The Breast of Times, the Worst of Times

Sat. October 1, 2005 12:00 AM
by Jill Craig

Writing a funny book about cancer cannot be easy – cancer is a frightening, gross, often terminal disease. In My One-night Stand with Cancer, Tania Katan certainly does not leave out the frightening and gross parts (in fact she reveals some pre-surgery prep procedures that were most likely created by the devil himself) but amidst all the harsh realities of cancer, Katan delivers the tender, beautiful, and hilarious truth.

My One-night Stand is Katan's own story – she lost one breast to cancer at age 21 and the same thing happened to the other one nearly ten years later. Cancer at such a young age is nearly unheard of; not surprisingly, Katan carries the BRCA-1 gene which occurs predominately in Jewish women of Eastern European descent. The gene not only places carriers at a high risk for breast cancer, it also increases risk for ovarian cancer. During one visit, Katan's doctor suggested a hysterectomy to avoid future complications. Her parents agree, "Tania won't have children," almost immediately. The story turns tender in moments like these - where another dyke (me) might have turned political and stood on principles, Katan cries and expresses her hopes to one day give birth to a cute little "snuggler." I immediately pictured Katan holding a baby (or sunggler, as she calls them) – both of them would wear colorful sweaters and the baby might wear one of those silly hats over its cute bald head.

I picture Katan so clearly because there is a photo of her on the back cover. She has short, tousled dark hair, funky glasses, and a small tattoo on her chest. We can see the tattoo because she is topless in the photo. The scars and the easy smile are so natural that one cannot help but applaud this woman – how many women with disease free bodies are so courageous as to face the world with bare skin? Katan does not just earn praise for her bravery from readers – in My One-night Stand she writes about running a 10k topless. Despite the nervousness that she felt before the race, total strangers approached her and hugged her, thanked her, congratulated her.

Katan is a modern-day lesbian character that readers can relate to – she is real and believable, probably, well, because she actually exists. I had to laugh at the description of Katan and her girlfriend standing in Good Vibrations (San Francisco's feminist sex toy store) fighting over which double-sided dildo to purchase. Katan's family is another constant source of amusement – pothead/activist brother, boy-crazy sister, and divorced parents who insist on coming together to support their children. Her parents and siblings all spend the weeks following her second surgery together – in her dads one bedroom apartment – and despite all of the neuroses and dysfunction, survive.

Though Katan is a smart, cute, and funny chick, she manages to find and date some of The Most Self-absorbed Lesbians on Earth. The misadventures themselves are at times funny, at times sad, but Katan approaches her love life, as she does all things, with an almost Buddhist sense of calm and wholeness.

The sense of peace and balance is, in fact, what makes this book great. My One-night Stand with Cancer deals with some heavy subjects but contains some funny, tender, and sexy moments which all meld to leave the reader with a wonderful sense of the author, of her life, her community, and her humanity. Katan has crafted an accessible, raw, and tender memoir.

My One-night Stand with Cancer, Alyson Books, paperback, September 2005
275 pages
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