Red Devil: To Hell With Cancer-and Back

Overview

When Katherine Russell Rich was 32, a newly divorced magazine editor living in New York City, her 10-year ordeal with cancer began. Soon she was bald, scrambled, and living in two worlds simultaneously: the world of the ill, of treatments, exhaustion, and doctors focused on avoiding malpractice suits; and the "normal" world, where dating, career, vacations, and 401(k) plans still mattered. Dazzling in its writing, The Red Devil is alternately wise and wisecracking -- it is the story of a woman who has been ...
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Overview

When Katherine Russell Rich was 32, a newly divorced magazine editor living in New York City, her 10-year ordeal with cancer began. Soon she was bald, scrambled, and living in two worlds simultaneously: the world of the ill, of treatments, exhaustion, and doctors focused on avoiding malpractice suits; and the "normal" world, where dating, career, vacations, and 401(k) plans still mattered. Dazzling in its writing, The Red Devil is alternately wise and wisecracking -- it is the story of a woman who has been brought to her knees several times, only to get up and learn to dance.
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Editorial Reviews

Christine Muhlke
In her incredibly moving memoir, former Allure editor Katherine Rich takes you on a roller-coaster ride through Cancerland, the netherworld she inhabited during several death-kissing bouts with breast cancer. With lacerating humor and brutal honesty, Rich writes about her hard-won transformation into a Kick-Ass Cancer Patient as she grapples with and triumphs over inner demons, malpracticing doctors, laughable New Age books, whiny support groups and that little thing called religion. Stranger than fiction and much more intense, Rich's epic journey makes for one of the best debuts of the season.
Paper
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32, Rich, currently a senior editor at Allure magazine, recounts how, over the past 11 years, she has survived a lumpectomy, radiation, several protocols of chemotherapy and hormones, a bone marrow transplant and alternative healing techniques. Her sharp eye for detail and caustic sense of humor (she refers to her ex-husband as Ricky Ricardo in a bad mood) serve her well in this gripping account. Navigating the medical universe of a cancer patient by the seat of her pants, Rich became dissatisfied with several medical professionals before she finally found a physician who had her best interests at heart: her first breast surgeon (male) had been prepared to operate without doing a mammogram until her mother intervened; another oncologist (female) did not return her phone calls and consistently undermined her until Rich finally got the message that she was no longer interested in treating her. Rich also explores the difficulties that having advanced cancer caused in her personal life: she was fired from one job, and a serious romance that had brought her a great deal of happiness ended. Three years after her bone marrow transplant and one week after her mother died, her cancer recurred. Although Rich suspects that her cancer is somehow connected to emotional loss, she evinces a terrific determination to go on living. She is now involved in a combination of alternative treatments and chemotherapy that her oncologist is convinced will stabilize, if not cure, her disease. Anyone who reads this feisty memoir will cheer her on. Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan, Ellen Levine Literary Agency. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1988, 32-year-old Rich first discovered a lump in her breast. It was certainly not the dark ages of medical technology and awareness, but it might as well have been. Ignoring the lump herself (she was going through the breakup of her marriage and waiting to find a job so that she could have health insurance), Rich was then ignored by her doctor until she insisted on a biopsy. Rich, senior editor at Allure magazine, employs a keen journalistic eye, lyric writing style, and savage sense of humor to describe her next ten years in "Cancerland." She was certain her illness was caused by the divorce, and as other relationships came and went, she continued to feel this way with each new bout of the disease, eventually surviving paralyzing tumors in her spine, a long-awaited bone marrow transplant, and recurrence and additional therapy. Her story is harrowing from the get-go, with doctors and friends adding insensitivity and insincerity to the ordeal. She spares no detail of her cancer and offers an immense amount of useful traditional and alternative medical information among the caustic harangue. Her own growth from submissive to angry and outspoken will buoy readers; here is one woman who lives just to "kick cancer in the ass." Highly recommended.--Bette-Lee Fox, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Clarissa Cruz
It's hard to imagine a memoir about a young woman's exhausting 10-year battle with cancer as anything but depressing, but Rich's spirited and ofen hilarious narrative is a stirring exception.
Entertainment Weekly
Christine Muhlke
In her incredibly moving memoir, former Allure editor Katherine Rich takes you on a roller-coaster ride through Cancerland, the netherworld she inhabited during several death-kissing bouts with breast cancer. With lacerating humor and brutal honesty, Rich writes about her hard-won transformation into a Kick-Ass Cancer Patient as she grapples with and triumphs over inner demons, malpracticing doctors, laughable New Age books, whiny support groups and that little thing called religion. Stranger than fiction and much more intense, Rich's epic journey makes for one of the best debuts of the season.
Paper
Kirkus Reviews
Sharp and funny memoirs of a bright, tough woman fighting cancer and winning. In August 1988, Rich, then a 32-year-old magazine editor, discovered a lump in her breast. She didn't know it then, but as she puts it now, she was "entering Cancerland." Her journey is a rough one and, at least here, has no end. She has a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. But by the time she's 37, the cancer has metastasized to her spine, and there's a terrifying episode in which she is temporarily paralyzed. Radiation treatment is followed by hormone therapy, but two years later, the cancer is back again and preparations begin for a bone marrow transplant. Three years after that, the cancer recurs in her adrenals, and hormone treatments begin again. Those are the bare facts, but Rich's account is much more than a medical log. While in Cancerland, she falls in and out of love, joins and leaves support groups, changes jobs and doctors, meets "cancer queens," who demand sympathy, and "kick-ass cancer patients," who fight back. She tells what it's like to be isolated from one's co-workers and also what it's like to have a totally supportive boss. Loneliness, friendship, and man-woman relationships are explored, as is getting used to an altered body. There are the usual medical mishaps and doctor horror stories, but Rich is no whiner. She is a wry and perceptive observer of human behavior and a crisp and spirited narrator of her own experience as a cancer survivor. The title's "red devil," incidentally, is Adriamycin, an intravenous drug she encounters in her first chemotherapy session and likens to Drano, for it's so corrosive that if spilled on the skin it can cause third-degree burns. Readit and weep, and laugh aloud too.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609603215
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/21/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Katherine Russell Rich lives in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

