Dig In Your Heels | The glamorous (and not so glamorous) life of a young breast cancer survivor

This blog post first appeared on Zero Breast Cancer – zerobreastcancer.org – where I am a guest blogger. (Be sure to check out their website to see what they do.) This 200+ page book is relevant for women under 50, and for family members and friends of breast cancer patients. 

Summary of the book

Karla Antoinette Baptiste, the author of “Dig In Your Heels,” was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 34. In this unabashedly candid memoir, she describes her life before diagnosis, during treatment, and the first several years after treatment. This is not a self-help book, rather the personal life experience of a woman in her 30s coping with her breast cancer diagnosis, and figuring out how to redefine her life.

Chapters in the book

As the book is a memoir, the chapters are not clearly demarcated into certain topics rather the topics of love, trust, and spirituality are interwoven throughout.

Image shows the cover of the book "Dig In Your Heels" as reviewed on CALMERme.comLove, friendships, and spirituality

Karla spends quite a few chapters describing her life pre-diagnosis. She spent time in Paris as a tourist and as a student. It was an important time in her life and perhaps not surprisingly, Paris and all things French crop up periodically throughout the book. She maintained friendships with fellow American students from that time, and those same friends helped and supported her through her illness. She describes her close relationship with her family and with God, and throughout the book she gives examples of how their support and guidance helped her. However, despite that support, she had a succession of harrowing stresses as a result of her tumultuous marriage, which forced her to make some hard decisions.

Personal relationship to her breasts

Karla had an interesting relationship with her breasts. She’d never liked them: not their size, their shape, their imbalance, not even the quality of their skin; there was nothing she liked about them. So instead of being upset at the prospect of losing a breast to mastectomy, she focused on the reconstruction and modification surgery that would satisfy her goal of having matching “perky” breasts. They were the bright silver lining to the dark cloud of cancer. She was scared by the cancer diagnosis and what it might mean for her long-term health and survival, but she wasn’t scared about what it might mean for her breasts.

 Conclusions

It’s important to remember that this is a memoir, not a self-help book. It is honest, candid, and personal. It includes details of trips to Las Vegas, Dallas, and Napa, but it doesn’t include practical tips that others facing their cancer journey will benefit from. (There is a useful “Breast Health Tips” section at the back of the book though.) Karla was young – very young – when she received the devastating news that she had breast cancer. She describes the things that bothered her the most including her wigs, clothing, weight, and trips, but not so much time describing the chemo sessions. Through her personal story, she aims to inspire the reader and give them hope that they can get through this. Through her writing, Karla comes across as a hard working, successful, independent, energetic, confident, smart, lively, bold, woman. Her writing style is conversational and engaging. I could definitely imagine her reading this as an audio book. For me, there was sometimes more information than I wanted to know, but that’s just me — her openness and honesty are part of the charm of this book.

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