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GUTS: A Memoir

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At age 24, Janet Buttenwieser moved to Seattle with a résumé devoted to public service and fantasies of single-handedly ending poverty. But within a year she’d developed an intestinal illness so rare she wound up in a medical journal. Janet navigated misdiagnosis, multiple surgeries, and life with a permanent colostomy. Like many female patients her concerns were glossed over by doctors. She was young and insecure, major liabilities in her life as a patient. How would she advocate for low-income people when she couldn’t even advocate for herself?

Janet’s model for assertiveness was her friend Beth. She was the kind of friend who’d accompany you to the doctor when you got dysentery in Ecuador, nonchalantly translating the graphic details of your symptoms into Spanish. Throughout Janet’s illness Beth took care of her; then she developed brain cancer and their roles reversed. Eventually Janet recovered, but Beth’s condition worsened. At the age of 38, Beth died. To cope, Janet competed in endurance events, becoming a triathlete with a colostomy pouch.

With themes that echo Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire and Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home, GUTS is a story of resilience for the millions of Americans who manage to thrive while living with a chronic condition, as well as the many who’ve lost a loved one at a young age.

244 pages, Paperback

Published February 13, 2018

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Janet Buttenwieser

1 book8 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 24 of 24 reviews
Profile Image for Robyn Schultz (ladyrobyns).
297 reviews7 followers
June 27, 2018
Since it was set in Seattle, I know all the places that she mentioned. I also work in a library, so her library stories were very relatable. I wanted to learn more about how she handled life with a colostomy bag. What's it like to run a triathlon with that taped to your body? How does it impact your day to day life? While the book goes into details about all the misdiagnoses, and wrong treatments along the way, that part of the story missing. I felt like such a big life change should have been given a bigger spot in the book. Especially since that is mention on the cover.
Profile Image for Peggy.
Author 2 books80 followers
May 30, 2019
Although the author read at reading series I curate I was out of town and missed the event. This last year my paths crossed with the author as part of another collaboration and I realized I should read it. I write every week with people whose lives have all been profoundly affected by major illnesses so my bar is high for accounts that center on illness. What a surprise to find this memoir was so much more. When it resonated the most was in moments that were not reflective, in particular a moment when Janet watches one of Seattle bridges rise. I appreciated that there was honest regret here over a friendship that took a break, a friend's illness that was eclipsed by young children. Not only was it a memoir matter-of-fact strong, it was also poignant and beautifully written. There was a point when it almost made me cry, at the beauty of a sincere moment that was true to life, in sickness and health.

P.S. only thing I didn't like was cover. Didn't do memoir justice at all!!
Profile Image for Iris Graville.
Author 5 books16 followers
February 26, 2018
Guts reveals one woman's inner journey through illness, friendship, recovery, grief, and joy. It's evident that Buttenweiser has grown through some heartbreaking losses, and her honest reflections inspired and moved me. Her smart, yet tender, wit softened the sadness and poignantly portrayed the deep connections among the characters.

The perspective from a patient makes this a must-read for health professionals. Tri-athletes, people with fertility struggles, and anyone who's ever lost a friend or struggled to stand up and be heard will be strengthened by the author's "guts" to tell a challenging story with beauty and grace.
42 reviews1 follower
January 30, 2018
very personal story and a fantastic tribute to a friend. made me want to embrace life more... it's too short. well written, a great tale with disease and Seattle as secondary, but vivid characters.
Profile Image for Sandra Stiles.
Author 1 book69 followers
March 30, 2018
I received a copy to facilitate my review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Most of us face one major incident in our life if we are lucky. Imagine that you not only have a serious illness but you have also had to suffer a loss and infertility. For a lot of people I know having to deal with just one of those things would be enough to turn their life upside down to the point that they couldn’t deal with it. Here we have a woman who has faced so many issues yet through her story we find hope. Janet Buttenwieser’s memoir shows true courage. When faced with and treated for years for a mis-diagnosed illness, Janet pushed on. Beside her all the way was the man who would eventually become her husband, Matt. What stood out to me so much was the true love he showed for her. When finally properly diagnosed and needing a colostomy bag, Matt didn’t shy away he continued to take care of Janet and encourage her. I’ve known two people with colostomy bags and both of them had spouses that embraced and encouraged them.

Janet’s best friend Beth taught her how to live life to the fullest. She is the type of friend you need who teaches you how to stand up for yourself. Her passing strengthened Janet even though I don’t think she realized it at the time. All of us need a friend like that in our lives.

