Showing 1 - 10 of 449 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

The Farewell

Wang, Lulu

Last Updated: Aug-19-2019
Annotated by:
Jiang, Joshua

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In The Farewell, we follow Billi, a young Asian-American woman, as she takes an unplanned trip from New York to Changchun, China, to visit her grandmother—perhaps for the last time. Billi has just found out that her grandmother (Nai Nai) has lung cancer, stage IV. The doctor gives her three months to live. As troubling as such a diagnosis already is, the situation is further complicated by the family’s choice to lie about the truth of Nai Nai’s illness to her. Now, Billi’s family gathers to see Nai Nai under the pretense of a wedding, but the festivities can barely conceal a heartfelt and heart-wrenching struggle over familial responsibility, filial piety, and whether Nai Nai deserves to know.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Sunita Puri, a palliative care attending physician, educates and illuminates the reader about how conversations about end of life goals can improve quality of life, not just quality of dying, in her memoir, That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour. Thirteen chapters are grouped in three parts: Between Two Dark Skies, The Unlearning and Infinity in a Seashell. The arc of the book follows Puri as she is raised by her anesthesiologist mother and engineer father – both immigrants from India – Puri’s decision to enter medical school, her choice of internal medicine residency followed by a palliative care fellowship in northern California and her return to practice in southern California where her parents and brother live. Besides learning about the process of becoming a palliative care physician, the reader also learns of Puri’s family’s deep ties to spirituality and faith, the importance of family and extended family, and her family’s cultural practices.

Puri writes extensively about patients and their families, as well as her mentors and colleagues. She plans and rehearses the difficult conversations she will have with patients in the same way a proceduralist plans and prepares for an intervention. She provides extensive quotes from conversations and analyzes where conversations go awry and how she decides whether to proceed down a planned path or improvise based on the language and body language of her patients and their family members. We visit patients in clinic, in hospital, and at home, and at all stages of Puri’s training and initial practice. Some of the most charged conversations are with colleagues, who, for example, ask for a palliative care consultation but want to limit that conversation to a single focus, such as pain management. We also learn of the differences between palliative care and hospice, and the particularly fraught associations many have with the latter term. She feels insulted when patients or families vent by calling her names such as “Grim Reaper” or “human killer” (p. 232), but understands that such words mean that more education is needed to help people understand what a palliative care physician can do. 

As a mediator of extremely difficult conversations, where emotions such as shame, guilt, fear, helplessness and anger can swirl with love and gratitude, Puri finds the grace to acknowledge that all such emotions are part of the feelings of loss and impending grief, and to beautifully render her reflections on these intimacies: “Yet although I am seeing a patient because I have agreed that they are approaching death, if I do my job well, what I actually encounter is the full force of their lives.” (p. 206) Having met many dying people she notes: “Dying hasn’t bestowed upon them the meaning of life or turned them into embodiments of enlightenment; dying is simply a continuation of living this messy, temporary life, humanly and imperfectly.” (pp 221-2)
 

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The Faraway Nearby

Solnit, Rebecca

Last Updated: Aug-09-2019
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Solnit dares the reader to categorize her book. Autobiography, memoir, travelogue, story collection, history, meditations, and pathography could fit. Common to all the categories and subjects covered is storytelling. “It’s all in the telling… and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of the world,” Solnit says in book’s opening. Storytelling can bring what is geographically faraway emotionally nearby.  

Solnit’s first and last stories lay the foundation for the others in between. Both center on the hundred pounds of apricots she received from one of her brothers who was getting their mother’s house ready for sale when dementia made it impossible for her to live alone. Solnit saw “the apricots as an exhortation to tell of the time that began with their arrival, and so the stories concern the time from when they arrived onward” (p. 240). Solnit considers this time when her mother’s dementia is worsening, an “emergency,” but in this instance, she conceives emergency as “an accelerated phase of life, a point at which change is begotten, a little like a crisis” (p. 250). The book to her, she says, is “a history of an emergency and the stories that kept me company then” (p. 249). 

The topics covered during this emergency are many and varied, related and unrelated. Just some of them are: her mother’s dementia, her cancer, her friend’s cancer, leprosy, Che Guevara as physician and revolutionary, Iceland, the Arctic, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Buddhism, and cannibalism. In general terms, illness, pain, empathy, fairytales, and reading and writing are considered. Some of these topics are intertwined and some stand alone. 
 

