The Undying Book Summary - The Undying Book explained in key points
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The Undying summary

Anne Boyer

Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care

3.7 (141 ratings)
19 mins

Brief summary

The Undying by Anne Boyer is a memoir that explores the author's experience with breast cancer and the capitalist healthcare system. She critiques the language and culture surrounding cancer and offers a starkly honest portrayal of illness and treatment.

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    The Undying
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    Anne’s diagnosis was very hard for her to process. She felt fine – but medical science was telling her she was seriously sick.

    Anne was wearing her usual summer outfit: cutoffs, a green tank top, sandals. She sat in a climate-controlled room, across a desk from a woman dressed in official, dour gray. The woman’s job? An investigator. But not the sort you see in police thrillers. 

    She was there to help Anne investigate her feelings. 

    Sometime earlier, Anne had found a lump in her left breast. A medical investigation confirmed: she had a tumor. A technician showed her an image of this new growth inside her body, and Anne photographed it: a round object, with a long, jagged pointing finger. 

    The key message here is: Anne’s diagnosis was very hard for her to process. She felt fine – but medical science was telling her she was seriously sick.

    Before Anne was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had never really thought about it. She’d read that the treatment had advanced and was relatively easy. People’s lives were interrupted, sure, but most got through it. 

    But her tumor was different. Anne had triple-negative breast cancer, the deadliest kind. There is no targeted treatment for it. 

    A picture Anne found online helped her process the news visually. The graphic was simple: just a hundred face emojis. Fifty-two were green and smiley, showing women who lived. And 48 were pink and frowning. They represented people who didn’t.

    Anne and her friends had a nickname for her oncologist. They called him Dr. Baby because he looked so much like a chubby angelic child. But the news he gave Anne was terrifying. The rate at which her tumor was growing was four times higher than the speed that doctors describe as very aggressive. Dr. Baby recommended immediate chemotherapy. To refuse, he said, was to die. And to accept – Anne thought – was probably to feel like death but possibly live. 

    She went on the Internet – and found plenty of strong opinions there. People suggested she should tell her mother, tell her daughter, and negotiate with her employer. She was also supposed to deep-clean the kitchen, find someone to look after her cat, and buy clothes that would accommodate the coming chemotherapy port in her chest: an opening through which drugs could be delivered directly into her bloodstream. 

    Chemotherapy was still some weeks away for Anne. But as she waited, her tumor started to hurt. Her surgeon said the reason was simple: it was growing.

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    What is The Undying about?

    The Undying (2019) is a searing, poetic account of the author’s journey through an aggressive form of breast cancer. It’s also a seething appraisal of women’s experience of this illness, in history and literature, as well as in the present-day United States. 

    The Undying Review

    The Undying (2019) by Anne Boyer is a thought-provoking exploration of the author's personal experience with cancer. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a powerful and raw portrayal of the reality of cancer and the medical system, challenging conventional beliefs and shedding light on important issues.
    • Boyer's sharp and insightful observations on illness, capitalism, and gender provide a unique perspective that will make readers reflect and question societal constructs.
    • The book combines manual and emotional storytelling, seamlessly weaving together personal narrative, research, and cultural critique, making it a thoroughly engaging and enlightening read.

    Best quote from The Undying

    Fact: Single women die of breast cancer at twice the rate of married women. That rate increases if you are single and black or poor. 

    —Anne Boyer
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    Who should read The Undying?

    • Anyone who has ever suffered illness – from a common cold to cancer
    • People interested in class politics 
    • Lovers of great literature

    About the Author

    Anne Boyer is poet and essayist and a self-described “common type of person.” She is a professor at the Kansas City Art Institute. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2020.

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    The Undying FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Undying?

    The main message of The Undying is a powerful exploration of illness, mortality, and the complex world of healthcare.

    How long does it take to read The Undying?

    The estimated reading time for The Undying is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Undying a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Undying is worth reading for its raw and honest portrayal of a battle with illness. It provides valuable insights into the healthcare system.

    Who is the author of The Undying?

    The author of The Undying is Anne Boyer.

    What to read after The Undying?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Undying, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • How to Listen When Markets Speak by Lawrence G. McDonald
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