A DRIVE-BY DOUBLE MASTECTOMY

What Nobody Tells You About Breast Cancer

Anne Boyer lays bare the brutal realities in a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about her life with the disease

Janice Harayda
Lit Life
Published in
7 min readJun 6, 2024

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National Cancer Institute photo of a woman having a mammogram on Unsplash

A lot of books about breast cancer come your way when you’ve written for women’s magazines, as I have, and lately, they’ve had an alarming theme. The poet Anne Boyer sums it up in her elegant account of her experience of the disease, The Undying, which won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction:

”The pharmaceutical companies lie. The doctors lie. The sick lie. The healthy lie. The researchers lie. The Internet lies.”

If that sounds harsh, consider what happened in 2009. That year medical experts stopped advising women to do regular breast self-exams. Since the 1970s, doctors and others had warned that to skip these was to risk dying prematurely and, worse, to have yourself to blame for it.

Anne Boyer author photo and the cover of “The Undying”
Anne Boyer and the cover of “The Undying” / Macmillan Books

My former employer, Glamour, was among the women’s magazines that routinely ran public service ads showing how to do the exams. The ads included diagrams of breasts, against a pink background, in…

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Janice Harayda
Lit Life

Critic, novelist, award-winning journalist. Former book editor of the Plain Dealer and book columnist for Glamour. Words in NYT, WSJ, and other major media.