The book is organized into thirteen numbered “stories.” Each has a one-word title. The titles of the first five stories are the same as the last five in reverse order, i.e., the first and last stories are both called “Apricots.” They are arranged on the table of contents page to form the shape of a bell curve that has been rotated 90 degrees with the apex of the rotated curve comprising the stories, “Wound,” Knot,” and “Unwound.” Threads run through the stories, and perhaps Solnit is telling us the story threads running through the first six stories are wound into a knot and then unwound in stories running through the last six of them. This structure may be more grist for people interested in how literature can be structured than for people interested in the insights into illness experiences literary nonfiction can provide.  
 

Not among the list of stories is one that is printed as a single line running along the bottom of each page in the book. It’s a story is about stories running along side the other stories. In an interview printed in the 8 August 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine, Solnit said she used this form in part to 
invite“readers to decide how to read a book that has two narratives running parallel to each other; the thread can be read before, during, or after.” 

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

There are 46 poems in this volume (the author's first full-length collection), divided into three parts--the poems in the second section are in memory of women who have died of inflammatory breast cancer, the same disease that claimed the life of the author in August, 2018, when she was forty-nine-years old.  Diagnosed in 2004 during her pregnancy, Anya waited until after her son Noah was born to begin cancer treatment.  These poems, published in 2010, begin in images of her domestic life and her family, move forward to her cancer diagnosis (p. 17: "Biopsy"), and progress to examine, in poems that balance beauty and pain, what it is like to live with the knowledge of early death.  This awareness imparts a crystalline honesty and urgency to every poem. 

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Summary:

Bodies of Truth gathers twenty-five essays about experiencing illnesses and disabilities from the perspectives of patients, healthcare professionals, and families. These personal stories join the growing company of narratives that reflect on the inner experience of illness or caring for the ill and on the social circumstances that influence those experiences. In addition to the diversity of perspectives, the editors have selected pieces about an exceptionally wide range of health conditions: multiple sclerosis, brain damage, deafness, drug addiction, Down syndrome, pain, cancer, infertility, depression, trauma, HIV, diabetes, food allergies, asthma. They also include essays on the death of a child and an attempted suicide.  

The essays resist easy categorization. In their Preface, the editors explain that they took “a more nuanced approach” to organizing the contributions loosely by themes so that they would “speak to each other as much as they speak to readers.” For example, Teresa Blankmeyer Burke’s spirited “Rendered Mute” calls out the OB-GYN who refused to remove his mask during delivery to allow this deaf mother-in-the-making to read his lips to exchange vital communications. Her essay is followed by Michael Bérubé’s “Jamie’s Place.” In it the father recounts the emotionally and logistically complicated path he and his son with Down syndrome navigate as they seek a place for him to live as independently as possible as an adult. This sequence invites readers to listen to two stories about disability from differing parental perspectives and circumstances. But perhaps readers can also to find commonalities in ways social attitudes toward disability fold themselves into the most intimate moments of the families’ lives.  

Several of the essays take readers into a professional caregiver’s medical and moral struggles. In “Confession” nurse Diane Kraynak writes sensitively about a newborn in intensive care who distressed her conscience. She was troubled by both the extensive medical interventions he was given “because we can” and their failure to save him. When Matthew S. Smith was an exhausted neurology resident, he ignored a stroke patient who inexplicably handed him a crumpled paper. Scribbled on it was a ragged, ungrammatical, and urgently expressive poem, which he read only years later, admonishing himself “to cherish the moments of practice” that could “change your life forever (“One Little Mind, Our Lie, Dr. Lie”). Madaline Harrison’s “Days of the Giants” recounts “the sometimes brutal initiation” of her early medical training decades ago. Narrating those struggles has led her to “compassion: for my patients, for myself as a young doctor, and for the students and residents coming behind me.” 

Overall, the essays range widely across medical encounters. After attending her husband’s death, Meredith Davies Hadaway (“Overtones”) became a Certified Music Practitioner who plays the harp to calm hospice patients. Dr. Taison Bell graciously thanks a pharmacist that he regards as a full partner in his treatment of patients (“A Tribute to the Pharmacist”). Tenley Lozano (“Submerged”), a Coast Guard veteran, was traumatized first by the various abuses of male supervisors, once nearly drowning, and then by her struggle to receive psychiatric care.  

