Hell and Back-a breast cancer story

Hell & Back is a memoir by pediatric ENT (ear, nose, throat) physician Tali Lando Aronoff, M.D. who finds her perfect life upended in ways she never imagined would happen to her.

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

Psalm 116:3, KJV, public domain

Wife and mother

Just based on the title, you know this isn’t a happy story.

The main character, Tali, seems to have the perfect life. She is a pregnant young woman with a husband who adores her and two beautiful children. They have good jobs, a nice house, a nanny who is good with the kids. She has a loving and supportive extended family.

Then her father is diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. She develops life threatening preeclampsia. She has an emergency caesarean section, delivering her baby prematurely.

Then she finds a lump in her breast. It is cancer- that has already spread.

Oh, did I tell you she is a physician with a busy surgical practice?

Hell & Back: Wife & Mother, Doctor & Patient, Dragon Slayer

by Tali Lando Aronoff, M.D.

Hell & Back is not a novel. It is a memoir by pediatric ENT (ear, nose, throat) physician Tali Lando Aronoff, M.D. who finds her perfect life upended in ways she never imagined would happen to her.

(By way of disclosure, I have never met Dr. Aronoff. After reading about her, I asked for a complimentary copy (PDF) of her book in exchange for a review. This blog post has affiliate links which will help fund this blog if a purchase is made. )

Doctor and patient

A physician’s illness can be awkward, both for us and for those who take care of us. Other doctors may assume we know more about our diseases than we do and fail to give us the same information they would give to “real” patients. We, on the other hand, often try to help them out by diagnosing ourselves, or minimizing our symptoms because we don’t want to bother them, or seem like complainers. Either approach impacts our care negatively.

But being a physician can be an advantage and it certainly was for Dr. Aronoff since she had friends who specialized in breast surgery, oncology (cancer), radiation therapy, and plastic surgery, all of which she would need. Recently out of training,  they had the most up to date knowledge in their fields. They helped her get to the right doctors, including getting appointments quickly.

But being a physician didn’t spare Dr. Aronoff pain from her mastectomy and the expanders (used to make room for eventual breast reconstruction). She still had to cope with  the debilitating side effects of chemo- fatigue, nausea,appetite loss, and hair loss- all the while caring for 3 small children.

A physician’s friends and family may assume that because we are healers, we are brave, strong, and can take care of ourselves. Dr. Aronoff found her closest friends understanding and supportive, and many went above and beyond, driving her to appointments, taking her kids to activities, and bringing meals.

“The naked truth”

When she lost her hair, she tried wearing wigs and found them uncomfortable so opted for scarves instead. This made her illness obvious, so when she went out in public people noticed her. She described becoming a “Synagogue Celebrity”, with people in her community posting sightings of her on Twitter because she “looked so good”.

“I smiled at praises..inside though, I was slipping, retreating into myself. But I didn’t dare let them see. With time and practice, I learned to navigate and embrace the dichotomy. I realized that projecting courage may not reveal the whole truth, but it’s not always a lie either.
Eventually, as the months passed, I regained my courage, I still had fight in me. So, I saved the naked truth for a handful of my trusted few.”

Daughter and doctor

Dr. Aronoff shared a poignant yet humorous moment celebrating Chanukah with her extended family while in the middle of chemotherapy that made her nauseated and weak.  She knew this would be the last time they would celebrate with her father, who had a terminal malignant brain tumor, so she made the 3 hour car trip to her parents’ home.

“In the glow of candlelight, I watched my father from the corner of my eye, burning his image onto my brain. I knew in my gut it would be the last year we’d celebrate together. We sang the ancient chant Hanerot Halalu about the miracle of the small jug of oil that burned for eight days. My family sure as hell needed some miracles these days too.”  

When the evening was over, they loaded the kids into the car for the long ride home.