Then there are the children who came into Matt and Janet’s lives. I would love to see where they are today and how their lives have changed. I would venture to say that their lives are so much richer because of who their parents are. If there is one lesson to be learned from this memoir it would be to learn to live life to the fullest no matter what your circumstances. I really enjoyed this book. It is an emotional read. Janet is one of those people who is able to weave words and feelings together to create a painted masterpiece. I highly recommend this book.

1 review
February 10, 2018
Have you ever felt like a doctor or caregiver wasn't listening, or discounting your opinions? Have you ever known something was wrong with your body, but haven't been given the answers you need to heal? Guts is an absolutely incredibly story of a young woman's journey regarding an all to common occurrence in modern medicine. In it she recounts her early days of the illness that would come to dominate much of her life, and what it was like in a pre internet age to be diagnosed with a little understood disease. I actually felt frustrated for her that she couldn't simply Google her symptoms, or Google her disease and find support.

The book isn't just about her diagnoses, or her various treatments. It's about her struggles with self image, her love life, her desire for motherhood, and suffering with loss. I don't want to give the book away at all, but at times I was incredulous this was all happening to the same person. This book is about the typical struggles and life of an average person, but with an excruciating disease thrown in to amplify those struggles. I read the book in two sittings, and it only took me two because my husband finally made me shut the light out and go to bed the first night. I needed answers for her, and I needed to know what happened to the people she encountered in her life. The author wrote in a funny, but matter of fact manner. I think most anyone will be able to identify with the author in some capacity, and will find themselves consumed by this book.
February 27, 2018
Beautifully written and riveting personal account of one woman’s drive to thrive, not just survive, despite some of the most challenging issues we face as human beings: serious chronic illness, infertility, loss, and grief. Not to mention grueling triathelons!

Uncommonly candid, brave, poignant, and funny, with insightful introspection and inspiration throughout, Guts is a page-turner from start to finish. Surprisingly, I read the book in just two days over a holiday weekend with my husband and kids chomping at the bit for outings and activities. A rare achievement for a busy wife and mother without a lot of time to read!

This memoir is hard to put down, and impossible to forget. I find myself thinking about the people and events long after I finished the book. What would it be like to live with a permanent colostomy? How is parenting going for Janet and Matt as their children age? How are Beth’s family and her husband Kevin doing? Will there be a sequel? These and many other questions swirl around in my mind daily since closing the book earlier this week.

Thanks to Janet for sharing her amazing and moving story with us! Her strength of mind, body, and spirit is palpable. She has guts—and then some!
Profile Image for Claire.
Author 4 books12 followers
February 21, 2018
This memoir is brave. It's honest. It's beautifully written. While coping with a terminal illness, a misdiagnosis, a best friend with cancer, and all the trimmings and trappings of 21st century life and adoptive parenthood, the author offers her readers insight, hope, and fortitude. We're drawn in from page one through intense experience and spot-on imagery and scenes, cheering Janet on through hardship, loss, and quiet but poignant victories. It's not just a compelling story, but also a valuable glimpse into the benefits and shortcomings of our medical community, and our own role in asserting our needs. I used to count Betty MacDonald's "The Plague and I" as the standard for a memoir that could navigate the labyrinthine struggles of serious illness with emotion, clarity and humor. "Guts" is my new go-to. I'll read this book again and again
Profile Image for Ann Epstein.
Author 33 books12 followers
April 1, 2018
Interweaving Illness, Family, and Friendship -- Janet Buttenwieser rewards readers with three connected stories. First, the book is a moving memoir of how she found the confidence to speak up for herself to a medical establishment that claimed to know her body better than she did, and how she trained that body to take physical risks she never thought possible. Second, Guts is an appreciation of family, the body’s extension that sustains us when we’re ready to surrender and magnifies our joy when we’re already past bursting. The book’s third tale, which embodies the other two, is a testimonial to friendship. Buttenwieser honors the late friend who she gained through admiration, lost through inattention, regained through commitment, and lost again to cancer. Guts, guarantees that her friend will live within her, and her readers, forever.
Profile Image for Kim Lundstrom.
51 reviews
April 2, 2018
GUTS couldn’t be more aptly titled. In her 20s, Janet Buttenwieser’s life was just getting started when she was diagnosed with a chronic condition, which led to multiple surgeries, infertility, and a permanent colostomy. Then her best friend developed brain cancer. With unflinching honesty and surprising humor, Ms. Buttenwieser lays out the details of a decidedly unglamorous medical condition, as well as her personal shortcomings, as she navigates the healthcare system, the stresses and joys of marriage, adoption and parenthood, and the sublime give-and-take of the deepest friendships. She doesn’t shrink from the less-than-heroic moments of her struggle, but shows the reader a life of triumph through vulnerability and resilience.
Profile Image for Kate Kaufmann.
Author 3 books18 followers
August 22, 2018
I just finished GUTS: A Memoir. Oh, my. There's a lot of life packed into 235 pages, beautifully written and deeply expressed. Weaving together the author's harrowing experience being gravely ill, misdiagnosed, and subjected to intimate medical procedures with the evolution of a cherished friendship, the reader comes to know so many layers of Buttenwieser's character. This is one resilient woman, frank and so very approachable.