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Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In That Jealous Demon, My Wretched Health (subtitled “Disease, Death and Composers”), Jonathan Noble, a retired surgeon gives us the medical and psychiatric history of seventy classical music composers. Chapters are organized by illness, ranging from cancer to syphilis to alcoholism.  Famous composers such as Schubert and Shostakovich predominate, but many lesser-known composers, ranging from Jeremiah Clarke to Gerald Finzi, are also included.  

Mozart is one composer whose cause of death has long been the subject of controversy, and the various theories are comprehensively explored here. However, the author goes even further, developing a detailed medical case study of the composer beginning in childhood.  He examines the toll that Leopold Mozart’s exploitation took on his prodigy son’s constitution, what Wolfgang’s appearance in the surviving portraits has to say about his general health, and even whether he may have had Tourette’s Syndrome. Finally, the author ties all of this together, methodically refuting or confirming each diagnosis, offering far deeper analysis than one would expect to find in a standard biography.  

Another example, the case of Tchaikovsky, reads like a veritable whodunit. The composer’s activities during the last two months of his life are scrutinized, with the likely causes of death systematically disproven or confirmed.  

A list of composers who suffered accidental or violent deaths provides some surprises. You will learn that Lully accidentally stabbed himself with his conductor’s baton, and that Alkan may have been crushed to death by a bookcase upon pulling his Talmud off a shelf.

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Summary:

In 2006, Emergency medicine trainee, Damon, and his wife, Trisha, have two boys, Thai (age 4) and Callum (age 2.5).  All is well in their lives until Callum begins vomiting for no apparent reason.  He is found to have medulloblastoma, an aggressive brain tumour, for which the only possible hope for a cure comes from surgery and six cycles of ever more arduous chemotherapy with stem cell recovery at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. The little family moves to Toronto and commits to supporting Callum as best they can, ensuring that he is never alone even during his long weeks of reverse isolation. They also try to keep Thai nearby, involved and aware, with the help of a local school and grandparents. But Callum dies during the last cycle of treatment.  

Saddened, exhausted, and bereaved, Damon and Trisha go back to their home town and try to (re)construct their lives, slowly returning to studies and work. They find meaning in creating tangible and intangible memorials to their lost son, and they find purpose in the more difficult task of moving forward, never losing the pain of grief. They adopt a little girl. Damon knows that Callum is always with him and the experience of his illness and death has dramatically infused his work as a physician.

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Comfort Measures Only

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Nov-26-2018
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Physician Rafael Campo's collection of new and selected poems is a lovely look back (selected poems are from 1994 to 2016) and an exciting look at thirty-one new poems that continue his trademark use of a variety of poetic forms (the title poem "Comfort Measures Only" is a Villanelle, pg 135) and the moving and personal examination of his interactions with patients.   This collection begins with Campo's excellent introductory essay, "Illness as Muse" (pgs 1-9).  

As the essay opens, an audience member tells Campo that his poems are "really depressing." Even Campo's spouse advises him to lighten things up, a counsel I hope the poet never heeds--for it is precisely Campo's unwavering examination of sorrow, regret, death, and despair that set his poems apart from poems that find "butterflies or snowflakes or flowers as more suitable." Campo responds: "Try as I might to take all of this concern to heart . . . I keep finding myself drawn to write about illness" (pg 1).


Campo recalls how singing and praying consoled his grandmother and seemed to lessen her physical ills: "No wonder I have come to believe in the power of the imagination if not to cure, then to heal" (pg 4).  On page five he notes "To write about illness, to heed this terrible muse, is to reject distancing and to embrace empathy, for which there is no reward or claim on greatness other than perhaps the perverse joy of recognizing oneself as being susceptible to the same foibles and neuroses as anyone."  Indeed it is this vulnerability--the ability to see physician and patient on the same plane, as equal players in a moment in time--that has become another hallmark of Campo's poetry.
Selected poems from previously published collections follow the essay: nine poems from "The Other Man Was Me" (1994); eight poems from "What the Body Told" (1997); nine poems from "Diva" (200); five poems from "Landscape with Human Figure" (2002); seven poems from "The Enemy" (2007); and twenty poems from "Alternative Medicine" (2013).  Of these collections, all but "Landscape with Human Figure" and "The Enemy" have been reviewed in the database.

