This is a review of my book- Smiling Thru The Tears- a Breast Cancer Survivor Odyssey, as published in -The Caribbean Life Newspaper ...a subsidiary of the Courier Life Publications, Inc. here in Brooklyn N.Y. on August 23rd 2005.
\" Smiling Thru the Tears: A Breast Cancer Survivor Odyssey" By Pamela deLeon-Lewis ISBN: 1413770703 PublishAmerica
Smiling Thru the Tears is a collection of over 100 poems documenting Pamela deLeon-Lewis' journey through, and eventual triumph over, breast cancer. If the cover, which shows a smiling and radiantly healthy-looking young woman is any indication, she's doing well. Indeed, one is startled to learn, through these poems, that deLeon-Lewis is in her 50s, and a grandmother.
The cycle begins with intimations of wrongness as the poet attributes the beginning of her cancer to her father's death and the stress of 9/1 1 which sent her career as a consultant into disarray. She even dreams of being told she has cancer.
Yet, when the news comes in real life, it's a shocker. She writes in "Dream Becomes Reality": "I knew there was something wrong; Daily the signs were getting so strong."
The resulting poems confirm and reaffirm her absolute faith in God. Some of them read like prayers or Psalms. A series of wonderfully angry poems shout her defiance in the face of life-threatening illness, as in the lines of "I'll Stand Tall":
"But I refuse to stoop to you. You can't conquer me at all."
She refers to the cancer itself as DeMon, a play, one guesses, on "demon" and "The Man," the oppressor, the thing that's out to
do her in. There are homages to friends, to the "Chemo Squad" and the "Radiation Squad." Yet while she lauds the help of her squads, she doesn't spare the reader the agony of her treatment:
"I had sores in my mouth; I couldn't eat. Pains in my legs, my feet, and my hands; I had pains in my eyes, pains in my head. So much pain it was blowing my mind," (from "I Remember ... Part I.")
There are poems of gratitude for the medical team that helped her, her daughters, her grandchildren, her aunties, her mother, her dead father, her neighbor, her younger daughter's babysitter, the folks in a cancer support chatroom, Oprah Winfrey ("Ms. Oprah Winfrey is positively the world's greatest incentive for me") and even a stranger who smiles at her on the street, and poems.
There are poems that remind the reader that the aftermath of even a successful battle against breast cancer is hard. She still has pain, she can't lift her right arm, and the treatment even damaged her brain. Some poems contemplate what it's like to have one's right breast amputated (she used to refer to her breast as "lost").
When we learn that the doctors have found a calcification in her left breast, the suspense is comparable to anything in a murder mystery novel. Our relief when we find out that all is well is thorough.
The book ends with a poem by her grandson, Jahlani Andrew Roberts:
"I am happy to say she is now Cancer Free!!! Now she has time to hang with me."
Smiling Thru Tears is a triumphant, life-affirming book.