They meet after visiting a message board on-line. One is a trendy East Coaster, the other a down-to-earth Midwesterner. And while they are seemingly very different, there are many more ways in which they are alike, and they bond fiercely while sharing their most heartfelt thoughts about their health, children, careers, and marriages. This touching story of two strangers becoming soul-mates feels like a few hours spent with a best friend over coffeewarm, comforting, and wonderfully satisfying.
Read an Excerpt
Subj: Help, please
I hope I'm in the right place. Actually that's not true. I hope I'm not in the right place at all. See, it's like this: I found a lump in my left breast this morning, and basically, I'm a wreck. I can't focus. I can barely even function. So far I've managed to burn my hand on the coffeemaker, finish a load of laundry (only to realize sometime during the spin cycle that I never added the detergent), and most recently, on one of my seemingly endless trips to the bathroom, I noticed that I put on my underwear inside out. Under normal circumstances I might find all of this funny. But these aren't normal circumstances and I'm not laughing. Trust me.
I've already made an appointment to see my gynecologist -- only it's not for another two weeks. I don't know how I'll make it till then. I'm trying not to, but I keep imagining the worst -- which is probably why I'm posting this message on your bulletin board for breast cancer. I know that it looks like I'm jumping the gun, but what I'm really looking for are some reassurances that it's not cancer -- and that I don't belong here. Is there someone out there who can tell me something that will make me feel better? Anyone? Anything? I'd really appreciate it.
Subj: re: Help, please
message ID: email@example.com
I'm keeping my fingers crossed thatyou are indeed in the wrong place. Statistically, the odds are that you're perfectly fine, since most lumps turn out to be completely benign. Still, you're smart to check it out, just in case. In the meantime, I know it's hard, but try not to think about it for the next two weeks, There's nothing you can do, anyway. Keep us posted.
Subj: re: Help, please
Date: 09-14 From: Susan_P@aol.com
message ID: firstname.lastname@example.org
On 09-14 email@example.com wrote:
>I don't know how I'll make it till then.
Oh, you'll make it. Your fingers may be burned to a crisp, and you may be wearing dirty laundry, but you'll make it.
Obviously, I just finished reading your post. Don't be mad, but you made me laugh. It reminded me of how I felt when I found my lump. My mouth went dry, my hands started shaking, and my heart was pounding so fiercely that I don't know if I was more afraid of having breast cancer or of having a heart attack. (20/20 hindsight leaves me wishing it was a heart attack. Kind of.) Anyway, that was two years ago. Obviously, my lump turned out to be cancer. (Why else would I be reading the BC bulletin board two years later?) I wound up having a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. I am happy to report that since then, I've been completely healthy. (Feel free to get up from your computer, find something made of wood and give it a good hard knock for me.)
So you -- who wears her underpants inside out -- do you have a name? I'm Sue. And the best advice I can give you is to see your gyno sooner. Waiting two weeks will only make it worse. Call your doctor's nurse, tell her you're a mess, and beg her to squeeze you in. Fake-cry if you have to. It worked for me. :- )
Subj: re: Help, please
Date: 09-14 From: PanOtchr@mindspring.com
message ID: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi. Welcome to the club. I hope you're right and yours is a mistaken membership. If not, remember these things:
1. Early detection is everything.
2. There are a lot of women out here to give you support.
3. Positive thoughts really do make a difference.
I will pray for you.
message ID: email@example.com
Thank you, ladies, for all of your responses. You've helped me calm down (a bit), and I truly appreciate your kind words. I promise to let you know what happens. Be well.
Subj: Do You Mind?
Thank you for responding to my message on the breast cancer bulletin board. I'm writing to you directly -- I hope you don't mind. But the truth is, I really don't feel comfortable posting my life on the Internet for the entire world to see. Maybe that's why I (subconsciously) neglected to give my name. Or maybe it's because by being anonymous this whole thing is somehow not as real. Weird, I know, but this whole thing is weird.
Three women (including you) responded to my letter about my lump. In spite of my somewhat hysterical state, your message made me laugh, especially when you wrote that I should call my gyno and fake-cry to get an earlier appointment. That sounds like the same kind of good, solid advice I would give to someone in my predicament -- if only I could think straight.
