Cancer in Two Voices



Book cover: Cancer in Two Voices

In the late l980’s, Butler’s writing and activism refocused on women’s health after her partner, Barbara Rosenblum, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Together they wrote Cancer In Two Voices, published in l988, the year of Barbara’s death. The book received the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Non-Fiction and continues to be a widely read resource for those who face life threatening illness and the partners who love them.

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Cancer in Two Voices Reviews

“This landmark feminist perspective on breast cancer…is an indictment of the medical profession’s casual attitude to women’s illness, an also a touching chronicle of two women in their forties grappling intellectually and emotionally with premature death.”

Publisher’s Weekly (1988)

Cancer In Two Voices is lucid, pedantic, and enormously powerful…In the last section, Butler’s palpable grief deserves more space. Finally there is no fictive pretences between writer and reader; the authors have taken on the rick of self-exposure with complete eloquence. Their truths become our truths.”

Lambda Book Report (1988)

“This unusual, gripping, and beautifully written book is a valuable document for cancer patients, their families, friends, social workers, and other health care providers…It is also a tribute to Dr. Rosenblum’s courage and perseverance and to the love and devotion of her life partner, Sandra Butler, the author of Conspiracy of Silence, one of the first books to expose the prevalence of incest I strongly recommend this book for its riveting insight into the heart and mind of two very thoughtful, sensitive women who dealt with tragedy with love, humor, courage, anger, pain and finally, resignation to the force of death to which we must all eventually succumb.”

Clinical Social Work Journal (1989)

“It’s a sad book, true, but it’ also loving, enabling, and inspiring. The book is a little miracle, too, and should be read by every woman still lucky enough to be alive.”

Women’s Library Workers Journal (1989)

“The book is impressive in its detailed account of the way two women involved their community in their battle, for their sake and for that of their friends…The honest of the work, along with their courage to explore every pain and emotion, transcends self-importance and pulls the reader into their circle of intimates.”

San Francisco Chronicle (1988)

“This collection of journal entries, letters and essays records the intensely personal, painful, and powerful journey Butler and Rosenblum took when Rosenblum was diagnosed with breast cancer…Highly recommended for all public libraries and special collections on women and on death and dying.”

Library Journal (1989)

“And although cancer is every present, this book is about so much more than coping with a disease…It is about family, about choices, about disorder, conflict and uncertainty; a book about the struggle to love and live in the face of great tragedy or simply the complexities of our everyday lives. A remarkable achievement, Cancer In Two Voices extends a kind of lifeline not only to those of us touched immediately by cancer or other life-threatening illness, but to anyone struggling to make a meaningful life.”

Bridges (1989)

“The book is an intense chronicle of joy, hope, grief, loss, desperation, despair, resolution, and rage. Nothing is edited or spared.  No feelings are too inappropriate to print; no secrets are held back. As a seasoned hospice nurse, I thought I was accustomed to pain, but this book broke my heart.”

Hospice Magazine (1989)


Barbara is bald again and has been for many months, and my hair is growing out—a luxuriant and lovely shade of salt and pepper. I am aware of closing the bathroom door when I brush it and being very careful to take all the hair out of the drain in the shower when I shampoo.

But there is also gratitude that balances my loss. Gratitude that I can call home and hear her voice rise with eagerness at the sound of my voice. That her sculpted, hairless skull contains her piercing eyes without brows, without lashes. Her unadorned face smiles at the phone when she hears my voice. She is still there inside her changing body—the body so different from the body I first touched and held. One breast still high and firm. I have two breasts, somewhat fallen and considerably less firm. My body, too, has changed, grown older, and softened. We have become clearer to each other and to ourselves though, our bodies less opaque. We can see through, into each other. We are living in changed and changing bodies—living with full hearts and open minds and great love.