thank you for sharing it with all of us… you truly are a blessing and an
-- Rachael, 31
“I picked it up tonight… and read it in one sitting. My arm fell asleep, but I couldn't put it down. It is really a
stunning book. Perfect to read so close to doing the komen 3-day… Loved it. Hate that you had the story to write, but
love that you shared the story… thank you, thank you!”
“I started the book last night at bedtime- read into the night and finished this AM. It is beautiful- honest,
gutwrenching at times, and very powerful. Congratulations on the book and the journey that produced
More readers on Good Reads! Goodreads
“Gail Konop Baker is a knock-out writer who cracks me up one minute then brings me to tears the next. Her beautiful, funny, feisty, poignant memoir isn't just an inspiration for cancer patients and their families—but for all of us. There is so much wisdom between these pages, yet the story is told without an ounce of self pity or a trace of triteness. In the end, this tale is a testament to how precarious and priceless life is, and how each of us needs to live it to the fullest, starting right now.”
—Lolly Winston, author of Good Grief
“Don't let the "C" word scare you— Cancer Is a Bitch is smart, funny, hopeful, and as much about life, families and self-discovery as the cancer that prompts it. I loved this book: Read it!”
—Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants
“Gail Konop Baker has achieved the near-impossible: She's given us real life—funny, sad, intimate, heartbreaking, and hopeful—on the page. To write that way is her gift, and it's a gift to readers too.”
—Jon Clinch, author of Finn
“Cancer Is a Bitch smartly illustrates how breast cancer impacts our roles as wives, mothers, lovers, and friends. Gail Konop Baker's candid recollections are also filled with extraordinary hope and humor. Her 'mammoir' is witty, wise, and wonderfully written.”
—Elisabeth Squires, author of bOObs: A Guide to Your Girls
“…funny, uplifting ‘mammoir’” (4 stars)
“In this heartfelt memoir, Baker proves to be both humorous … and compassionate.”
“Cutting, crafty, and clearly a woman on a mission, Baker takes us along as her life turns upside down in so many ways. No graphic treatment specifics here, but an honest (and very funny….) approach to breast cancer.”
“The abstract risks concretized into everyday worries—indeed, all everyday aspects of the disease—are made wrenchingly authentic in Baker’s down-to-earth account.”
“Baker courageously places her screwed-up childhood, imperfect marriage, motherhood and sanity under the microscope…Her guts, and affection for the occasional joke, toke and profanity, make her a deeply consoling companion on a frightening journey.”
“Approaching midlife, Gail Konop Baker hadn't really imagined that she would be confronted by anything more irksome than menopause, aches and pains, and, eventually, the quiet of an empty nest. Instead, this runner, mother of three, and physician wife got hit by breast cancer. Despite that blow, Gail's spirit (and ambitions) remained buoyant. As she wrote on her blog, "I want to be brave. I want to be big. I want to be gracious and cool. I want to be the Audrey Hepburn of cancer." And in this endearing, ebullient memoir, she succeeds.”
—Barnes & Noble
“You-are-there account of the author’s diagnosis, surgery and much more.”
“Runner, wife, mother and Prevention Magazine junkie, 46-year-old Baker was looking forward to worrying about neck wrinkles when she was blindsided with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Over the course of a year, she chronicles how she kept her humor even as the peaceful midlife and happy marriage she had envisioned earthquaked into rockier terrain. Full of humor, grit and hope, Baker’s book is both heartbreakingly honest and undeniably healing. It’s also full of heart: some of the proceeds go to national Breast Coalition and the Wisconsin Well Woman Program.”
—Dame Magazine, November’s Best Books
“This is a medical memoir told from the other side of the hospital bed. A fit, suburban mom, wife of a radiologist, and a woman eager to see her words in print, Baker is diagnosed with breast cancer while writing a novel about a woman facing down a midlife crisis and a lump. Who says life doesn’t have a taste for the ironic? Though this book won’t be published until October, I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy, and it is without question one of the most powerful books I’ve read. I’ve not had the bad fortune to have had cancer (knock wood) nor have I faced down a midlife meltdown, but I found myself relating on the most primal level with Baker’s story about being a woman. She is at once frenetic, searing, vulnerable, pissed off, utterly charming and always, always honest. This will stay with me for all time.”
