Book Review – The Middle Place

The Middle PlaceKelly Corrigan had a good life. In her mid-thirties, she was in a good marriage, had two young beautiful daughters and led a happy existence. Her world turned topsy-turvey in August of 2004 when she found a lump in her breast. She started chemotherapy right away, handling the side effects (including loosing her hair) with grace. Then, right before Thanksgiving and almost at the end of her own treatment, her mother calls to tell her that her beloved father George has been diagnosed with cancer.

Corrigan’s memoir is the story of her own journey to becoming a breast cancer survivor and it is also a love letter to the man who shaped the woman she became – her father. Each alternating chapter Kelly writes about her childhood in Philadelphia with her mother, two older brothers and her loving, bursting with personallity father George “Greenie” Corrigan. The Middle Place, which the title references, is the time in which the author found herself a successful wife and mother of two and the fearful, childlike daughter of George and Mary, right between adulthood and still being someone else’s child.

And that’s what this whole thing is about. Calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork – a marraige licence, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns – clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.

It was easy for me to relate to Ms. Corrigan, since there are a number of similarities between her own life with cancer and mine. Both virtually the same age at diagnosis with the same type of breast cancer (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma) I also have two young daughters and have had to adjust to life with cancer as a young woman and mother. I started this book early one morning and devoured it within the day. I just couldn’t get enough of the loving way Kelly wrote about her father, or how she explained her honest feelings about having cancer.

There were many passages in the book that were touching, funny and very sweet. Like when Kelly told her mom that she had cancer:

I know her job is to keep me from harm. After all, I am a mother now too. I know what it is to want to safeguard your children. It starts with the first prenatal vitamin and it never ends. Safety gates, life vests, fire drills, swim lesson, CPR. And still, one day, the kids you’ve been so careful to protect might call to say she has cancer.

Or when she decides to send out an e-mail to her friends and family about her progress with treatment:

I send out an e-mail, tinkering with every sentence. It has to be upbeat so people won’t worry too much and funny so they won’t be scared to write back. It’s a big job, being the first person your age to get cancer.

I could have written that paragraph myself. Or maybe this paragraph, which brought me to tears, talking about her friend Jen who had just lost her mother (have just lost my own mother last year, it was especially touching):

 When I called Jen to check on her, she told me that people were swarming around doing what people do: flowers, food, cards, calls, favors. She said just about everyone said something like, “Your mom had a good life. She had a lot of happiness. She was so uncomfortable. Now she’s at peace.” Well, yeah, okay, good for your mom. But what about you? What about your peace? Your comfort? Who’s gonna remember what you were for Halloween that year or the name of your fifth grade teacher? Who’s gonna loan you money to buy your first house or cry when your baby is born? Who’s gonna sit in the front row of your play?

Lastly, the author writes about her reaction when told by her oncologist that her treatment would put her in early menopause, therefore unable to bear any more children:

They talk about cancer like it was something to get through, to treat, to beat. They never said it was going to change everything, all my plans, and take things away from me that I have wanted since I was a child. They said it was going to be a bad year. So doesn’t that mean that when the bad year is over, when you do everything, when you do everything you are told to do – and with a goddamn smile, no less – you get to go back to the life you had?

The Middle Place has been released in paperback recently and you can find out more about the book and the author at her website.

Cross posted at Stephanie’s Written Word

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