Correction to This Article
This review of two books about cancer misidentified two genes belonging to a class known as tumor suppressors. They are BRCA1 and BRCA2, not BRAC1 and BRAC2.

Two books on women fighting cancer, reviewed by Nora Krug

By Nora Krug
Sunday, October 3, 2010


How a Sister's Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer

By Nancy G. Brinker with Joni Rodgers

Crown Archetype. 356 pp. $25.99


A Memoir

By Amy Boesky

Gotham. 327 pp. $26

For those who have been touched by cancer in some way -- is there anyone who hasn't? -- reading one of the many cancer memoirs burdening bookstore shelves is always a risk. Will the book dredge up memories we'd care to forget? Or will it offer empathy, hope and maybe even a little gallows humor? Two new additions to the genre offer all the above.

Nancy Brinker is a cancer survivor, but it is her sister, Susan G. Komen, who in death has become a symbol of the disease. In "Promise Me," Brinker tells the story, as her publisher puts it, of the love that launched a movement -- of how Brinker came to found the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the organization behind the Race for the Cure, which has transformed how we think about a pink ribbon and perhaps how we think about breast cancer itself. Brinker is more than a little proud of her own moxie ("I'm not everyone's cup of tea" is a running joke between her and her ex-husband), and the book is as much an ode to her own chutzpah and accomplishments as it is a compelling tale of living with cancer.

Brinker was once married to Norman E. Brinker, the mastermind behind the Steak & Ale restaurant chain, and the two were a formidable pair in the Dallas polo and charity scene. (A friend of the Bushes, she went on to become ambassador to Hungary and White House chief of protocol and was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.) On more than one occasion, we see Brinker tramping across a field or thundering through an event, her hair "swelling like a sea urchin," her mud-spattered shoes sinking into the grass.

The picture Brinker paints of her early life is a far more humble one, of an idyllic America in Peoria, Ill., where her parents instilled in their children a strong -- one might call it strong-armed -- sense of civic duty. In one telling anecdote, Brinker's mother pulls her car to the side of the road to admonish her children for not taking the scourge of polio seriously enough. "When you see someone in need, you give. When you see something wrong, you fix it," Brinker recalls her mother saying. The next day, the girls held a variety show and donated the proceeds to a local hospital.

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