Dirty Bombshell – From Thyroid Cancer Back to Fabulous

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Dirty Bombshell: From Thyroid Cancer Back to Fabulous! by Lorna J. Brunelle, book reviewLorna Brunelle was just 33 when a routine medical exam alerted her to a problem in her neck which subsequent tests showed to be papillary thyroid cancer, the most common format of this relatively rare form of cancer. As a professional voice user (she’s a singer, acting coach and trainer) and a plus-sized model she was terrified that surgery on her neck might damage both her voice and her looks and hence her career. She kept records of her experience throughout her ‘journey’ with cancer and these were used to create her book ‘Dirty Bombshell – from Thyroid Cancer back to Fabulous’ which I have recently read on my Kindle after downloading a copy from Amazon for about £7.

I would not recommend Lorna’s book for its literary merit. I’m sorry to be harsh but she’s a not a great writer but she does have an interesting story to tell. Nor am I particularly interested in the lifestyle of a rather melodramatic American singer / trainer / event organiser / model. My reason for buying was much more personal. I too have thyroid cancer, although admittedly a different type but still within the same family of so-called ‘differentiated’ thyroid cancers. The book was recommended to me by a fellow sufferer whom I met through the Macmillan thyroid cancer forum. She loved Dirty Bombshell and has since become very friendly with the author through online contact. I write my review with some trepidation because several of my Macmillan friends have got to know Lorna online and I hope that what I say won’t cause too much offence to Lorna or my Macfriends.

Dirty Bombshell takes us from Lorna’s first suspicion that something wasn’t quite right about her neck, through surgery and radiation treatment right up to the second anniversary of her surgery. She shares her fears and frustrations, her anger and the sense of ‘Why Me?’ and opens her world to the reader. We go with her on her quest to find a surgeon she could trust, sit beside her open mouthed through the mistreatment and blunt language from medical professionals who just didn’t know how to treat her as a human being rather than a body, and then follow her to hospital for her surgery and radiation treatment with all the scans and blood tests that follow. We get to know her, her husband, family and friends as they all come to terms with the threat that the disease poses to her life and her career.

Lorna does some truly bizarre things along the way which led one of my Macmillan forum friends to pronounce that she used to think that SHE was a drama queen until she read this book. There’s the ‘thyroid funeral’ ceremony she holds with her friends just before her thyroidectomy and her desperate attempt to preserve her pre-operative voice by cutting a CD of her favourite songs in a recording studio and to preserve her pre-op neck in a photo shoot at a photographers. It’s not all baffling insanity though and there are some side-splittingly funny episodes such as the time when she goes for a scan after radiation treatment and gets a medic who can barely speak English and insists that she must ‘Wash bush’ in the hospital toilets in case the ‘hot spot’ on the scan is a drop of radioactive urine. I’m sure it wasn’t funny for Lorna but on the page it was hilarious. I also enjoyed her account of giving a drunk woman in a restaurant a dressing down for accusing her of not washing her hands after going to the toilet.

I found Lorna’s account of her operation and her radiation treatment intensely annoying which might sound uncharitable of me, but I’ll come back to my reasons later. I actually only started to engage with her in a more positive way once all the treatment was completed and she started to rebuild her life and to throw herself into supporting charities related to thyroid cancer. Her fundraising efforts for a holiday project for children from Belarus who’d suffered after the Chernobyl explosion and her attempts to publicise the scourge of thyroid cancer were admirable. For those who aren’t aware, the isotope of Iodine (I-131) that’s used to treat thyroid cancer is the very same one that destroyed the thyroids of people living in the fall-out zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power station. Surely that’s one of the finest examples of something that can be so helpful to a small number of sufferers and so damaging to a large number of previously healthy people.

Dirty Bombshell takes its title from a saying that Brunelle had about herself following her radioactive iodine treatment. In her 20’s she considered herself to be a ‘bombshell’ – a sexy, attractive woman – but the radioactive iodine treatment led to her being treated like a public health hazard and to a warning that if she didn’t follow instructions on how to behave post-treatment, she could be considered a threat to ‘Homeland Security’. She had in effect become a one-woman self-propelled ‘Dirty Bomb’ – hence her expression ‘Dirty Bombshell’.

“I applaud Lorna for taking the initiative to write on a subject that’s still very poorly covered in the media…”

Checking around the internet for reviews of Lorna’s book I soon became aware that I’m in a minority of one for not heaping praise on this book. My reservations are based primarily on the potential fear it could instil in people diagnosed with this relatively rare condition and to their family and friends. I was hoping this might be a book that I could share with my mother, to help her understand that it’s really not such a big deal and that (fingers crossed) it’s not something she or I should waste too much time worrying about. My mother struggles to ask me questions about my treatment and has been asking my sister things like “Will her hair fall out?” because she doesn’t want to upset herself or me by asking directly. (If you are interested, the answer is no, it won’t). If I had not already had my surgery I would be absolutely terrified after reading Lorna’s account of the pain she was in after hers and there’s no way I’d ever let my mother read it. I’ve checked around with forum friends and nobody else has reported going through the agonies that Lorna describes. If she gave enough details to help us understand why her experience was so different from ours, then I might feel more charitable but the risk is that this presents thyroid surgery as something you’d want to steer clear of. I suspect that various other health issues that she mentions in the book may have contributed to her poor post-operative experience. Personally I polished off a three course meal within 90 minutes of getting out of surgery both times and was off the pain killers (which had only been paracetamol and ibuprofen) within a couple of days. If a reader is depending on Lorna’s book for advice and guidance on what to expect, they might want to ask the anaesthetist to not bother bringing them round when the surgeon has finished his work.

The other problem is that treatment in the UK is quite different to that given in the USA and navigating your way through the ‘system’ in each country is not the same. Lorna can’t be blamed for those differences – she didn’t write it for people outside the USA – but it’s very important that the reader not pay too much attention to the details of her experience and I would suggest that if she ever gets a UK distribution deal, it would be important to put some extensive disclaimers and explanations at the front of the book to prevent people over here upsetting themselves. Try to focus on her account of rebuilding her self-confidence and getting used to the changes in her life and don’t get hung up on the details.

My next comments might make me look particularly picky but they do have an impact on my enjoyment of any book. In Kindle format the book suffers from poor proof-reading with rather too many spelling mistakes, incomplete sentences and a total inability to use ‘its and it’s’ and she even manages a few its’ for good measure. As a grammar pedant I am distracted by such errors but I don’t judge a book by its typos and I don’t blame a writer for them though I do blame bad editorship and poor proof reading (Lorna if you write another book, insist on a better editor!) I can’t of course be sure whether the errors are unique to the Kindle format or appear in the hard copy too.

My recommendation is that this book should only be bought by thyroid cancer sufferers and their friends and families once their surgery is out of the way. If you don’t mind over the top brash American behaviour you might enjoy it more than I did. I personally find the spiritual aspects of the book really corny and annoying and I don’t believe God gives anyone cancer for a reason or that any disease has to be entirely life-changing. I applaud Lorna for taking the initiative to write on a subject that’s still very poorly covered in the media but I do wish she hadn’t over-egged the pudding on the pain and turmoil side and I hope that readers won’t necessarily expect their thyroid cancer experience to be too similar to Lorna’s.


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Dirty Bombshell - From Thyroid Cancer Back to Fabulous
by Lorna J Brunelle

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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