Book Review “Speak the Language of Healing”

Book:  “Speak the Language of Healing:  Living with Breast Cancer without Going to War“.

Authors:  Susan Kuner, Carol Matzkin Orsborn, Linda Quigley, Karen Leigh Stroup

Publisher:  Conari Press


This is one of the best books I’ve read on how to deal with cancer.

Most books tell us that cancer is a war. We are told we have to fight it … it is a battle.  Cancer becomes a disease filled with aggressive terminology, there are conflicts, it is the enemy to be vanquished, and the people who have cancer are victims.  People who make it through the treatment are survivors and winners.  Those who die from it are defeated and seen as losers and failures.

For some, using military metaphors is helpful.  But for others, this book shows us there is a new way of thinking about and living with a life-threatening illness.

This book is the journey of four women all at different stages of breast cancer, who see cancer not as a battle, but an initiation.

An inititation “signifies a transformation in which the initiate is ‘reborn’ into a new role” (Wikipedia).

Seen in this way, the path to healing suddenly shines with meaning.  We, who have been touched with the brush of cancer are no longer victims; as initiates we now have power to transform ourselves spiritually, where every action is contributes to healing in a long and difficult journey.

All four women use allopathic medicine; alternative and spiritual healing are an adjunct.  However, spirituality is a keynote in the way they deal with their cancer.

The book doesn’t shirk from the dark questions:  “What did I do to deserve the cancer?” “Did I create the cancer?” “How badly do I want to live?”  “If only I had … I wouldn’t have cancer now.”  “How important are my breasts to me?”  “How willing am I to endure the pain of cancer treatment?”  “What is the purpose of life?  The purpose of my life?”

But there is humour and a lighter side too.  I love the section on “How to Speak the Language of Healing” with tips on how to speak to someone with cancer without committing faux pas.

For example, if you know someone with cancer, instead of saying “You’ll be fine”, say “I hope it goes well for you”.

Instead of saying “How are you?”, say “It’s good to see you” [this gives the person with cancer the choice whether or not to talk about their prognosis].

Instead of saying anything about God such as, “God must love you very much”, say “I will keep you in my thoughts” or “I will keep you in my prayers”.

I read the book going “yep … yep” at the accounts of good friends who fell by the way side, repelled by the cancer diagnosis; of the feeling of isolation; of the terror of the disease; of the fear of death.

The book has made me think – a lot of modern new Age spirituality surrounds the person with guilt, that the person is in some way responsible for the cancer.  This book questions this, that as humans, we are not responsible for everything in the universe – that’s why we’re human.  Perhaps as humans we are limited, and can only choose to live with whatever life throws at you with grace and dignity.  That’s what it means to be human.

This is a roadmap and path of hope not just for women with breast cancer, but for anyone with cancer.