“Marla’s book is raw and painful and honest. She exposes everything about herself and, in doing so, tells a remarkable personal story with the ring of truth. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Marla couldn’t be stronger or more driven but cancer has made her more mindful. She learns and teaches the hard lessons very well.”
“Life in the Balance is a book I couldn’t put down and that surprised me. I didn’t expect an eloquent, almost light-hearted account of life with breast cancer. Marla is to be applauded for her poignant and straightforward account of her battle. It brought out every possible human emotion. Marla shows us that there is life during and after breast cancer. This is a book that should be read by every woman whether they’re going through this disease or not.”
“An unsentimental insight into survival and resilience. Marla Shapiro generously shares some pretty tough life lessons from her defiant and single-minded battle with breast cancer. She permits us to see the driven, overachieving physician become a driven, overachieving patient. But she does it with humour, grace and gratitude—and newfound ‘balance.’ Thank you Marla.”
“In Life in the Balance: My Journey with Breast Cancer, Dr Marla Shapiro sensitively and perceptively describes the double pressures (and more!) of being a breast cancer patient as well as being a physician — and Canada’s most well-known and much admired doctor at that. A large number of my patients with breast cancer have said how Dr Marla’s example inspires them, and makes them feel better able to cope and understand their situation. This book will greatly add to that effect and is a welcome portrayal of the difficulties, the obstacles, the setbacks and the frustrations as well as the victories, the gains and (unexpectedly) the benefits of potentially serious illness.”
“Marla Shapiro makes it clear that she’s been blessed by an extraordinarily successful medical career. But, as a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient, ‘being a doctor’ she tells us, ‘is a curse.’ She knows too well what’s wrong, knows that there’s so many more than one way to try to make things right. She learns that no matter how well informed, well connected or well off you are, there are no exemptions from the terrors of battling a serious illness. Anybody contending with cancer will feel less lonely with her words next to them. But the people who will most need to read this book are the galaxy of friends, family, co-workers and doctors who surround all cancer patients—patients who are often too fatigued, fearful or furious to tell us what they need, or more to the point, what will make things worse (the nausea-making scent of flowers sent during chemo treatments, e-mails that include the words Horrendous, Terrible or Tragic). The book’s first words are ‘Who I was . . .’; its last, from Marla’s family, describe who she, and they, have become. The story of that transformation, body and soul, is a stunning tale, powerfully told.”
“Life in the Balance is much like the Dr. Marla we all know—frank, authoritative, and wildly informative. What surprised me was the depth of intimacy here, both from Marla and from her family. They have all been struck by this disease, and their decision to share their thoughts and reflections could not have been an easy one. But we benefit from their courage, and their heart. This is a moving, deeply personal read.”
“Dr. Marla Shapiro, I believe, is the leading person in our times for modern health concerns. Dr. Shapiro is able to connect to the reader as she connects to her patients. Her own personal struggles with health demonstrate to us that one’s personal strength is key to recovery. I consider her one of the great women of our time.”
“This book answers the question every woman with breast cancer asks their doctor: ‘What would you do if it were you?’ Marla shows us that even doctors have to struggle with the limitations in our knowledge. Her story is informative, touching and even funny. A great addition to the breast cancer literature.”
I have never been a superstitious person. After all, I am a doctor and have been trained to believe in science and evidence, to make a diagnosis and move forward with the best steps towards management—trained to take control. But it is true that as a doctor there have been times when I was overwhelmed by the inability to take control, times when I have been powerless to intervene and could only stand by, hoping to make things easier, if not better. So it was ironic that on Friday the 13th—August 13, 2004, to be exact—I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
That diagnosis and everything that followed came to define my life for a time and would ultimately change me forever. It marked an invisible boundary, a before and after, by which everything in my life—and in the lives of my husband and children—would be measured. As I stood in the hallway of the mammography suites, listening to the words “suspicious for breast cancer,” a feeling of powerlessness came over me. I knew I was taking a step into the world of after. I knew because I had been there before.
Almost eleven years earlier, on the morning of November 28, 1993, I woke with a start, a horrible sense of apprehension. As I walked down the hall to my infant son’s room, I felt instinctively that it was too quiet. I began to run. Throwing open Jason’s door, I knew that I would find him as I did: on his stomach, face down, dead. I remember picking him up, running, screaming, trying to resuscitate him, seeing the fear and disbelief on the faces of my older children. I knew there was no hope.
Within minutes of my husband calling 911, the fire department and police descended on our house, whisking Jason to the nearest emergency room. With bile in my throat, we got in the car and followed, then sat in the waiting room of the hospital, knowing that he was gone. When they finally came to confirm our worst fears, I could hear an agonizing scream come from somewhere deep inside. Our lifeless son was brought to us to say goodbye, his mouth bandaged from the trauma he had sustained during attempts to resuscitate him.
My son Jason, a perfect child in every way, a gift to a family that had already endured tragedy, was dead at five and a half months of age, of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). His death was like hitting a wall, no way to get through it, past it or around it. It marked the first invisible boundary in the life of our family, the first before-and-after moment.
Now, in 2004, we were all changed people, a changed family, but we had gone forward, living our lives, having been touched by Jason. With my diagnosis on Friday, August 13, we were about to change again.
On my 40th birthday, three years after Jason died and one year after the much-wanted birth of our son, Matthew, my girlfriends gave me a beautiful luncheon. Many of them had been traumatized at the thought of turning 40. I remember making a speech in which I said that turning 40 was a cakewalk—it was getting to 40 that had been so damn hard.
At 48, facing a diagnosis of cancer, those words echoed inside my head as I wondered if I would make it to 50.