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December 18, 2008

Book Notes - Gail Konop Baker ("Cancer Is a Bitch")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Gail Konop Baker's memoir, Cancer Is a Bitch (Or, I’d Rather Be having a Midlife Crisis), follows her personal breast cancer battle with unusual honesty and humor.

The Miami Herald wrote of the book:

“unflinchingly intimate…packed with razor-sharp humor…the antithesis of a victim's tale …Cancer is a Bitch offers a humorous yet frighteningly relevant glimpse into an experience too many women will face.”

In her own words, here is Gail Konop Baker's Book Notes essay for her memoir, Cancer Is a Bitch (Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis) :

After I completed my memoir Cancer Is a Bitch (Or, I’d Rather Be having a Midlife Crisis), I realized had mentioned or quoted from enough songs for a playlist and ended the book with the list. I also thought I would figure out a way to distribute a CD with the book. Of course others felt differently and it ended up getting edited out. Although I still think a CD with the book is a good idea…

“Love Shack,” B-52’s

This was the song that I danced to at my husband’s annual Hospital Christmas party the year before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctor who performed my core biopsy a year after that party, who was also a friend (my husband is a physician) and as I lay smashed on the biopsy table, I remembered how when I’d danced to “Love Shack,” the year before, I’d really let loose and felt like maybe my mojo was coming back. Of course I would be wrong about that and am only now finding my mojo again.


“Mother’s Little Helper,” The Rolling Stones

When I went to see my internist after I was diagnosed, she pressed a prescription for Valium into my hands. Immediately, I thought of “Mother’s Little Helper.,” and hummed it the whole way home. A few weeks later. after my surgery, at the next annual Hospital Christmas party, I realized several people at the party had seen me topless and weeping and I drank too much wine and begged my husband to take me home. He didn’t want to leave and we fought the whole way home, me blaming him for making me go to the party. At home I went upstairs and made myself a hot bath and took a Mother’s Little Helper, not thinking about the wine… and… you’ll have to read the book to see what happened.


“I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor

Soon after I was diagnosed and while I was waiting to have surgery, I went down into our basement to ride the stationary bike thinking, I am Lance Armstrong, I am strong, I am a fighter. When “I Will Survive” came on the radio, I belted out the chorus and burst into tears wondering, Why do I have to fight? Why can’t I just be?


“Late for the Sky,” Jackson Browne

There are a few lines in that song that could serve as THE theme song for how I felt after my surgery and started to re-examine my life. “How long have I been sleeping? How long have I been drifting alone through the night?”


“I Am the Walrus,” The Beatles

In the bathtub after the wine and mother’s little helper (that I mentioned above), my mind spun out of control and I was thinking, (among many other crazy things), I am the egg man. I am the walrus. Coo coo ca choo.


“Is That All There Is?” Peggy Lee

When I was growing up, whenever my mother threw a dinner party, she played “Is That All There Is” and I always thought it was about existential angst. But after my diagnosis, when I thought about this song, it struck me as more literal. I wondered about my own life, Is this all there is?


“Fool on the Hill,” The Beatles

After my surgery, I caught a cold and my son said, “You never get sick.”
I nodded and for half a second I believed the myth of me, that I never got sick, that I was strong and healthy, an ox, invincible, that I had defied age, that I would always be here… and when I remembered that my cells had oxidized at a younger age than most, I felt like the fool on the hill.


“Crimson and Clover,” Tommy James and The Shondells

That’s a song my oldest daughter and I discovered we both loved, dovetailing our youths for a song.


“Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin

In the airport, our first vacation after surgery:

“I put my headphones on and click on “Stairway to Heaven,” and look up and see Mike and the kids walking toward me. They’re all laughing about something and they look more relaxed and happier and the kids seem older and I see me in Anna, something around the mouth and eyes and Mike seems surer of his role as father and then molecules and atoms shift, the world flips upside down and inside out and I realize I’m seeing the future.

Them without me.

I stand up, rip the earplugs out and run to them, abandoning our bags, nearly tripping over my feet.

“What’s wrong?” Mike asks.

I’m crying. Hard. Choking on fear.

“Nothing,” I say, wedging myself in the middle. “I just missed you guys.”


“Macarena,” Los del Rio

Every third of July my neighborhood has a Fireman’s Dance and they always do a “Macarena” dance-a-long. There was something about that dance that always struck me as funny, absurd, hokey and of course, the perfect lead-in to the even hokier all day 4th of July festivities that are straight out of Mayberry RFD. In the memoir I write about this dance, although it strikes slightly differently the July after my brush with mortality.


“American Pie,” Don McLean

This is the song that ends the 3rd of July dance. It was my son’s favorite song for a very long time. And even though he sang it ALL THE TIME, I never really focused on the words until I was writing the book and was astonished how much they resonated with me. The February oncology appointment. The bad news. The worry about friends who’d also had been diagnosed and weren’t faring as well. The grieving for the innocence of the past before cancer.

“But February made me shiver/With every paper I’d deliver/Bad news on the doorstep/I couldn’t take one more step/ I can’t remember if I cried/When I read about his widowed bride/But something touched me deep inside/The day the music died… So Bye-bye, Miss American Pie.”


“I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Bonnie Raitt

There is a chapter in the book in which I talk very candidly about my marriage and refer back to a low point many years ago. My husband and I had a huge fight and I said we needed marriage counseling and he refused and I walked out and spent the night in the car listening to “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” over and over and over again. And in the morning I walked back in and said, this wasn’t a marriage and if he didn’t go to marriage counseling with me, the marriage was over. We went the next day.


“I Feel Good,” James Brown

Soon after my surgery, my best friend talked me into signing up for a half-marathon and dragged me out of my house. I didn’t really want to do it but I tied my shoes on and plodded along behind her. The day of the race I was nervous but once we started running I felt good, great, in the sea of runners heading into Times Square with live bands blaring it was nearly spiritual. I thought, I can do this. I am strong. I am healthy. I am healed. Until mile 11, when I hit a wall. We were on the West Side Highway and it was long straight and looked like it would go on and on forever. And I thought, what the hell was I thinking? Haven’t I already been through enough this year? And just when I wanted to stop, my best friend and another friend (both seasoned racers) each grabbed my hand and started singing the chorus to “I Feel Good” and we sang together as we crossed the finish line holding hands.


“Beast of Burden,” The Rolling Stones

I don’t want to be a spoiler for my own book but I mention this song in the Postscript. It’s on all of my mixed CD’s and when I left the grocery store after… it’s in the book… I got into my MINI and put down the top and turned my music on and “Beast of Burden” came on and I shifted into gear and belted out this song at the top of my lungs, my hair whipping and me weeping.

Gail Konop Baker and Cancer Is a Bitch links:

the author's website
the author's blog
excerpt from the book

About.com review
Booking Mama review
The Debutante Ball review
Katie Schwartz review
Lei Chic review
S. Krishna's Books review
Stephanie's Written Word review

1st Books essay by the author
77 Square interview with the author
BoomerGirl interview with the author
Hella Sound interview with the author
Isthmus Daily interview with the author
Literary Mama interview with the author
Literary Mama posts by the author
Miami Herald review
The Morning Blend video interview with the author
Murderati essay by the author
The View from the Bay video interview with the author
WordsToMouth interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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