“Alex (her husband) and I smiled at each other optimistically, anticipating a smooth ride back home with sleeping children. I hugged everyone goodbye and kissed my father lightly on the cheek. And just when I thought I was in the clear…(her daughter) Scarlett leaned over and vomited all over me!”

Who should read this book and why

Despite pieces of levity, this book is serious and hard hitting at times. Dr. Aronoff does not mince words, nor does she shy away from frank talk about intimate issues and raw emotions. If 4-letter words offend you, you may not want to read this book.

Dr. Aronoff’s book outlines the basics of diagnosis, staging, and treatment of breast cancer but I don’t think she intends it as a definitive patient guide. She does not imply that her experience is what other breast cancer patients should expect; rather she emphasizes that every patient’s journey may be different.

If you have had breast cancer, you may or may not identify with her experience. If you have not had cancer, her experience may motivate you to get a screening mammogram, explore your genetic risk, and consider what you can change in your lifestyle to decrease your  risk of getting breast cancer. (I’ll include some references for this at the end.)

“Dragon Slayer”

I won’t leave you hanging; this story has a happy ending. Dr. Aronoff is now disease free, and back working at her practice.She is a “survivor” but the threat of a recurrence will always loom over her. She may never know for sure if she is “cured”.

I invite you to visit her website to see photos of her before, during, and after treatment, and to read a sample chapter of her book.

Interlude-Women’s Cancer Stories

Dr. Eleonora Teplinsky talked to Dr. Aronoff for her podcast series Interlude. Listen to the interview at the above links.

Check out these breast cancer resources

Breast cancer screening

Understanding your breast cancer risk

Breast cancer is not exclusively a women’s disease, it happens to men also.

Risk factors for breast cancer in men

The Susan G. Komen Foundation offers this printable resource

Coping with a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Informacion en espanol- Cáncer de mama

Shop To Fight Breast Cancer! Every Purchase Helps Give Free Hospital Mammograms To Women In Need!

Again thanks to Dr. Aronoff for giving me her book and sharing her story with all of us. I think we all have learned something that might help us or someone we know.

I appreciate all of you who are following Watercress Words, and if you aren’t I invite you to join the wonderful people who are. You can meet some of them in the sidebar, where you can click on their image and visit their blogs. Use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me.

Dr Aletha

Living with hope, courage, and power

In her podcast Lina interviews a variety of women and men who are following their calling to make a difference in the world. In a recent episode, I was excited to hear from Jan Silvious since I reviewed one of her books here on my blog. I learned that like me Jan is married to a veteran of the Vietnam war. Jan has had a long speaking career, working with well known Bible teacher Kay Arthur and with Women of Faith and writing books.

In my early years of practice I worked with another woman physician, Mona. She and I became friends as there weren’t many women in medicine then. We both eventually left that clinic for other opportunities, but would see or hear from each other occasionally.

A couple of years ago I attended a conference for women physicians- where almost all the attendees and speakers were women, far different from my early years of practice. One of the speakers was a dynamic young woman who talked so fast you had to pay attention or else you would miss what she had to say. I think she just naturally talks fast, but also because she is so passionate about her subject.

Originally from Lebanon, Lina is a pediatric emergency doctor, Bible teacher and writer, and at that conference she was speaking on the Bible, not medicine. I wanted to meet her so I went up and introduced myself. When I told her where I lived, she said, “My aunt lives there, and she is a doctor.”

Suddenly I knew why she looked so familiar. She is Mona’s niece! I was shocked at the coincidence. I started following her on social media , reading her blog and listening to her podcasts. I especially like the podcast she started a few months ago, The Hope Podcast.

Lina AbuJamra , M.D.

“Lina AbuJamra is a Pediatric ER doctor and founder of Living with Power Ministries. Her vision is to bring hope to the world by connecting biblical answers to everyday life.

A popular Bible teacher, blogger, and conference speaker, Lina has authored several books including: ThriveStripped, and Resolved. Lina is the host of Today’s Single Christian on Moody Radio and of Morning Minutes, a daily audio devotional available on her website.