“…Gail Konop Baker strips down to raw feelings and takes us on a ride through life with her husband, three children, literary yearnings, a rocky family background and a diagnosis of breast cancer. Baker writes well about the emotions that often go along with a diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer and puts it in perspective with the whirl of life as a Mother and wife.”
“A funny and moving memoir, Baker shares her struggles with juggling breast cancer treatment, midlife, motherhood and marriage with a "rogue boob"—and, ultimately, triumphing.”
—Self Magazine’s 2008 Women’s Cancer Handbook Resource Guide
“The minute I started reading Cancer Is A Bitch, I could NOT put it down. Honestly, irreverently, hysterically and exquisitely, Gail hurled me into what she endured and continues to face as a cancer survivor. But, more than that- the frenetic chaos, endless questions, overwhelming fear and love, so much love for her family, her life and her relationship with herself, it was so poetically human, so perfectly written, how could I not relate? With every page I devoured, the more invested in Gail's life, in her family, her hopes, her dreams, her friends, her choices, her fears, her consequences, and her everything, I became. I felt so deeply connected to her. I fell in love with her, her bravery, the complexity of her mind, how brutally-unrelentingly-honest she is and her humor…”
—All the Way from Oy to Vey
“Facing fears with humor, honesty”
“the humor is wonderfully sarcastic and heartbreaking at the same time… its best aspect is its sheer humanity. Isn’t depressing… funny, witty… will have you laughing out loud. Read this book.”
—S. Krishna’s Books
“Unflinchingly intimate, never whiney, often hilarious and always authentic.”
“Cancer Is a Bitch is a rollicking, life-affirming read, by a true heroine for our times.”
“Books for Breast Cancer Awareness Month”
“a heart-felt, gut-wrenching beautiful story…”
—Cheryl’s Book Nook
“I caught myself laughing. A lot. Wasn’t this is a cancer memoir? Why the heck was I laughing? …Gail is your everyday mom living in Wisconsin. She’s just like me — and you. She got hit hard by cancer and figured out how to keep her head high. It’s a lesson anyone can use right now.”
“If you're expecting a downer, Cancer Is a Bitch isn't it.”
—Work It, Mom!
“The writing is utterly superb as Gail's voice speaks to your heart about her life which — for a time — happens to include dealing with a health issue...yet it could be any other physical, emotional, deeply personal issue. So please don't shy away from this book. Instead embrace it, be enlightened by it and — most of all — enjoy it.”
—Seize a Daisy
“I had heard wonderful things about this book from some other bloggers, but I was anxious to see for myself whether I would like this book. Let's just say that I read it in less than a day, and I couldn't put the book down — I absolutely adored this book. Ms. Konop Baker is a terrific writer; and while I read this book, I felt like she was just talking to me and telling me about her life. But what really impressed me was her ability to make me laugh (even though I didn't find her situation to be funny in the least) as well as her brutal honesty about her cancer… Ms. Konop Baker is one incredibly strong woman and a very gifted writer. As I read this book, I just marveled at the strength and grace she showed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though I've never had any health issues (kind of like Ms. Konop Baker pre-cancer), I could totally relate to her feelings. I think I'd have so many of the same reactions she did, and her fears about her children losing their mother were painfully real to me. Not only did I appreciate how open she was about not only her fears and insecurities of having breast cancer, but I was also very impressed with her honesty about her relationships with her husband and mother… I highly recommend reading Cancer Is a Bitch. I think every women would enjoy this well-written memoir.”
“Baker gives women a voice that says, you can be angry, cry, hold your loved ones close, reject people who love you… Yes, Gail Konop Baker's memoir is right, Cancer Is a Bitch.”
—Lesa’s Book Critiques