I just finished reading “Pale Girl Speaks, a Year Uncovered” by Hillary Fogelson. To read ANY book is a huge feat for me. Because of my screwy sleep habits, I usually fall asleep before I scan one paragraph of anything I read short of the comic pages. I guess pictures keep me alert. I’ve typically kept up with my literary need through audio books while commuting to work. Thank goodness I’ve yet to fall asleep at 70 MPH.
“Pale Girl Speaks” kept me alert. Admittedly, I found it a tad difficult to read at first. The writing style at the beginning can best be described as frantic. The book starts with Hillary frantically cleaning her house moments before her parents’ arrival. (I can certainly relate to this). But before any expected character development occurs, melanoma appears suddenly and out of nowhere (doesn’t it always?). Hillary’s frantic disposition refocuses from meeting her parents’ expectations to dealing with cancer.
Who wouldn’t be frantic at a time like this? Ms. Fogelson conveys frustration, anger, denial and all of the emotions involved with having melanoma. Her persona early on is borderline irritating as she constantly calls her dermatologist for the latest pathology report.
“She (her dermatologist) knows all too well I can be a little too…involved. A tad anxious. A touch obsessive. A bit of a fucking nut basket.”
The writing style soon becomes understandable and then eventually transforms very nicely as her year with melanoma is unveiled. Much of her dialogue with others is written in scripted form (after all, she is an actress). Again, I was thrown off by this style at first, but then I began to anxiously look forward to the next scripted conversation.
One word of warning…this woman can cuss enough to make a sailor blush. Sometimes the raunchy words seem a bit unnecessary but in most moments, they add the needed splash of emotional color. As I read deeper into the book, the mood becomes less frantic and foul and becomes more purposeful and at peace. Hillary encounters several folks during her volunteer work at the hospital who give her insight as to how others are dealing with the disease. They touch her. Her words below echo my own experience with meeting new melanoma warriors.
“I’m meeting people in the most vulnerable time of their lives. Many of them are confronting their own mortality – a few are still trying to accept their illness, some are struggling to make peace with it, others are looking to make peace with themselves, but all of them are willing to share. Share all of it with me. And it’s truly amazing. These people! I can’t believe these goddamned sick people! I am constantly amazed at their strength. They are so strong, so powerful.”
There are so many great comments in this book. She has a great single paragraph rant about the frustrations many of us have felt about the general popularity and success of breast cancer awareness. Like I have stated in the past myself, she doesn’t wish for less funds to go towards their cause, but she states about such supporters, “if they could pull themselves away from their pretty-in-pink ribbons for a goddamned second, they might be able to see that melanoma could use a little cash once in a blue moon.”
Anyone who has been touched by melanoma should most definitely read this book. For those with melanoma, it’ll prove to be an echoing sounding board. For those who have supported melanoma patients, it will give you some insight to your loved ones emotions and thoughts.
Everyone else should also read this book! Much of the written dialogue has sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant lessons on sun safety, skin cancer prevention, and life with melanoma. The story of Hillary’s year is a mix of humor, frustration and hope. Most of all, it’s a story of survival.
I don’t want to reveal any more details of the book than I already have, but I do want to state that the Author’s Notes at the conclusion contain the most powerful words concerning melanoma survivorship. Do not skip this section!
“Pale Girl Speaks” definitely kept me alert. The book also inspired me. To call my father and ask how he’s REALLY doing. To take one more look at the moles on my body. To encourage others to keep getting your skin checked. And to encourage you to read Hillary Fogelson’s story of her one year uncovered.