Book Review: Foiled Creative Fire by Heather Goodare

For some years now I have volunteered as a befriender with three charities (the Eric Liddell Centre and Vintage Vibes, both based in Edinburgh, and Independent Age UK), all of which do incredible work to help support older people who are lonely and/or housebound, and people who have caring responsibilities.  Through these initiatives, I have been privileged to meet many wonderful people, including Heather Goodare, who in her eighties has just published her latest book, Foiled Creative Fire: A study of remarkable women with breast cancer.

Heather has herself defied the cancer odds.  She had breast cancer 33 years ago and did not have a good prognosis, but gained complementary support from the Bristol Cancer Help Centre (now Penny Brohn UK).  Since then, she has devoted her life to making sure that the voices of other women with breast cancer in particular, and patients in general, can be heard at the highest levels.  She was the first patient representative on the British Medical Journal Editorial Board. She has written and peer-reviewed for medical and psychological books and journals, and has written many articles on the patient’s perspective in research, contributing significantly to the development of the Patient and Public Involvement initiative.

Turning to the book itself, I must first declare an interest: I had the great pleasure of proof-reading and commenting on most of the chapters while they were still in draft.  Heather presents twelve short yet meticulously researched biographies of famous and accomplished women who died of breast cancer. From Anne of Austria, Queen of France (1601-1666) to Audre Lorde (1934-1992), Heather explores the life of each woman through the wide lens of the times in which they lived.  Reading the completed book, I found it to be even more powerful than looking individually at the early drafts.  Each essay is fascinating in itself.  But taken as a whole, the set of case studies together present a powerful argument for the role of stress, anxiety and depression to be considered as a strong factor in the development of cancers and other conditions, particularly in women.  Heather’s work also illuminates the collective problem faced by women, historic and modern, in the fight against the pressures and expectations of a patriarchal society.

Overall, this is a slim volume which punches well above its weight.  It will of course be of interest to anyone who has experienced cancer directly or indirectly.  It also provides a unique contribution to our understanding of the history of feminism.  Above all, it is a fitting tribute to this collection of amazing women and their achievements.

14 thoughts on “Book Review: Foiled Creative Fire by Heather Goodare

  1. It’s interesting the extent to which we consider cancer to be a disease of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and yet there is no reason to think that people’s bodies behaved any differently in early times. I suppose fewer people lived long enough for cancer to be a problem and that it was less easily recognised in an age without x-rays and scans.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a brilliant review, Liz. Thank you so much for the introduction. I have already been over to and found Heather’s book. This will be a MUST read. It is scheduled for release on July 1st!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an amazing woman your friend is, Liz! The amount of research to have written such a book as this is phenomenal especially considering she has suffered from cancer herself. I have pre-ordered the book. I know of a couple of people who have contracted cancer after suffering trauma and I had a feeling there was a strong connection. Have you read the poem by W H Auden from which the title is a quote? I am sure you have. Such a sad horrific poem.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments and particularly your support, Clare. I know that Heather will be so grateful. As you say, the connection between different health issues feels intuitively right. And yes, I have seen the Auden poem. I nearly wrote about it in the post, but felt that the awfulness of it detracted from the positive tone I wanted to strike about the book as a whole. Perhaps I should have been bolder – after all, Heather chose it very carefully. But thank you for picking up on it – something else I know Heather will be really pleased about. X

      Liked by 1 person

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