The Undying: Book Review

Compelling, provoking, and intense; The Undying is Anne Boyer’s reflection of her experience battling breast cancer.

When I stumbled across The Undying while walking through a book store, I was immediately drawn in. Although working as a nurse had some major drawbacks, there are aspects of medicine that I find deeply interesting. I thought this would be the perfect book to bring back that satisfaction of working in the hospital setting without actually having to return to it. I wasn’t expecting to share such similar views on frustration against the medical field with this author, but ultimately I did. 

Boyer references historical figures, all the way back to ancient Roman and Greek times, who have fought severe diseases and compares experiences. 

She also discusses the unique challenge of breast cancer patients, the chemotherapy process, and the unique stigma that surrounds it. 

Someone once said that choosing chemotherapy is like choosing to jump off a building when someone is holding a gun to your head. You jump out of fear of death, or at least a fear of the painful and ugly version of death that is cancer, or you jump from a desire to live, even if that life will be for the rest of its duration a painful one.

Anne Boyer, The Undying

Something that resonated deeply with me from this book is Boyer’s skepticism of the cancer industry as a whole. I couldn’t help but ask some questions after working in the setting of cancer treatment. Did these strong drugs actually help? It’s hard not to be skeptical when you literally watch seemingly healthy patients walk in and sign up to receive drugs that will cause them to be hospitalized for months, only to add a couple of years onto their lives, but could ultimately be their cause of death in the end. 

Boyer even shares some eye-opening stories about doctors who have lied about diagnoses, in order to get patients to agree to expensive treatment, and asks when to draw the line. Obviously, a doctor flat-out lying about a diagnosis for money is extremely unethical. But what about the doctors who exaggerate, or scare patients into intense treatments that may not be necessary? What about the patients who are going to die soon regardless, and their doctors still talk them into expensive treatment? Where do we draw the line?

Some people are lied to about having cancer. Some people lie about having it. The world is full of anecdotal accounts of cancer fakers, all of whom seem to just want what everyone needs and deserves, some time off, a little spending money, a casserole in the fridge, some love. There are stories like the one of the man who took a hundred days off from work with forged notes, or the woman who shaved her head and asked for donations at church, or the sister who turned her HPV into full-on cervical cancer for leverage at the holiday dinner table. There are also the doctors who mislead people with benign or mild cancer-related conditions into aggressive, expensive treatment, or the doctors who do not tell patients they are dying, leading them into months of costly, painful, useless interventions. The people who fake having cancer, when found out, often face, if not legal prosecution, social ostracism. The doctors who subtly overtreat patients often don’t.

Anne Boyer, The Undying

When working in the oncology environment, I couldn’t help but put myself in some patient’s shoes and ask myself, “What would I do if I was diagnosed with cancer?” It’s really hard to say what my choice would be after seeing what chemotherapy can do to people. Boyer discusses the lifelong neurological side effects she suffers from after going through chemo (side effects that her doctor never warned her about, by the way). 

I have to say, I don’t think Anne Boyer is one bit crazy for asking the question of whether her diagnosis was even real or not. Hospitals are gigantic, extremely powerful systems. These systems are filled with people who are “just going with the motions”. These factors combine and create an extremely slippery slope. 

I begin to worry that my cancer never existed, that the paranoid websites about cancer are true, that it is all a con by big pharma, that the lump was nothing, that all that had happened to me was a profitable fiction that could have been cured by carrot juice or drinking urine. In the hospital, as the cardiologists try to prove or disprove that I have a failed heart, I worry I am dying of a lie.

Anne Boyer, The Undying

This book was compelling to say the least. If you’re looking for something emotionally provoking, a little dark, and poetically written, then I definitely recommend it. Anne Boyer is a phenomenal writer. Her writing style is so uniquely captivating, I often had trouble putting this book down. I can only aspire to write like her one day.

I spent years writing about minutes, months writing about days, weeks writing about seconds, and days writing about hours, and in the minutes of experience in which my years and days have now been lost, it still feels like the weight of these events remains too heavy for their telling.

Anne Boyer, The Undying

This book caused me to ponder the question: what would life be like without sickness? 

Buy the book here!

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