Anyway, you sound like someone I can talk to, and that's really what I need right now. That, and some information from someone who's been through what I'm going through. (I know what you mean about the heart pounding. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that I could actually hear mine beating.) I'm trying really hard to remain...Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend. Copyright � by Laney Becker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
I wish Laney Katz Becker had written Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend fifteen years ago. . .I'd have been encouraged and comforted by this tender, funny book. . .I found it sweet, unsentimental, and ultimately moving.
Patricia Gaffney, New York Times bestselling author of The Saving Graces
Hooray for Laney Katz Becker, whose own battle with cancer has found voice in this wise, moving and vastly entertaining book...
Abby Frucht, Life After Death, Polly's Ghost
Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend is two parts honest, engaging epistolary dialogue and one part humor, black humor, to be sure, but very funny at just the right moments. Becker writes with a fine dramatic flourish about the tragedies and comedies in the lives of two courageous women. It is impossible not to empathize with these characters, and with their children and spouses, from the first page. This intelligent and informative story is a must-read for women whose lives have been altered by breast cancer, and also for the men in their lives who wish to be supportive of them. It provides a number of insights into the hearts and minds of breast cancer survivors which would be of great benefit to those who want to know more about what they went through but don't know how to ask.
William Kowalski, author of Eddie's Bastard
Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend is a book of husbands and wives, mothers and children, best friends who've never met. It promises that when you are having the most terrifying moment of your life, someone will reach out of the dark to take your hand. It proves that love matters more than anything, that together is better than alone, that somewhere out there--or right next door--we can all hope to find a friend like Susan. Someone to listen, make us laugh until we cry, help us understand that hope, friendship and love are three things that go on forever. I loved this novel and I couldn't put it down.
Luanne Rice, the New York Times bestselling author of Follow the Stars Home and Blue Moon
Reading Group Guide
IntroductionLara is a smart, sophisticated New Yorker who is frightened about her future. In search of answers, comfort, and advice, she goes on-line. And that's where she "meets" Susan, a strong and steady, no-frills Midwesterner. No two women could be less alike. Yet from the moment they connect, it is clear that they share something deep and important, something that's nestled in the warmest corner of the heart. What begins as a chance encounter on the Internet quickly blossoms into a very special relationship. As their e-mail messages fly back and forth, Susan and Lara forge a powerful bond of trust, honesty, and understanding. And soon they are sharing their lives in full -- talking of husbands and children, dreams and desires, the daily cycle of success and setback -- and together learning to laugh uproariously over the small and large absurdities of the world. When a devastating crisis arises, they are there for each other, providing the life-affirming strength and the lightness that is needed to cope with tragedy ... and to triumph. Discussion Questions
- In what ways are Susan and Lara alike? How are they different? If it wasn't for their shared experience with breast cancer do you think they would have still been friends? Why or why not?
- Susan and Lara agree to restrict their contact to e-mail. What impact, if any, do you believe that telephone conversations would have had on their friendship?
- After biopsy, when Lara's told she's fine -- except for some atypical cells -- she calls her internist for more information. Why didn't she "just leave well enough, alone?" Do you think her proactive response is typical of most women?Why or why not?
- Lara doesn't allow Michael to accompany her to her doctors' appointments and she gives Susan a variety of reasons she prefers to go alone. What do you think is really behind her decision?
- Who saves Lara's life? Why do you think so?
- Breast cancer doesn't just affect Susan and Lara. What impact does it have on Artie and Michael? How about the children?
- Which of all the main characters changes the most over the course of the novel? Who do you think changes the least? Why?
- Discuss the role that God and religion play in Susan and Lara's lives. Would the diagnosis of a life threatening illness affect your religious convictions or practices? If so, how?
- Lara decides to remove both of her breasts in spite of her husband's reservations. Do you agree or disagree with her belief that it's her body, therefore her choice?
- In Dr. Gods office Lara is both angry and saddened when she sees a teenage model considering breast implants. How much, if at all, are Lara's feelings colored by her breast cancer experience? Do you think it's fair for Lara to differentiate between breast surgery for cosmetic reasons versus reconstructive purposes?