Part One

When we stand
on the low rungs
of the ladder of sorrow,
we cry.
When we come
to the middle
we're silent.
But when we climb
to the top
of the ladder
of sorrow,
we convert sadness into song.
— ancient Hebrew poem


Critical Mass
I found the lump twenty minutes before breakfast, three weeks after my marriage broke up. I was taking a shower, soaping myself down, when my fingers slid into it and stopped. They pushed on a little, flew off, returned to confirm that, yes, there was something hard and alien in my left breast. After a pause, they resumed their investigation. But now my brain had seized up, and so the information my fingers were attempting to relay remained stalled, unprocessed, in touch. Perhaps that's why I retain such a strong sense memory of what they found: a mass the size of a pigeon's egg, a blob that felt like oatmeal packed in casing. I was puzzled—the thing hadn't, I swear, been there the day before—but not perplexed. I knew instantly what it was.
        
At work I phoned a friend. "Michelle," I whispered. "On top of everything, I found a lump in my breast. I can't do it: I can't go on!" Those were the days when I still liked hyperbole, before an excess of real drama killed my taste for the manufactured kind.
        
My friend soothed and reassured me; she presented the facts: All women find lumps; I was only thirty-two; the odds were this was absolutely nothing. The case she constructed was sure and ordered. "Yeah, you're right," I agreed, allowing myself to beseduced into calm, willing, temporarily, to forget my certainty, illogical as it was.
        
My evidence, had I spoken it, was this: My life was spinning to hell; my marriage had busted up at the end of August; I'd promptly moved eleven cartons of possessions into a sublet where I wasn't supposed to smoke but I did; and now, in September, I was about to take a new job. Of course that lump was cancer. What else was it going to be?
        
And those were my surefire arguments. If I wasn't going to bring them up, I certainly wasn't going to mention that, six months before, in a journal, I'd written, "I can't stay in this marriage any longer. If I do, I'll get cancer." Or how, not long after, I'd experienced some weird psychic breast cancer flash. "Diego, I'm not kidding, I'm getting the strongest feeling that somebody in one of our families has it," I'd told my husband. "To be safe, why don't you call your mother down in Buenos Aires and tell her to get a mammogram." Spooked, she rushed to get the test, which came back normal.

Nor did I mention another recent occurrence, but only, I would have told you then, because it had slipped my mind. Fear, I realize now, was blocking the memory of how, a few months earlier, in bed, my husband had frozen while caressing me. "I don't want to scare you," he said softly, "but I think I found a lump here." When he tried to locate it again, it wasn't there. I chalked the incident up to projectile hypochondria.
        
