Book Review: My One-Night Stand With Cancer

one night stand with cancerIf I saw Tania Katan right now, I’d give her a big sloppy kiss, which I hope her girlfriend wouldn’t take the wrong way. It’s just that I loved her book so much, y’know, being about cancer and boobs and Jews and all.

The odds — one in seven — have it that if you’ve got boobs or know someone with a set, it’s likely that you’re going to have to stare breast cancer in its mean, ugly face. If diagnosed, those beloved boobs will be subjected to a variety of evils, including — but by no means limited to — being poked, pricked, smushed between two plastic plates or horribly, removed. The body the boobs came with might have to endure poisoning in the forms of radiation and/or chemotherapy, hair loss (including eyebrows and eyelashes), lots of vomit and unfairly — after all that — possible death.

Breast cancer is way f*d up, yo. And so not funny. Yet somehow there are a helluva lot of laughs within the pages of “My One-Night Stand With Cancer,” a memoir chronicling Miz Katan’s diagnosis, her neurotic Jewish family, her psycho girlfriends, her treatment and her healing.

Katan, whose first confrontation with the Big C in 1992 at the age of 21 resulted in a mastectomy, wrote an award-winning play about her experience, “Stages,” that ran all over the country, including New York. She went on to pen more plays, live in San Francisco and enjoy life with one breast.

However, ten years later, just when life was starting to get boring being a starving writer, that bitch Cancer showed up again in her remaining boob. It had to go, too. It turns out that Tania is the carrier of the BRCA-1 gene, as are many women of Ashkenazic descent, which also means her ovaries have a 40 percent chance of “having a touch of the cancer” in her lifetime.

While this much bad news might make anyone else catch the express train to Prozactown, Tania has turned it into a pee-in-the-pants-hilarious account that still holds space for the gritty truth. The pacing reflects real talent; it takes a deft hand to keep jumping back and forth through the years (and boobs) to weave a cohesive story that resists self-pity but doesn’t fall into the cloying self-deprecation so many writers use to make a sad situation entertaining. Rather, a quiet spirituality emerges without a trace of preachery as the final chapters wind down; a reader would have to have polyester stuffing instead of a heart if there weren’t tears when love, chemo and performance art all coalesce.

The book’s last act of bravery is at once shocking and beautiful; see for yourself how a woman with no breasts can claim her strength and beauty while kicking ass.

(I have to offer up a disclaimer here: I went to high school with Tania, who was absolutely correct in describing our campus as an overwhelmingly Christian-jock-Heathers-type atmosphere. But I take umbrage at her book’s claim that she didn’t have friends. Girl, what was I to you, chopped f*n liver? All those years in Temple youth group making fun of Mormons ring a bell? Don’t you remember the time I made you drive us all over town on your moped chasing a spotlight that I was sure was some fantastic party but turned out to be a midnight madness sale at the Scottsdale La-Z-Boy furniture store? Also, I really appreciated it when you took me ’round the gay scene when I was in my questioning phase.)

Anyway. Even if you don’t know anyone with breast cancer (kinehora!), you’re not a lesbian and heck — even if you’re not Jewish — “My One-Night Stand With Cancer” is worth your time. Buy it!

P.S. Tania, I filed this under “Hippie Jews” ’cause I knew how much you’d like that. Lotsa love.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: My One-Night Stand With Cancer

  1. Judging from the parts of the book I read you must have had the same English teacher. Yours is a moving, gritty piece that reflects the subject. Every good author should have such a passionate review.

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