The Sky Begins at Your Feet
by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Ice Cube Books, 2009. ISBN 978-1-888-16043-7.
Reviewed by Brenda Osborne
Posted on 01/25/2010

Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

After reading Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's memoir about her battles with breast cancer, my own trauma of being a breast cancer survivor twice over seemed almost trivial in comparison. Her uplifting story is riveting.

The first paragraph in the preface sets the tone of her book:

"I cannot figure out who I am as a body these days. I look in the mirror each morning, each night. I look right into the scars, trying to read them like the dreams I have at night of driving around lost for hours, or not being able to make a call on a pay phone without punching in the wrong numbers. There is always an emergency."

Mirriam-Goldberg's memoir is set on the spacious prairie landscapes of Kansas, as indicated by the title, The Sky Begins at Your Feet. At the most productive stage of her life—teaching at Goddard College in Vermont twice a year, parenting three children, involved in the founding and organization of a conservation group, and continuing with her writing career—she is diagnosed as having breast cancer.

This begins her horrific and courageous saga of survival. She endures a lumpectomy, debilitating radiation and chemotherapy, while maintaining her sense of humor—a buzz cut followed by fake bird tattoos decorating her hairless head. Then she learns that her BRCA1 genetic mutation test is positive, an indication that expands her risks of breast and ovarian cancers. She confronts the sad realization that she will lose both of her breasts. Mirriam-Goldberg faces this, as well as the death of her father from pancreatic cancer, with amazing strenght and resolve buttressed by her loving, compassionate family and friends, and her close spiritual connection to the Kansas prairie.

I could relate to the fear and uncertainty that a cancer diagnosis brings. At the beginning of her memoir, I found I had difficulty keeping my own memories from bumping up against the author's, but as I turned more and more pages, the poetic, personal, and humorous tone imparted a wonderful flow of awe and admiration for Mirriam-Goldberg's storytelling genius. She is a true hero, and has written a must-read book for those of us who need and cherish one.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet-Laureate of Kansas, and has written four books of poetry. She founded the program of Transformative Language Arts, which she teaches at Goddard College. In addition, she helped to set up three conservation organizations. She lives with her family south of Lawrence, Kansas, in the Wakarusa River Valley. Learn more on her website.

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