Diego and I were absolute opposites about a lot things, and illness was one of them. "Ah! I think I have a cancer!" he would announce, lying prostrate on the bed. "What a baby," I'd say, not at all amused or compassionate. My father was a Christian Scientist, and while my mother insisted on raising my brother, sister, and me Episcopalian, his beliefs suffused the house. We weren't expected to deny disease as he was, but we were strongly encouraged to rise above it. "It's just mortal error," my father would counsel me when I was laid low by some ailment. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but I did know that mortal error was the reason why, in tenth grade, for instance, shimmery with a fever from bronchitis, I was still expected to haul myself to school. Coming into the adult world, I assumed everyone was like this. Diego, for one, was not.
        
"I have a headache! I cannot move," he declared from the floor of the Denver airport on Christmas Eve, where he'd flung himself just as the extended family was about to transfer to a flight to Breckenridge for a ski vacation. Pedestrians stepped over him. My parents stared down, flabbergasted. They'd never seen behavior like this. I had, a couple of times.
        
"Just ignore him," I advised my mother.
        
"But Kathy," she said. "He really looks sick."
        
"He is," I sneered. "Sick in his head."
        
I'd met Diego when he was thirty-one and I was twenty-five, at a party he threw at his apartment on East Fourteenth Street. When I'd rung the bell, he'd opened the door and done a double take. I was pleased by his show of interest, but I had to look away, for if he was thunderstruck, I was more so. He was blond and all-boy, sexy like a rugby player, and though I'd heard from our mutual friend that he was Argentine, I noticed he spoke with a slight twang, like someone out of Texas.
        
The inflection puzzled me for a long time, till I realized he'd picked up his American listening to Bob Dylan. As for his English, he'd learned that while attending a private Irish school in Buenos Aires, after which he'd gone on to study architecture for a few years before being sidetracked by marriage, two sons, and a job at a radical newspaper. Journalism in the States can be a high-risk profession, but in Argentina in the seventies, it was flat-out dangerous, particularly when practiced at a left-wing publication. The far-right government was waging a Dirty War against anyone who disagreed with its positions, and journalists as a group were high on the hit list. Students and intellectuals were being dragged from their homes in the middle of the night and brought to detention centers, where they were tortured and frequently killed. After a number of Diego's friends had been disappeared, his name turned up in some wrong address books and the police detained him twice. In the year before he fled the country, he got used to sleeping with a pistol under his pillow.
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Table of Contents

Part 1
Critical Mass 5
Beat 16
Gone 27
Flash 42
Part 2
Hope 59
Mercy 72
Nod 84
Line 97
Change 113
Spurs 129
Blizzard 145
Bolt 161
Curl 175
Part 3
Fight 197
Pup 212
Rock 222
Epilogue 237
Acknowledgments 241
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Reading Group Guide

About the Book:The Red Devil transcends easy definitions. The memoir of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of thirty-two, it recounts her journey into a medical nightmare in harrowing detail, yet never descends into self-pity. It invokes, in both poetry and invective, the isolation and fear she experiences, yet presents a world in which compassion, love, and brazen courage rout the forces of self-interest, arrogance, and indifference. It deals with human tragedy, yet sings with triumphant humor. This guide will enhance your reading group's discussion of this remarkable work, hailed by Entertainment Weekly as "spirited—stirring—as humorous as it is honest."








Discussion Questions: Question: Rich begins her book by writing, "I found the lump twenty minutes before breakfast, three weeks after my marriage broke up." How does this brief sentence set the tone and establish the themes of the rest of the memoir? What does it tell you about Rich's approach to life?

Question: In describing her family's medical history and her own lifestyle, Rich cites recent scientific studies that show she was at high risk for developing cancer [p.10-11]. If this information had been available to her earlier, do you think she would have modified her behavior? For example, would she have left her marriage sooner or tempered her professional ambitions? Why or why not?

Question: Why does Rich so readily accept her doctor's dismissal of her fears [p. 17]? Is Rich too willing to let others take responsibility for her health or is her behavior understandable in light of her age and the relationship between doctors and patients in our society in general?

