July 2, 1997

Ordinary Life: A Memoir of Illness

Author Affiliations

Dartmouth Medical School Lebanon, NH


by Kathlyn Conway, 268 pp, $22.95. ISBN 0-7167-3036-7 New York, NY, WH Freeman and Co, 1997.

JAMA. 1997;278(1):77-78. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550010091049

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In the spring of 1993, psychotherapist Kathlyn Conway was diagnosed with breast cancer, the second cancer in her 43 years of life. She chose to be treated with a mastectomy and chemotherapy. A year later, to deal with the depression that followed, she began to write a retrospective account of her experiences with cancer. This writing forms the major part of Ordinary Life: A Memoir Of Illness. (She was later to develop yet a third cancer after much of the book was written.)

The writing is brisk and expressive, and the author makes apt observations about the health care system and the burden of being ill. For the most part, though, the content is disagreeable. Early in the introduction, Dr Conway (who has a doctorate in English literature from Harvard) states, "I am still convinced that cancer is not transformative, that the trauma did not make me a