Highlighting “Hell & Back: Wife & Mother, Doctor & Patient, Dragon Slayer,” by Tali Lando Aronoff, MD. Archway Publishing, 2018, Paperback, 290 pages, ISBN-10: 1480861766.
Westchester Day School parent and Hebrew Institute of White Plains member Dr. Tali Lando Aronoff’s book “Hell and Back” was recently released. The book is a memoir of her experience battling breast cancer.
After enduring a difficult divorce in her 20s, Aronoff completed her education, became a pediatric otorhinolaryngologist (ENT), got remarried and gave birth to three beautiful daughters. Barely a week after learning that her father had been diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor, she discovered a lump in her breast. She then underwent a battery of tests, only to have her worst fears realized. At 37 years old, as a wife, mother and daughter, she had breast cancer. Weighing all her options, Aronoff chose a full, bilateral mastectomy, combined with a lymph node dissection. These procedures defined stage 3 cancer, requiring her to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. This book covers topics such as nipple reconstruction, body image, diet adjustments, wigs, returning to work, the effects on personal relationships and the emotional magnitude of cancer. What makes this memoir unique is that it is written from the perspective of a physician who is also a patient. She had a lot to say about seeing health care through a different lens.
Aronoff has been inspired by the concept of paying it forward. “At first, going through the process, I didn’t really want to talk about it. However, as a doctor, I was happy to give others advice on the medical side of this journey.” Aronoff explained that her rabbi’s wife approached her to assist another woman who was recently diagnosed and later she became a mentor to other women. Aronoff continues to help other people on social media and writing a blog for Sharsheret. “I don’t have a specific message; I just get the struggle.”
“The book has many target audiences,” described Aronoff. “First there are the young busy women, who have young children, who are at a very difficult moment in their lives, who don’t yet know or understand how all the stages of this journey will impact the different parts of their lives. Next, there are the friends, relatives and husbands, who find this book as a way to help be there.”
Aronoff explained that although people want to help and support friends and relatives, fortunately, they do not truly understand what is really going on. “Moreover,” she added, “I believe my book speaks to Jewish women with a traditional background. Topics like cancer were taboo to talk about when they grew up, and they feel liberated by the topics I discuss in the book.”
Aronoff believes that this book is also of great interest to doctors and surgeons. “Many doctors and surgeons have read the book and commented how they had no idea of what went on, on the other side. I didn’t want my doctors to be unhappy with what I wrote; rather, I wanted them to see the impact of their actions.”
Reflecting on her young daughter’s response to the book she stated, “Juliette, my oldest, read many chapters of the book and was proud of her mother’s accomplishment. She read the chapter on genetics, and I had to explain to her how genetics play a role in the disease.” Aronoff explained, “From the start I was always open with my children about what was going on. I thought they would be less fearful of the unknown.”
What messages did readers walk away with after reading the book? White Plains resident Rhonda Rose stated, “She takes you on her journey of how she managed (and sometimes not managed) to keep it all together and somehow crawl out the other side with a beautiful family, thriving career and a great sense of humor. She explains the various steps one goes through when diagnosed and treated for cancer: the physical, emotional and spiritual struggles. And to my amazement, Tali recounts her story with humor and sarcasm that makes her book even more endearing. I laughed and cried while reading it because I related to and empathized with so many stories she shared.”
Rose continued, “Her book is a must-read for those who are cancer victims, or family and friends looking for advice on how to relate to and understand, how to care for and support, a loved one battling cancer. Even if you do not have any experience with cancer, you can still appreciate her story of how to persevere when life has thrown you the worst crisis to overcome. I truly appreciated the raw detail in which she describes her emotions because when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer over 20 years ago, I had no idea how much pain and inner turmoil she suffered. Tali is an inspiration to all of us.”
By Judy Berger