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Written on the Body

Winterson, Jeanette

Last Updated: Sep-24-2018
Annotated by:
Galbo, Sebastian

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this uncommonly sensual novel, the narrator has neither name nor gender; the object of the narrator’s frenetic love is a woman, Louise, who is married to a prominent medical researcher. The marriage is loveless, without empathy, affection, and sex. Undaunted by Louise’s relationship, the narrator quips knowingly, “Marriage is the flimsiest weapon against desire. You may as well take a pop-up gun to a python” (78). Louise’s marriage eventually crumbles, and the lovers flee. Their happiness, though, is disastrously brief. Louise’s husband, Elgin, discloses to the narrator that, before their affair, Louise was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. As a globally distinguished cancer expert, Elgin exacts his revenge on the lovers by promising treatment available only at a clinic abroad, which would force the couple to split. Fearing that Louise will forgo treatment to stay (and eventually die) the narrator writes a letter pleading her to go abroad, then vanishes into the countryside—a decision that haunts the narrator for the rest of the novel.

In rural isolation, the narrator pores obsessively over anatomy books: “Within the clinical language, through the dispassionate view of the sucking, sweating, greedy, defecating self, I found a love-poem to Louise. I would go on knowing her, more intimately than the skin, hair and voice that I craved. I would have her plasma, her spleen, her synovial fluid” (111). In a kind of medicalized elegy, Winterson breaks the novel out into a standalone section divided into individual segments that juxtapose excerpts from anatomical textbooks with deeply felt recollections of the beloved’s leukaemic body. In one section, “The Cells, Tissues, Systems and Cavities of the Body,” the narrator entreats, “Will you let me crawl inside you, stand guard over you, trap them [white T-cells] as they come at you?” (115). Winterson’s narrator, far removed from the realities of Louise’s treatment, apostrophizes her physical features, performing a kind of poetic embalmment of her lover’s body as she once knew it.

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Summary:

Barbara Ehrenreich wants to manage her health and all that is available to address various aspects of it. She makes clear that she will do the managing and has written this book to reflect on how she plans to do it.  Ehrenreich explains why managing her health is necessary. She puts it this way:

We would all like to live longer and healthier lives; the question is how much of our lives should be devoted to this project, when we all, or at least most of us, have other, often more consequential things to do (p. xv)  

Ehrenreich doesn’t reject the project of getting longer and healthier lives per se, but she believes that what this project requires isn’t always worth the results it produces. The time and energy needed could be put towards better ends.  

Like many other critics, Ehrenreich details how Biomedicine often comes up short on outcomes for all the time, effort, and money it requires from the people it serves. She covers the familiar territories of over diagnosis and over utilization of health care products and services, and goes further to suggest that many common medical practices are more ritualistic and humiliating than evidence-based and effective.

Unlike other critics, Ehrenreich takes on other activities directed at health outside of Biomedicine. She questions whether the physical fitness industry delivers on its promises to produce healthier lives and especially whether there is a net benefit based on the time and energy required from people who take it on. She crosses to the other side of the mind-body continuum when she next aims at the “madness of mindfulness” (p. 71).  She finds the mindfulness movement offers more hubris than solutions.  

Ehrenreich worries that the combined effects of the authority of Biomedicine, the physical fitness frenzy, and the madness of mindfulness have created a social context that treats death as something that can be avoided or at least delayed. This social context thereby implies that not actively engaging in efforts to fight off death “can now be understood as a suicide” (p. 97).

Ehrenreich offers some reasons for why these efforts to improve health and prolong life do not always produce benefits that in her view are worth pursuing to the exclusion of other activities resulting in a better life (or death). Drawing on examples from cell biology and immunology, she suggests that what is at work are disease processes too complex for the human mind to apprehend completely combined with the human impulse to  simplify, which lead to practices, procedures, and prescriptions that in the best case are ineffective and in the worst case harmful.   

At the end of the book, Ehrenreich laments the efforts health care professionals, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and commercial entities make to push older people into commitments for “successful aging.” Those making these efforts argue “aging itself is abnormal and unacceptable” (p. 164).  This commitment requires older people to spend a lot of time in clinics, gyms, and wellness classes—“The price of survival is endless toil,” is how Ehrenreich formulates it (p. 163).  She doesn’t think this price is worth what is required of people who are supposed to benefit, and advises her friends to insist “on a nonmedical death, without the torment of heroic interventions to prolong life by a few hours or days” (p. 208).

I continue to elude unnecessary medical attention and still doggedly push myself in the gym, where, if I am no longer a star, I am at least a fixture. In addition, I retain a daily regimen of stretching, some of which might qualify as yoga. Other than that, I pretty much eat what I want and indulge my vices, from butter to wine. Life is too short to forgo these pleasures, and would be far too long without them (p. 207).

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