It takes courage to begin a book with “Is a pen a metaphorical penis?” as Susan Gubar did in 1979 in The Madwoman in the Attic, her widely acclaimed and groundbreaking book with writing partner Sandra Gilbert. It takes even more courage to write about your own serious illness and its debilitating treatment. I photographed Professor Gubar in her Bloomington, Ind., home for an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about her new book, Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer.
My grandmother never would have called herself a feminist, but I thought about her a lot as I took these pictures. My grandmother’s deadly cancer symptoms went untreated and unrecognized for over a year. Her doctor told her she was just depressed.
I talked to my dad the night before the portrait session, and was surprised to hear that he thought my grandmother died from ovarian cancer. He wasn’t sure. I thought it was liver cancer. The ignorance and silence about what happened inside my grandmother’s body is an example of why an outspoken book like Gubar’s is necessary.