Book Review: Flat by Catherine Guthrie

Catherine Guthrie’s memoir Flat is a smart and beautifully written story that takes the reader on a journey through the land of the healthy and the sick as she faces breast cancer. As this young woman bobs around in a sea of medical uncertainty, she eventually reclaims her body, her life, and her sense of self. Despite Guthrie’s distaste for the word survivor, hers is as much a story about surviving breast cancer as it is about surviving culture and womanhood itself.

— Gayle Sulik, Breast Cancer Consortium

 As a women’s health journalist, Catherine Guthrie thought she’d covered breast cancer from every angle. After two bouts with the disease and an egregious medical error, she realized she knew nothing. She writes:

Before cancer, I was deeply at ease with my body and my queer sexuality. After cancer treatment, including me a double mastectomy without reconstruction, I grappled with insecurities about my body and my femininity that were (in some ways) heightened by my same-sex relationship because every night, as I climbed into bed, I came face to face with what I’d lost.

During treatment, everything that could go wrong did. My surgeon performed a double mastectomy but missed the cancerous lump. The most effective drug for preventing recurrence failed. My breast cancer returned. And another physician error sent millions of breast cancer cells cascading into my body.

In retrospect, breast cancer shook my faith in my body, in my marriage, and in medicine. But, ultimately, mine is a story about finding the strength to forge an unconventional path — one of listening to my body — that, in hindsight, I’d been on all along.

Catherine Guthrie is an award-winning women’s health journalist. For the past twenty years, her reporting, essays, and criticism have appeared in dozens of national magazines including Time; O, The Oprah Magazine; Slate; Prevention; and Yoga Journal. She has faced breast cancer twice. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

Flat: Reclaiming my Body from Breast Cancer by Catherine Guthrie. Skyhorse Publishing, 2018. 264 pp. ISBN:9781510732919

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