In 1993, Liz Tilberis could look back over a 25-year career as a fashion editor with satisfaction and more than a touch of glee. Having clambered all the way from a summer intern at British Vogue to its editor-in-chief by her 40th birthday, she had left it for the riskier but exhilarating chance to reestablish Harper's Bazaar, flagship of the Hearst publishing empire, as the fashion magazine of record. At year's end, she was tossing a Christmas party for that '90s-media A-list where fashion meets society meets celebrity: Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi, Donna Karan, Paloma Picasso, Todd Oldham, Mick Jones, Jann Wenner, Blaine Trump, Jerome Zipkin, Liz Smith. She remembers what she wore (Lauren's plum-colored panne velvet); what she served (spinach tarts, chicken with chutney) and on what (slate and wooden trays); the flowers, the music, etc.
She remembers with such detail because on that night she stood as if above the center point of a see-saw, with her past and her future in the balance: She had just been diagnosed with third-stage ovarian cancer, possibly the result of her previous (unsuccessful) use of fertility drugs, and was scheduled for surgery the next day. Over the last few years, Tilberis has undergone long and debilitating weeks of chemotherapy, biopsies, recurrences, and remissions. She has passed through many stages of fury, fear, self-pity, and even self-delusion and come out with a sort of strength that leaves no room for shame or even obliqueness. And she is using her new-found knowledge, as well as, frankly, the cachet of her position and her friends in the glittery world of high fashion, to capture the attention of other women at risk. The name-dropping and tales of the wild old days, the galas with Princess Diana and sleepovers in the White House (yes, the Lincoln Bedroom) are a sort of sugar-coating for the very serious dose.
"I never wanted to be a poster girl for cancer," she writes in the epilogue to No Time to Die, a memoir that expands that dichotomy of success and danger by combining stories of her success, her encounters with the rich and famous, and her collision with the truculent corruption of her cells. "But cancer has become part of who I am, along with my big feet and my English accent. I am five feet seven, I have greenish eyes, I was born on September 7 (the same day as Queen Elizabeth I), and I have ovarian cancer."
So do almost 175,000 other women in the United States, and that is the reason Tilberis, who first disclosed her illness in the pages of her own magazine, has written this book. "I am determined to lie in a shallow grave," she says in one of its best passages, "no room for other unwitting victims of this miserable disease."That dealing with her illness was frightening, extraordinarily painful, and often confusing is clear but more between the lines than in them. Although Tilberis is as straightforward and unsparing of herself as possible, the tension in the sections of the book which deal with her diagnosis and treatment is in fairly sharp contrast with the gay and irresistible gleeful manner in which she recounts her years in the fashion biz. "It was really hard, because chemotherapy does such strange things to your psyche, no matter how positively you think about that fact that this will allow you to live, no matter how many times you do it even at the stage where it takes 10 minutes and you go to work it's incredibly scary. You know full well they're putting this stuff right into your heart, the shunt is connected to a tube that goes down an artery to the aorta . . . My oncologist said to me at the beginning,