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A memoir about how adolescence galvanised me for a single-breasted adulthood.

Breast cancer shocked me into asking how I would cope. What resources of body and mind had I inherited from my parents?

Here is a new kind of autobiography, multi-layered, combining history and biography with the urgency of first-person experience.

‘At once a vivid slice of social history, a bittersweet evocation of parent-child relations in a different era, and an unflinching portrait of living with cancer, Patricia Tyerman’s powerful but subtle testimony will take a deservedly high place in this golden age of memoir writing,’


David Kynaston

Self-Portrait with Parents is based on detailed original research as well as my own understanding of the social and political contexts of my upbringing. Looking back at my adolescence and exploring the largely unknown lives of my parents has helped me not only to recover from recurrent breast cancer but also to resist the powerfully negative reactions still common today.


My father, Donald Tyerman, Oxford scholar from the impoverished north-east, wartime Fleet Street hero and BBC broadcaster, later deputy editor of The Times and editor of the Economist, bore repeated cycles of high responsibility without real power. My mother, Margaret Gray, gave up several fledgling careers to look after five children and a husband disabled by childhood polio. My normal was a father who couldn’t walk, an immobile father whose passion was athletics. They were indifferent to gender distinctions while the outside world valued fifties femininity. This tension caused problems for me then but has liberated me now to stand up to assumptions about my loss of womanhood and sexuality.

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