- The author makes sure we know that Lara has lots of friends. Keeping that in mind, why do you think the author chose to tell this story using e-mails between strangers? What points was she trying to make about anonymity, technology and friendship?
- Similarly, what do you think prompts a woman to post her troubles, fears, and/or questions on message boards in cyberspace for total strangers to see? What can a stranger provide that a close friend or family members cannot?
- In her acknowledgements the author tells us that this novel is based on her own breast cancer experience. What insights or aspects of the book do you think could have only been written by someone who has been there?
- Has your thinking or knowledge about breast cancer changed because of this book? If so, how?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I picked this book up in the store due to its bright cover; scanned a few pages, and I had to get it. I read it all that night, and sent it to my mother in Taiwan the next day. She has since sent that copy to Australia and bought copies for her friends in Mexico. I've checked this out of the library and made my friends and co-workers read it. I hope this gives you an idea of how this book is so wonderful! I had no idea how breast cancer influenced a life beyond fear, and this has made me see the truth.
I am a six year breast cancer survivor and still check the message boards under breast cancer health. I found this wonderful book to be informative, truthful,and a great read. Cancer patients do rely on one another for strength, guidance and truth. Thank you, Laney, for providing all your sisters with a great book. The use of E-mail was a fantastic feat and added to the enjoyment of the read.
I have nothing but praise for Laney's book. It was the catalyst in which to tell my brother that I too had cancer. The book made me laugh and cry.....here is a funny story about how the book helped us.... I had a 8-hour round trip drive ahead of me yesterday to pick up my son from college for the weekend (I know I must be nuts but it actually gave me time to get my head together) -- anyway, my brother went with me. I had him stop at Barnes and Noble and I picked up Laney's Book.......I sat there and read the whole thing!!!! I even found myself reading some of the passages out loud to my brother. It was then that I was able to ease into the conversation that I too had recently been diagnosed. Here we are driving on the interstate heading to the University. He finds an exit, stops the car comes to my side of the car pulls me out and gave me the biggest hug ever. Okay, so here we are on the side of the road hugging and crying and get this, a State Trooper pulls up behind us with his lights flashing........how embarrassing.........but oooohhhhhh so funny.........he just wanted to make sure I was okay. I said sure just having an emotional meltdown and this is the only place we could find to do some family bonding. I think he really thought we were a nut case, but off he drove and we hopped back in the car and headed south.
This morning, this book arrived on my doorstep. The note attached read: This is a one year anniversary gift celebrating your strength and courage. We hope it helps you heal the wounds that are hidden deep inside of you. Love Always! My sister, ever so thoughtful, remembered the day I went to the doctor to show him my pea sized lump. I put everything down and read the entire book this afternoon. I laughed and cried and understood exactly how these women felt. I will be passing this book onto my friends who have helped me through this long year, as well as my friends who have survived. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to those of us who have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer
In her captivating first novel, Laney Katz Becker succeeds masterfully in telling the story of an unlikely friendship formed on line. By choosing to use the form of e-mails back and forth between two strangers, this brilliant new author of 'Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend' carries you along on a ride that is at times funny, heartbreaking, and tender but always astounding in its honest prose. With skillful candor, Katz Becker weaves a tale of friendship and hardship, triumph and surrender. To say it is a book about breast cancer is to miss the point of the universality of this novel's appeal. It is a book about men, women, friends, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, doctors, patients, bosses and co-workers. It is ultimately a book about how we all connect to each other and serve as support and shelter to strangers and close friends. It is a book you must read to be entertained, uplifted, enlightened and informed. Urge your friends to read it. 'Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend' is a great choice for a book club as the reading prompts and defines so many questions about intimacy, trust, and also breast cancer. I am anxious for another book written by this talented new author as I admire her for so artfully telling a story that is smitten with her own truth and smacks of her own vibrant courage.
Dear Stranger, Dearest Friend written by Laney Katz Becker is an engaging novel about two women who communicate by e-mail regarding their experiences with breast cancer. The two friends became great support systems for each other providing feedback about breast cancer and their family experiences. It is a fast reading novel. You don't want to put the book down. Laney Katz Becker did experience cancer and her book is very descriptive. This is not just a novel for people with cancer or for someone who knows someone with cancer, it is a book for all.