Question: How does Rich's family background—including her father's beliefs as a Christian Scientist—influence her initial approach to her illness? What does she mean when she writes "I was eager to know more about cancer. I just didn't want to know one thing—that I had it" [p.50]. At what point does her determined stoicism break down?

Question: Rich finds comfort in listening to music and in reading. To what extent do these activities serve as escapes from reality? What emotional or intellectual satisfactions does each provide within the context of her illness?

Question: Are Rich's doctors unusual in their lack of compassion? What justifications, if any, are there for the way Walter Victor, the breast surgeon, and William Bonner and Susan Kruze, the two oncologists, handle Rich's situation? How does Chiara Antonelli differ from the others? What qualities does she share with them?

Question: Rich writes, "In figuring out how the medical system works, I was learning that one of the most important things was to distrust it" [p. 39]. How do the events in the book support this claim? Are there specific incidents that contradict it?

Question: "Loneliness is one of cancer's sly, nasty tricks," [p.80] Rich writes. Why doesn't the attention of her friends, her ex-husband, Diego, and Ben, first her friend and then her lover, ease her feelings of isolation? Does this have to do with Rich's own personality or is it a universal emotion among people suffering from life-threatening illnesses? Which friends and acquaintances are particularly helpful to her and why? Are the bonds she forms with Claire, Lisa, and other cancer patients more meaningful than her relationships with her old friends?

Question: Are Rich's concerns about her social life and her physical appearance (for example, her weight gain and her loss of hair) manifestations of vanity? In what ways are they symbols of the emotional and psychological changes Rich is experiencing?

Question: Do you think that the friendship between Rich and Ben would have evolved into a love affair under normal circumstances? What aspects of their personalities might explain the transformation of their feelings during one of the worst periods in Rich's medical treatment? Why does the relationship fall apart when Rich temporarily regains her health?

Question: Why does Rich call the friendship she and Diego come to share one of the best paradoxes of her cancer [p.77]? What other paradoxes does she confront in the course of her illness and how do they influence both her attitudes and her actions?

Question: Rich writes, "In Cancerland—people are forced to live in two times zones at once. We exist on cancer's time and real-world time simultaneously" [p.37]. What devices does she employ—in both the flow of the narrative and in her tone of voice—to bring this duality to life? How do her dreams, her memories of Lynn, Hope's suicide, and her reflections on her marriage sharpen the sense that she is existing in two different time zones?

Question: Rich mocks the New Age image of "plucky cancer survivors" described in books like Bernie Siegel's Love, Medicine & Miracles [p. 52]. Is Rich overly critical of Siegel and other "cancer gurus" or do her own insights and experiences confirm her skepticism? Is it possible for people who have not undergone the terrors of cancer to understand its profound impact?

Question: There are many graphic descriptions of Rich's medical treatments in The Red Devil. What do they add to the narrative? Are they merely "horror stories" or do they serve another function?

Question: Has increased awareness of breast cancer eliminated the possibility that other women will undergo experiences similar to Rich's?

Question: In a recent interview in People magazine, Rich said, "This isn't a cancer book. This is a war novel for women." Do you think this is an apt description? If so, what enemies, beyond the cancer itself, did Rich have to vanquish? Memoirs about serious illness are often described as "inspiring" and "uplifting." Do these terms apply to The Red Devil? If you were writing a review of the book, what adjectives would you use?

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2000

    Maintaining personhood in the face of cancer

    The Red Devil is a personally revealing book that holds little back. The author shares her humiliation along with her triumph, as we watch the personal growth that ultimately becomes the author's greatest triumph. The author begins her cancer experience as a good-looking, intelligent, educated, ambitious and glamourous career woman. Her main problem in life is a tempestuous marital relationship with an edgy latin stud who is a bit outside of her social strata. Then, a miniature thermo-nuclear device called breast cancer explodes her life. She retreats into a depressed state of pouting about her losses only to be dragged out by metastasis. The author learns sensitivity to others, a sense of humor in the face of adversity, the old toughing it out technique of emotional survival, the try anything approach, the try everything approach, and in general, becomes a huge individual, spiritually more alive than possible in her pre-cancer state. And, she's still breathing air, as far as we know, a fact which is encouraging all by itself to those of us who are terrified and fighting this disease.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2000

    Could not put it down

    This book was so wonderful and honest. I suffer from an illness and I could relate so much to Rich's thoughts, emotions and humor. This is a book to read if you ever felt that life was overwhelming.

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