Women = Books: Writing About Breast Cancer

“Women = Books: Writing About Breast Cancer.” By Ellen Leopold, Wellesley Centers for Women.

It’s easy to forget that women’s writing about breast cancer is of relatively recent vintage. But until the 1970s, the disease was the exclusive province of medical men—and their textbooks. The first women to portray the patient’s perspective, to write about their own experience, were established writers and public figures before they took up the disease, with credentials persuasive enough to overcome their publishers’ reluctance. These narratives opened the door to a new breed of breast cancer chronicle. If it was established writers who first carried the disease into print, it now was the disease that carried the writers. Once the pioneers had established a beachhead for breast cancer in the popular culture, it no longer needed to be chaperoned by celebrities. Now, in the early twenty-first century, we are witnessing yet another shift, the product of changes in both the nature of publishing and in the cultural standing of the disease. Traditional print publishers may have lost interest in personal narratives, but women have been churning them out in greater numbers than ever before. A veritable tsunami of blogs and diaries has emerged online.

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