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Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  412 ratings  ·  85 reviews
Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008, Susan Gubar underwent radical debulking surgery, an attempt to excise the cancer by removing part or all of many organs in the lower abdomen. Her memoir mines the deepest levels of anguish and devotion as she struggles to come to terms with her body’s betrayal and the frightful protocols of contemporary medicine. She finds solace in t ...more
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published April 28th 2012 by W. W. Norton Company
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Jenny Brown
Aug 02, 2012 rated it liked it
I appreciated Gubar's intention to be honest about her experiences, but regretted that she so often took flight in intellectualizing instead of telling her story. A good half of the book is her citing Dead Male Authors and the few officially recognized feminists beloved by post-modernist academics as if some famous person saying something somehow made it true. The intense experiences she herself attempts to recount often are covered in a sentence or two.

Reading this, what struck me, as someone
Canadian Reader
A quick search using key words “Breast Cancer Memoirs” brings up 277 results. Change “Breast” to “Ovarian” and you get only 20. True, a woman’s chances of getting breast cancer sometime during her life are 1 in 8, while her lifetime risk of ovarian cancer is approximately 1 in 67. But as Susan Gubar makes abundantly clear in Memoir of a Debulked Woman, ovarian cancer goes places other cancers do not, often tangling up with the intestines. Bowel obstructions are not uncommon; neither a ...more
lark benobi
I just learned that Susan Gubar has a new memoir out, Late-Life Love, which is great news on so many levels.

About this memoir, I wrote in 2015:

What an extraordinary achievement. What an astonishingly clear-headed book. What a hard book to read and how glad I am to have read it. It's never 'brave' in the facile sense we use that word for, to describe other memoirs about impossible circumstances. And yet, Gubar is "brave" in the purest sense, for having written this book with her eyes so complete
May 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
If you're looking for a book that is full of cheerful platitudes and blind hope, this is not for you. In fact, in the introduction, Gubar writes, "...For those who have reason to believe or need to believe that their cancer is curable, please remember this book is not about you...." After seeing the relentless ravages of ovarian cancer up close and personal for over 2 years, this book accurately captures the devastating diagnosis and the limits of medicine. A cancer that has such a high morbidit ...more
Ann Mcelligott
Jun 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I got this book on Thursday and finished it Sunday night. it is a riveting account of a woman dealing not only with a cancer diagnosis, but with the impact of the very treatment prescribed for its cure. My own surprise diagnosis was just four days short of one year ago. Like her I was stunned and yet strangely numbed by the shock of what had been found. I knew nothing about the specifics of ovarian cancer and have learned much in this year.
Gubar does not give us a feel-good account of her cance
Sara Furr
May 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I just started this book yesterday and considered calling in sick today so I could finish it. My sister Debra died from ovarian cancer on October 6, 2010 after being diagnosed in early July of 2010. I remember hearing the word "debulked" then reading it in the pathology report. It was a horrifying procedure. Debra chose not to go through the other trauma of chemo and radiation after hearing the surgeon's brief description of what he'd done, explaining it somewhat like this: "Imagine that your ab ...more
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
As a cancer survivor (breast cancer) I find memoirs by other women who have been through cancer very interesting, and while I agree with the author that all the cheery, positive stories are a bit tiring and off-putting to those of us who do NOT consider our cancer experience to be a gift, this memoir was not very satisfactory. Her story is horrific and enlightening and should feel very personal but it doesn't. There is so much time spent quoting other writers and philosophizing that it ends up f ...more
Jun 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: techies, health professionals; NOT for patients except the most gutsy (pun intended).
Recommended to Pamela by: website
This book does not really read like a memoir, it's impersonal and replete with literary references, poetic allusions, intellectual projections, and I expected so much more in towards the "personal account" side of the spectrum. It seems like I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of "I" statements. "Memoir of a Debulked Woman" is more like a non-fiction book with the author and ovarian cancer as the subject(s). I am not interested so much in the intellectualization of Gubar's experien ...more
Martha Stettinius
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
A compelling memoir that I'd recommend for any woman, as ovarian cancer remains more deadly than breast cancer, and Gubar offers a rare look at the daily insults of living with ovarian cancer and the limited means we have of treating it. She explains "debulking," for example, which is surgical removal of cancerous cells in the abdomen, which often results in damage to other organs, such as the bowels, and is usually unsuccessful in fully removing the cancer. Her honesty is diminished somewhat by ...more
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
I am of two minds about this book. 5 stars for the portion of the book that is a memoir. Her description of her life with and treatment for ovarian cancer is intense, brutally honest and fascinating. I could not stop reading. But the ponderous heavy dense literary passages were awful. I do not like that kind of writing at all. A bit of history and quick, relevant literary references are fine but lengthy almost incomprehensible essays embedded in an otherwise meaningful and powerful book really d ...more
Jan 31, 2013 rated it it was ok
This a memoir of an English professor who was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2008 (and based on the very low 5-year survival rate, has most likely succumbed to it by now). While I found her writings on the disease (including historical perspectives that as recent as about 100 years ago, women were mainly considered to be a pair of ovaries with a body attached) and struggles with treatment and her most-likely impending death both informative and honest, I did not like the fact that she ...more
Oct 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is just like a serious illness. It's more than a bit of a muddle, with lots of worthy quotes from all sorts of eminent and well-meaning people, but full of contradictions and less-interesting bits. So - exactly like any serious illness!
Ms Gubar's book is renowned for being explicit about the usually-private humiliations of illness. And this is important and worthwhile.
I think, though, that the most interesting part is how attached she is - we all are - to life. And how, despite her ub
May 17, 2015 rated it did not like it
I absolutely hated this book from the very first page. I am a two year survivor of ovarian cancer. I know all too well what she describes. While I respect her experience and the horrors that come with major surgery and subsequent chemotherapy, it quickly became tiresome to read over and over about the "gutting, draining, bagging, and poisoning."