Buttenwieser is a master of simile, many of them breathtaking. I will never think of the nature of grief without invoking her so-apt and touching description of what it's like.
January 17, 2023
I think this book bit off more than it could chew. Just covering her medical story through the need for a colostomy and how that impacted her life and her ability to complete triathalons would have been a feet! But to add that to a beautiful love story, infertility and miscarriage, two complicated open adoptions, and a complex friendship that ends in death was too much for this short book to even scratch the surface. I felt like the entire book was a summary for a much longer series of books that I would love to read.
July 1, 2019
Race of a Lifetime

This book was very interesting. Janet explains how she made it through many physical trials and m as nagged to take them in her stride. Also her love for her family, and her journey with her best friend Beth.
2 reviews
September 10, 2020
A beautiful read.

I'm happy I stumbled on to your story. Loss, strength, growth, humor, love, so much love. I turned (swiped) every page eager to learn what would happen next. Alas, too short a book!
Profile Image for Heidi Barr.
Author 14 books63 followers
March 3, 2018
A powerful read about what it's like to live with chronic illness and deal with loss, all while living a full life and finding a path to healing along the way.
Profile Image for Connie Connally.
Author 2 books9 followers
March 8, 2018
Wonderful book, especially for people who face on-going illness, either their own or that of a loved one. This is a brave and frank look at pain, limitation, grief and healing.
180 reviews
April 8, 2018
It takes “guts” to be so unflinchingly honest about one’s feelings and motivations. What a pleasure to feel like I was walking even if only ever so briefly in another woman’s shoes.
Profile Image for Daisy Bowe.
19 reviews2 followers
April 27, 2018
A compelling, raw and candid memoir. Janet writes with clarity and honestly. I felt I was with her as she ran, swam and biked.
Profile Image for Barbara.
166 reviews3 followers
May 3, 2019
Written by a Seattle writer so I had to read it. Very engaging memoir of illness and loss. Seattleites will recognize their city and their hospitals.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Haskins.
Author 1 book6 followers
January 22, 2023
Highly recommended! Will inspire you, move you, break your heart just a little and then mend it. A page-turner! Profound and delightful!
Profile Image for Heather Durham.
Author 2 books12 followers
April 13, 2019
This is the best kind of memoir. It isn’t a hero story you’ll despair of living up to, nor a “look how much I’ve had to bear” story meant to evoke guilt or pity. This is a human story made of the stuff of all human stories – love, loss, friendship, family, grief, triumph, and multiple twists and turns along the way. All intimately expressed as if whispered in confidence by a new friend - an authentic, easy-going, down-to-earth friend full of wit, wisdom, humility, and grace, one who speaks her truth boldly and unapologetically. And we are all richer for it.
Profile Image for Thomas Groom.
1 review5 followers
January 30, 2018
I just finished a pre-release read of Guts. I think everyone who reads it will be inspired and almost everyone humbled as they read the story of Janet Buttenwieser. At a very young age she battles misdiagnosis, multiple surgeries, infertility, and finally permanent medical complications. Janet gives incredible insight into her frustrations, fears, and pain, not just in dealing with serious health issues, but also heartbreak with her closest relationships. She takes us on this journey with a great sense of humor and wit and very soon you find yourself dramatically attached to this young girl as she travels through some of life's most difficult challenges. It was a great ride.
Profile Image for Joyce.
8 reviews
March 27, 2018
This book is nothing like Brain on Fire and it is disingenuous to represent it as such (themes that echo or otherwise).
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