Review by Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.; Director, New York Arts Exchange
Wilhelmina Grant, founder of SISTAAH (Survivors Inspiring Sisters Through Art & Advocacy for Health), has written a powerful book that is far more than another memoir about surviving breast cancer. It is a book about courage and believing in oneself completely. It is about following one’s intuition in the face of professionally informed opinions. It is about having faith in spiritual guidance. In short, Ms. Grant has written a book for our times: a book about taking charge of one’s destiny through combining what one had to do with what one loves to do. Ms. Grant found her calling by turning to art for healing and renewal.
Her first sentence “Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me” may send shockwaves through the reader’s mind, but it is a perfect introduction to Ms. Grant herself. Not simply a survivor, Ms. Grant is a “thriver,” aiming for “a feeling of fullness” as she affirms being alive and healthy. Her extraordinary strength and resourcefulness helped her arrive at this desirable destination. Her book shares the journey to this realization, giving the reader a sense of how she made her decisions along the way.
However, to reach this goal, we discover a roller-coaster ride of outrageous fortune. From inexplicable breast pain that is, at first, trivialized by doctors, to unemployment after 9/11 to returning to college to discovering her artistic gifts. Ms. Grant may credit cancer as the “best thing that ever happened” to her, but in fact she teaches us how to turn “lemons into lemonade,” as she writes: “I have discovered that the transformation of outdated, rusty and broken objects is a metaphor for personal growth, renewal and boundless possibilities. If life as a cancer survivor has given me lemons, then wellness advocacy through art-making has truly become my ‘lemonade’.” (When Life Gives You Lemons, 2010).
In response to great adversity, Wilhelmina Grant founded a sisterhood, SISTAAH, to educate women about breast cancer and early detection. As we read about Ms. Grant’s journey to this place, we root for her all the way, because we have fallen in love with the protagonist of this thrilling story. We love her spunk and her drive, which comes through not only in her actions, but also in her words, her honesty and her natural verve. Thank goodness her energy found its way to making art, which is excellent. We find examples reproduced in photographs throughout these beautiful pages. Her visual work brings us even closer to understanding her indomitable spirit.
Therefore, Ms. Grant shares with us more than her struggle to survive cancer. She inspires us to find our true path in life, even in the face of enormous obstacles. And she demonstrates how to surmount these obstacles with sound choices, discipline and relentless resolve. In a world that seems fraught with so many possible directions at our disposal, this book is particularly relevant to those who feel the next chapter remains ahead, even if a mental GPS does not map out the precise course in advance. A Feeling of Fullness: Insights of a Divinely Guided Journey Beyond Breast Cancer encourages us to greet life’s challenges with positivity and unexpected detours into serendipitous opportunities. Hopefully, Ms. Grant’s book will reach a very wide audience that will benefit from her experienced advice and example.