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When My World Was Very Small, by Ruth Rakoff

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Updated January 20, 2011

When My World Was Very Small, Ruth Rakoff

When My World Was Very Small - Ruth Rakoff

Photo © Random House Canada

The Bottom Line

Ruth Rakoff tells us more than the story of her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. She shows us how her life is filled with family, friends, neighbors, and travel. With three young sons to raise, meals to make, and homework to oversee, her life is filled to overflowing. Cancer cuts her world down to one comfy bedroom and a faded yellow velvet couch. The words of her journey spill out, slipping back and forth in time, until she can answer the question - who is she now? Breast cancer survivors and their supporters will appreciate the honesty and humor of Ruth Rakoff's memoir.
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  • Well-written, entertaining prose
  • Honestly expresses her emotional and physical struggles
  • Descriptive passages are vivid and immediate


  • The addition of pictures would have enhanced this book


  • Author: Ruth Rakoff
  • Publisher: Random House Canada
  • ISBN: 978-0-307-35819-6 (0-307-35819-4)
  • Copyright: 2010
  • List price: $29.95
  • Book Details: Hardback - 224 pages and eBook

Guide Review - When My World Was Very Small, by Ruth Rakoff

A Memoir of Family, Food, Cancer and My Couch

Breast cancer took an energetic world traveler, gregarious friend, volunteer worker and mother of three - and cut her world down to a small circle of doctor's appointments and medical decisions. An enthusiastic cook with an adventurous appetite, she lost her sense of taste and enjoyment of food. Her thick, curly hair vanished and was replaced by wigs and hats; her right breast was temporarily replaced by a silicone prosthesis. So very changed was she, that one day a neighbor child asked her, "Where's Roof?"

Each chapter of " When My World Was Very Small" is like a box of photos. Concise and crisp pictures of her life appear: wonderful stories of good times, food, travel, and challenges. Her descriptions of good food and globetrotting especially shine. An army of friends organizes to help her through the ordeal - a tightly knit neighborhood community mobilizes around her and her family. Before her surgery, a chosen group of supporters hold a "Swearing Circle," and later help with everything from groceries to disposing of a mouse in the kitchen. Her mother came to every chemo appointment, and stayed home with her during recovery. Her brother came to be with her and help out. Her husband and sons made the house run as normally as possible. I hate to admit it, but I felt very envious of such a large and willing support network.

Ruth and Tommy had to tell their three children about her diagnosis. Then later, one by one, she talks with each son about her surgery and how it has changed her. Having lost one breast, she isn't sure if keeping the other one is safe or not. Because she is an Ashkenazi Jew, her risk of breast cancer and recurrence is high. Ruth writes with raw emotion of her post-mastectomy body, and her struggle with chemotherapy. She pulls the reader into her decision about breast reconstruction. She comes to accept the changes that cancer makes in her body, her family, and her future. When Ruth has completed treatment and feels the need to regain her energy, she reclaims her place amongst a women's swimming group. The image from that chapter remains clear long after you close the book - she has fought, others have supported, and others have suffered too; but they survive - and they go on together.

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