Lina’s most recent adventure has taken her back to the Middle East and her birth country, Lebanon, where she is running several projects that give hope and healing to Syrian refugees. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Lina now calls Chicago home. She is single and a huge Packers fan, and would not survive without her iPhone. ”

Connect with Dr. Lina here-

Lina’s blog at the Living with Power website

Living with Power iPhone App

Lina’s podcast -The Hope Podcast

In her podcast Lina interviews a variety of women and men who are following their calling to make a difference in the world.

In a recent episode, I was excited to hear Lina interview author Jan Silvious since I reviewed one of her books here on my blog. I learned that like me Jan is married to a veteran of the Vietnam war. Jan has had a long speaking career, working with well known Bible teacher Kay Arthur and with Women of Faith and writing books.

Here is a link to the interview with Jan.

My review of Jan’s book

This post does contain affiliate links; purchases through them help me fund this blog and share the heart of health.


Navigating What’s Next with Confidence and Hope

By Jan Silvious

Even though Jan Silvious titled her book, Courage for the Unknown Season, we know what that season is-the season of aging and its inevitable, relentless progression toward death.

We’ve seen it, some of us are already in it, and it can be a scary place, with many unknowns other than the end. Jan refuses to let aging intimidate her, and wrote this book to help others take on our fear of aging, loss, illness, disability, and death with confidence and hope.


She starts the book with a chapter titled “Resilience”, followed soon by “Fight Fear”. She advises us “Don’t Forget to Laugh”, and to “Clean Up after Yourself”- that is, deal with our personal possessions so our family doesn’t have to when we are gone.

I like that she offers practical tips on staying healthy that she learned from a physician friend. In the chapter “Head Toward Ninety” she lists several steps to maintain wellness-exercise, get adequate sleep, eat health promoting foods ,  and pursue a healthy mind and spirit.  She writes,

“Read, stay curious, forgive, drop the bitterness, and pursue peace.”

She points us to Psalm 92 from the Bible, and suggests meditating on it to gain a “wealth of spiritual health.”

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
 To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning
And Your faithfulness by night,

For You, O Lord, have made me glad by what You have done,
I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.”

Psalm 92: 1-4 (NASB)

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

Later, she takes us by the hand, without mincing words about the pain we will experience with loss, and walks us through steps to navigate “Grief and Hope”.

Jan uses examples from her life, her family, friends, and colleagues of using our later years to cherish old memories while continuing to make new ones. She doesn’t try to convince us that aging isn’t painful, but encourages us to find new ways to find joy and fulfillment when the old ways are no longer possible.

Written especially for Baby Boomers-those of us born between 1946 and 1964- Courage for the Unknown Season offers sound advice and encouragement to anyone who wants to be prepared for aging. For those younger, it will help you understand and deal with the challenges your parents and grandparents are encountering now; but stow away a copy for 10, 20, 30 or more years when you will appreciate its wisdom for your own life.

I enjoyed reading it since I have or am experiencing much of what she discusses, and her perspective validates my own. For those things I have yet to encounter, I appreciate her suggestions and warnings.

As Jan wrote,

“No matter what season you are in, there are truths that can help you approach the unknown with confidence and hope. Trust that God is the God of our season, no matter what it looks like, no matter how unknown.”

Jan Silvious

Jan Silvious is a long-time speaker, professional life coach, wife, mother, and grandmother. She is author of eleven books, including Big Girls Don’t Whine and Fool-Proofing Your Life. Jan and her husband, Charlie, live in Tennessee, and have three grown sons, two daughters-in-love, five charming grandchildren and a very bright rescued pit-bull, Rocky-Buddy.

Jan Silvious, author
Jan Silvious, author

Disclosure: I read an advance review copy of this book which I received complimentary from  Tyndale via NetGalley in return for writing a review.

Dr Aletha

%d bloggers like this: