by Laura Jensen Walker
Started: 12 March 2008
Finished: 20 March 2008
You have to admit Reconstructing Natalie is an unusual title for a book. My sister, Julie, recommended this book and I knew in advance what it was about—breast cancer. I get a lot of good book recommendations from both of my sisters. They include spiritual books, mysteries, love stories, comedies and even books on books.
Since I knew what Reconstructing Natalie was about, I was a bit surprised when it started off in such a light humorous vein. Undoubtedly Laura Jensen Walker did that because the overall subject is so heavy, she knew the story needed leaven early on; it did!
Natalie is a twenty seven year old single woman who finds a breast lump one day. Unfortunately in her case, it is not benign. Thus begins her long days’ journey into night. And yet Walker still manages to tell Natalie’s walk through the valley of the shadow of death with great sensitivity and continued sprinklings of wry humor.
Throughout her ordeal Natalie is forced to make choices—about her body, her career, her outlook, her faith—which you may or may not agree with. I don’t happen to agree with all her choices, but then I didn’t have to endure what she did. Even the women in her support group make different choices. For one thing, there is the choice between mastectomy, lumpectomy and/or chemotherapy/radiation — well at least for some women. And even between single mastectomy and double. Following the removal of the cancerous tissue, there is the reconstruction of the new breast(s) or wearing a prosthesis. I never realized there were so many choices open to breast cancer sufferers today. The book is an education in itself.
But the technical aspects aside, I was struck by the devastating personal issues. Natalie and her two closest friends learn to make some hilarious breast jokes, which taken out of context, would seem crude and lewd—but put into perspective are poignant and bittersweet. She has no breasts anymore—if that doesn’t earn her the right to make jokes about them, nothing does. She loses all her hair as a result of the chemo; in moral support, a girl friend, male friend and his son shave their heads.
Through it all, Natalie comes to re-examine and question every facet of her life. Tragedies and turning points have that affect on us. Through reconstruction she regains her outward appearance and then some, but she has no feeling in her new breasts and will never experience the bond of nursing her own babies. Yet at least she survives to have children of her own—so many women with breast cancer aren’t even that blessed.
It is my fervent prayer that all women everywhere read this book and remember the Natalies of the world. So often I hear women talking about having and nursing babies as if every woman can do these things when in fact, so many women cannot. This thoughtless assumption can be so painful for women denied these beautiful and God-given opportunities.
dedicated to all the Natalies, Janes and their families and friends. May God watch over and support them in their fight against cancer!