‘The Undying,’ an Extraordinary and Furious New Memoir About Cancer

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The pink ribbon, that ubiquitous emblem of breast cancer awareness, has long been an object of controversy and derision, but the poet and essayist Anne Boyer doesn’t just pull it loose, unfastening its dainty loop; she feeds it through a shredder and lights it on fire, incinerating its remains. “The world is blood pink with respectability politics,” she writes, “as if anyone who dies from breast cancer has died of a bad attitude or eating a sausage or not trusting the word of a junior oncologist.” Boyer’s extraordinary and furious new book, “The Undying,” is partly a memoir of her illness, diagnosed five years ago; she was 41 years old when she learned that the lump in her breast was triple-negative cancer, one of the deadliest kinds. But her story, told with searing specificity, is just one narrative thread in a book that reflects on the possibility — or necessity — of finding common cause in individual suffering. At the time of her diagnosis, Boyer was a single mother raising a daughter, and making a modest living by teaching. She didn’t know much about breast cancer. “I had believed it was no longer very deadly and that its treatment had been made easy,” she writes; that “your life gets a little interrupted but then you get through.”
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