Entrepreneur and speaker Paige Davis chronicles her breast cancer journey in “Here We Grow,” her debut memoir and self-help book.
Davis was only 38 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news was not a complete surprise; she had noticed a lump but delayed seeing a doctor due to her growing business, BlueAvocado. She and her family had endured too many recent brushes with cancer. She had lost two aunts over several years, and her college friend Courtney had just been told she had breast cancer. After her diagnosis, Davis vowed never to use the terms “fight” or “battle” to describe her cancer odyssey. Already experienced with alternative medicine and spiritual practices, she quickly assembled a team — half-jokingly calling it “Team Woo-Woo” — and apprised it of her treatment plan. With her parents and sisters by her side, she had surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Learning that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, she underwent six months of chemotherapy. Surrounded by an amazing support group of family, friends and colleagues, Davis managed to remain upbeat, admitting that not having to worry about medical or living expenses was a privilege not everyone gets to enjoy. While she underwent traditional medical treatment for her cancer, she supplemented her healing with therapy from Flint Sparks, a psychotherapist and Zen Buddhist priest. Despite the name she gave her team, Davis formulated a treatment plan that was not outlandish. Primarily a memoir, this book — which features a few photographs — is very readable, surprisingly enjoyable and truly uplifting. The author does not recommend any outrageous diets or cleansing rituals. Davis merely suggests that patients achieve a greater self-awareness and remain in tune with their bodies instead of acting like a war is being waged. She is refreshingly upfront about all aspects of her operation, treatment and recovery, explaining the reconstructive surgery and decisions for her nipple tattoos. The most painful part of the work focuses on her decision not to delay her surgery to harvest eggs, forcing her to accept that she will never give birth to children. As Davis reveals in her engrossing book, she embarked on her cancer journey with a key advantage: She was already meditating and embracing holistic living.
Davis’ memoir is an optimistic account that effectively advocates treating disease as something to work through — not fight.
(Davis will speak and sign copies of her book starting at 7 p.m. May 22 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information: bookpeople.com.)
Public health and historical fiction
Austin author Leanna Englert’s “Compromise With Sin” is a historical novel about one woman’s troubled life in Nebraska in the early years of the 20th century.
After escaping a miserable childhood, Louise Morrissey yearns for and works hard at living a respectable life in Riverbend, Neb. But that life is seriously compromised by her extramarital affair with Dr. Benjamin Dewitt Foster. Their child, Marie Alouette, is born blind because of Foster’s gonorrhea, which infected Louise and resulted in the all-too-common ophthalmia neonatorum, known as “babies’ sore eyes.” Louise’s husband, Frank, is impotent, but she convinces him that he impregnated her during a bout of blackout drunkenness, setting the stage for decades of deception. Frank turns out to be a loving parent, and Marie a heroically cheerful little girl. Her father gets her on the Chautauqua lecture circuit as a child elocutionist, and she becomes a big hit. While on tour, a friend tells Frank that he’s likely not Marie’s father. In a drunken rage, Frank races home to confront Louise and the man that he wrongly suspects her of sleeping with, Yonder LaFontaine. Following a tragedy, the story shifts as Louise begins to lobby for laws mandating that newborns be immediately treated to prevent needless blindness. It’s hard, uphill work, and a contrite Foster becomes her ally. Through Chautauqua, she comes to know the famous Helen Keller, who pitches in for the cause. Englert’s novel intriguingly mixes fiction and real-life history. Along the way, the author highlights how guilt becomes both a gall and a goad for Louise; in a final cleansing, confessional speech, for example, she admits that Marie was the victim of Louise’s gonorrheal infection. Englert also effectively uses the idea of blindness literally and figuratively, showing how Victorian mores rule in Riverbend. Louise is even hectored for using the dreaded word “gonorrhea” during her lobbying effort, and the Ladies’ Home Journal loses subscribers in droves after running articles that warn of sexually transmitted diseases. The story also points out the society’s ugly, nativist bigotry, which claimed that only immigrants spread such infections.
“Compromise With Sin” is a recommended historical novel that almost perfectly captures its time and place.