This is a review of a book called “Finding My Invincible Summer”, by fellow translator Muriel Vasconcellos. I e-met Muriel for the first time on the ProZ Spanish to English medical terminology forum a few years ago and she soon gained my respect for her valuable contributions there. So when I learnt that she had published her autobiography a month ago, I was keen to learn more about the person behind this ProZ profile.
The back cover prepared me for a romantic novel with all its trimmings “… a tumultuous life that included tragedy, betrayal, and corrosive guilt”, which I personally found rather off-putting. However, my interest was caught when I read that Muriel had battled against breast cancer and bone metastases, and was told she had a six-month prognosis back in the late 1970s.
After taking the reader fairly swiftly through her early years and first marriage, Muriel then sensitively describes her relationship with her true soul mate, a Brazilian.
The book soon moves on to the central theme of cancer and how Muriel overcomes the disease by using alternative therapies, positive thinking and a holistic approach to pain. She gives an extraordinary account of the state of medicine in the 1970s, when radical mastectomy was still often recommended instead of lumpectomy, and radiotherapy was applied with an overt disregard for safety aspects and at doses that could lead to harmful side effects.
As conventional treatment fails, Muriel explores more gentle approaches and learns how to alleviate her pain and fight her cancer with biofeedback (combatting pain-induced stress through relaxation), megadose vitamin C, Iscador (a mistletoe extract with cytotoxic properties), anthroposophical medicine (a system founded on the belief that spiritual awareness is the basis of all health), homeopathic remedies and Open FocusTM (a visualisation technique that actually made Muriel pain free).
I learnt a lot from this glimpse into the world of alternative therapies. It helped to balance my somewhat biased vision of cancer treatment that has resulted from years of translating clinical trials on innovative new drugs.
I also enjoyed the references to Muriel’s work as a translator, as she witnessed technological transformation in the field of translation. I see from her website that there were machine translation experiments back in 1959: “100,000 running words in the field of organic chemistry were keypunched onto cards […] I remember the excitement as sentences in Russian went in one end of the computer and (reasonably) understandable English came out the other.” And in her book, Muriel talks about computer applications streamlining the translation task in 1977 and a new word processing system that she started using in 1980.
If you are a translator and/or interested in medicine and health, you’ll find “Finding My Invincible Summer” a compelling read.
A final thought: never judge people from their on-line profile alone. Long lives and a wealth of experience may be hiding behind those virtual faces.