The worst part of trying to read this overly pretentious memoir, full of quotes and literary links that only serve to distance the reader, is that every
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
Gubar's book is grisly, and not particularly hopeful - because most cases of ovarian cancer are not diagnosed early enough, treatment is too often not very successful. She anticipates death, spins beauty and understanding out of bits of poetry and prose. It's heart-rending, and clear-eyed, and makes the point that our "social prohibitions against acknowledging dying or mourning" mean that we shy from hospice, rail against "death panels", and spend countless dollars keeping the very sick alive. B ...more
Ms. G
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Is it me or just the books I am selecting to read this summer? Yes I read the entire book but still not sure what she was trying to say except she thinks "cheery" self-help books about cancer suck, chemo sucks, surgery sucks; and that the quality of life is so diminished by treatment, why go thru it--but she, like many others, continue to choose it... oh and more research and money has to be dedicated to early detection and treatment--well, that's a "no brainer" for lack of a better word. In the ...more
Jun 08, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: memoirs, feminism
This is a very gritty memoir of feminist academic Susan Grubar's ovarian cancer treatment - the good, the bad and the ugly. Be prepared - does not hold back on the ugly. She contrasts the vague PR platitudes written in brochures about the disease with her real life experience in all itsblood and guts. She refers to the time before the MOAS (mother of all surgeries, as the doctors call it) as her bulky time, and discusses how empty she feels after she is, as she says, eviscerated. Very well writt ...more
Jun 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Ovarian cancer is one of the quiet unglamorous, unfashionable cancers, that sneaks up on us girls, with vague signs and symptoms and often presents at a late stage. There aren't walks or badges for ovarian cancers, and it's not associated with any big name sponsors.

So Susans Gubars memoir is her story of diagnosis and life with ovarian cancer. We get to hear of her journey after a surprise diagnosis, and she also tells us about other woman who have who have undergone similar surgeries and treatm
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, medicine
I had Susan Gubar as a professor, and she was an amazing teacher. Her eclectic intelligence is very much a part of this memoir, as is her ability to celebrate the gifts of art and literature, as well as human relationships. The account of her ordeal with ovarian cancer is grueling and no-holds-barred, and the polemic against the medical establishment seems very needed. This is a difficult book to read, but offers many insights into this specific problem and into the nature of human suffering and ...more
May 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Memoir of a Debulked Woman is honest, unflinching, and without the 'just be positive' platitudes that litter so many books about cancer. This is the first memoir I've read that is an accurate description of the physical, mental and emotional toll of advanced-stage ovarian cancer. Susan Gubar articulates brilliantly so many of the difficult and thorny issues that face ovarian cancer patients, our families, and the medical community. ...more
Dec 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
What a complainer! I like a medical memoir, but was puzzled that she had sooooo much time to write about all her terrible reactions, thoughts, and troubles. It was part medical memoir, part overwrought English/ art dissertation, Ugh. I want my hours back!
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Well, this was an engrossing memoir, but for all the wrong reasons. Midway through this read, I found myself questioning my reasons for liking memoirs so much, and examining why those reasons are so compelling for me. To me, a good memoir writer tells a good, honest personal story with a strong narrative arc and places their story within the scope of other places, events or issues that make it transcend the personal and invite the reader to be implicated in its context. A good memoir gives the r ...more
Pam Allyn
Oct 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this because I too suffer from an incurable cancer. Her descriptions of her particular cancer hell are amazing when she sticks to her personal experience. Cancer is as bad as one dreads. I did get one thing I wanted out of this book, which was the chance to nod in recognition, to feel accompanied by someone who's been through some similar things, and similarly had to think a lot about relatively early mortality. I agree with other reviewers that there's too much intellectualizing, too muc ...more
Meg Lelvis
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
A compelling, heartbreaking memoir of a woman's journey through ovarian cancer treatment. What she went through is a real eye-opener, with details that I hadn't read of before. Gubar is brutally honest about the pain and indignities associated with debulking surgery, and I wonder how she had the will to go on.
My one issue with the book was the philosophy described, along with literary metaphors that seemed neverending. I'm more "just the facts" type reader in a memoir. A little of the metaphysic
Tara N.
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Coming from the woman who jump-started feminist theory--the Wollstonecraft of the 20th century--Gubar's narrative omits none of the morbidity nor emotion associated with the countless surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, personal and medical interactions, etc. of the cancer victim. Reading the canon of cancer narratives, drawing from illness depicted in literature, and discerning stereotypes of the chaste lonely ovarian cancer patient reinforced by Edson's Wit and others, Gubar shows how she conn ...more
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When I read that there was a memoir by the co-author of the groundbreaking, feminist Madwoman in the Attic, I had to read it. I am also interested in peoples' interactions with cancer diagnoses and meditations on mortality. And like Gubar, in the abstract I am resistant to some of the extreme measures that decrease the quality of life while extending it only briefly.

As might be expected of an English literature professor, the style is wonderful; whether Gubar is describing a good day or a bad d
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Feminist literary critic Gubar shares her diagnosis and treatment for ovarian cancer. As she puts it, she is gutted, drained, bagged, and poisoned, and suffers considerable humiliation and pain. Nevertheless, and to her surprise, she continues treatments, knowing that for ovarian cancer, the treatments are more likely to be "suboptimal" than not. Gubar draws from the poetry and memoirs of those stricken with cancer or intimately familiar with it, including as Elizabeth Edwards, Terry Tempest Wil ...more
Jun 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Gubar wrote a powerful and necessary book about ovarian cancer. More than that, it is a realistic and helpful book in that it explains how ovarian cancer is incurable, mostly (discovered, in general in stage 3 or 4), how the surgery and chemo are brutal and palliative (extending life expectancies from 3-4 months for a few years, if the chemo is repeated, you can get several years in some cases). With great honesty, she describes the humiliating and debilitating effects of the treatments for ovar ...more
Danika Rockett
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book was difficult to read at times, but fantastic nonetheless. When I say "difficult," I don't mean because of style or syntax; rather, the content is very emotional and Gubar's description of cancer treatments (and the effects of those treatments) is graphic. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a scholar of either literature or feminism, anyone who has read The Madwoman in the Attic, or anyone who is simply interested in a personal account of survival. Gubar's existential journey ...more
Tony Gualtieri
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and literate account of dying from ovarian cancer and the exacerbations caused by aggressive treatment. The author is brutally honest about her condition and what it is doing to her mind and body. The approach of death is everywhere, and I left the book dwelling on the inevitability of my own death, the harshness and degradations of its occurrence, and the wish that I can face it in as clear-sighted a manner as the author.
Jun 23, 2012 added it
Shelves: 2012-reads
A memoir I was anxious to read the moment I saw it mentioned in the NYT. But I found Gubar's story so harrowing that I was left queasy with nausea or terror repeatedly throughout my attempts at reading it (even in the non-clinical chapters on the history of ovarian cancer). I hope many people -- healthy women, patients, doctors, men -- read this, though. ...more
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Susan D. Gubar (born November 30, 1944) is an American author and distinguished Professor Emerita of English and Women's Studies at Indiana University. She is best known for co-authoring, with Sandra M. Gilbert, a standard feminist text, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979) and a trilogy on women's writing in the 20th century.


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