Before I learned I had breast cancer, I belonged to a Jewish book club. Eight Jewish women meeting for forty years, once a month in one of our houses.
Did we ever read a book? Who knows? Did we ever discuss a book? We had arguments every time:
“Why should I read a historical novel when I’m not interested in historical novels?”
“Then why should I read a book about how Yiddish is coming back from a lost language when my grandparents only wanted that it should be a lost language?”
“They told secrets in my house in Yiddish so the kids wouldn’t know what they were talking about.”
“I think next month we should read a modern romance novel. There’s a new one on the bestseller list.”
“I’m against reading bestsellers. They’re crap.”
“I’m too old for romance. I can’t be bothered with romance.”
“Molly, you’ve had three husbands. How did you manage that without romance?”
“Look at my breasts! They speak for themselves. Also I’m a good cook.”
“Could it be your cooking poisoned the first two?”
“Funny that is not.”
“Sex must figure in somewhere.”
“If it figures, it figures. Remember how in Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye sings, ‘Do you love me?’ and his wife answers, ‘For twenty-five years I’ve cooked your meals, washed your clothes, shared your bed …. If that isn’t love, what is?’ ”
“It’s your bosoms, it’s not your cooking, that got you three husbands.”
“They should live and be well,” Molly said, patting her bosoms lovingly. “But you never know. One in eight women gets breast cancer. It could be one of us.”
“Never one of us. We’re not the type.”
We are the type, in fact. We are especially the type. Women with Ashkenazic genetics are especially at risk. If we carry the Braca gene mutation, we have an eighty-five percent risk of being diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime, and are also at high risk for ovarian cancer.
Sprinkled over the years among our discussions of life and literature were exchanges of really important information. Who were the best pediatricians? Orthodontists? The best summer camps for the kids? When busing started in our city, most of the neighborhood children were pulled out and put into Christian or Catholic private schools. And since all of us in our book club had been educated in the public schools of New York—the Bronx or Brooklyn—we strongly resisted private schools. Pay for schools? Ridiculous! Didn’t we all feel grateful for our public school educations? And look how smart we were!
Smart we were. There was no argument there.