Showing 121 - 130 of 441 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

Beat the Reaper

Bazell, Josh

Last Updated: Jan-26-2009
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Pietro Brnwa, nicknamed "The Bearclaw," has embraced change - a new name, a different occupation, and a regenerated outlook. Thanks to the Federal Witness Protection Program, Pietro, who was formerly employed as a hitman by a mafia-connected lawyer, is now Dr. Peter Brown, an intern in the Department of Internal Medicine at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. His career as an assassin was motivated by the desire to avenge the murder of the grandparents who raised him. As a physician, Dr. Brown is paying off a moral debt - doing good deeds to atone for previous acts of violence including killing people.

Unfortunately, life doesn't get any easier for the hit man-turned-physician. Trouble stalks him and finds him. Everyone he loves is lost. In addition to the death of his grandparents, Dr. Brown's girlfriend, Magdalene, is gunned down in a car. His former best friend, "Skinflick" is thrown out of a window of a six-story building, survives, and is later stabbed to death by Dr. Brown.

Life might have been easier if Dr. Brown had not been recognized by a mafia acquaintance named Nicholas LoBrutto who is a patient in Manhattan Catholic Hospital. LoBrutto has stomach cancer and threatens to squeal to Dr. Brown's former crime boss. If Dr. Brown cannot keep LoBrutto alive, the mafia will be notified where to find the physician and he will be eliminated. Dr. Brown assists during LoBrutto's surgery but the mobster experiences ventricular fibrillation postoperatively. Dr. Brown's two medical students mistakenly administer intravenous potassium and LoBrutto dies.

A group of thugs quickly infiltrate the hospital and it appears likely that Dr. Brown will be exterminated. He risks his life to prevent a young woman from having her leg amputated for an erroneous diagnosis. The thugs capture Dr. Brown and detain him in the blood bank freezer. He removes a piece of bone from his own lower leg (an autofibulectomy) to use as a weapon and proceeds to kill the entire gang of murderers. Dr. Brown is sure to be dismissed from Manhattan Catholic Hospital but realizes there is still much he hopes to accomplish as a physician. With some help from friends in the Witness Protection Program (and a likely sequel to this novel on the horizon), it's a good bet that Dr. Brown is not likely to retire his stethoscope (or firearms) anytime soon.

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Unaccustomed Earth

Lahiri, Jhumpa

Last Updated: Jan-06-2009
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The unusual title is borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Custom House," to suggest a shift in fortune when immigrants "strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."  Set almost entirely in the United States (the unaccustomed earth), eight separate stories are connected most obviously by cultural dissonances affecting characters who are Indian or have Indian parents.  Three of the stories, however, are linked by a strong narrative connection that is unexpected, profound, and unforgettable.

For Indian readers, the narratives describe complexities about migration patterns, cultural issues, alienation, and generational differences. The stories deal with well-educated children of immigrants who become offspring their parents barely recognize.  For other readers, the stories reveal situations about families and customs that are strangely familiar, especially those stories dealing with relationships between parents and children.
 
The forces of globalization have created and accelerated shifts that can seem staggering to all parents intent on preserving cultural patterns and traditions. Whether Indian or not, most parents experience a sense of alienation while watching their children flourish in a world that increasingly appears unfamiliar and foreign.

Not surprisingly, the stories concern strains and challenges affecting mixed relationships and/or mixed marriages and stresses on disapproving and disappointed parents, while others focus on children succumbing to drugs and alcohol(for the latter, see annotation of "Only Goodness").  All deal with some kind of emotional loss, but provide connections to feelings experienced by children and their parents in life's quiet and more kinetic negotiations.
 
The first story is about Ruma, a well-educated woman who lives in Seattle with her work-alcoholic American husband, and child, Akash.  Generational and cultural contrasts are revealed in overt and more subtle ways when her recently widowed father arrives for a short visit. Even though Ruma's complete assimilation into her non-Indian home as well as her on-going worries about her father's loneliness are major considerations, another story thread is spun, one that quietly reveals the father's thoughts about himself and a new relationship made recently during a vacation in Europe. Ruma's assumptions about her father, his loneliness, his possible dependency on her, and the Seattle vacation as a possible signal for relocating to her household turn out to be entirely wrong. 
 
The last three stories follow a boy, Kaushik, and girl, Hema, into adulthood.  In the first story, "Once in a Lifetime," Hema recalls her first memory of Kaushik when he was 9 and she was 6. The occasion was a farewell party for Kaushik's parents who were returning from the United States to live in Calcutta. The mothers, who grew up in Calcutta, but met in Cambridge, Massachusetts had become very close and were saddened by this separation.

Seven years pass before Kaushik‘s parents return to the Boston area and stay with Hema's family. Hema found the now 16-year old young man appealing, but brooding and totally uninterested in her. Even though Hema expected Kaushik to be Indian-like in behavior, he was more Americanized than she was. That the family had flown first-class shocked Hema's conservative family as did their new smoking and moderate drinking habits.

After a long search, and to the relief of Hema's parents, Kaushik's family found a  modern house on the North Shore.  Before they moved to their new home, Kaushik surprised Hema with confidential information-- his family had left India to seek treatment in Boston for his mother's breast cancer.  All medical efforts had been unsuccessful and his mother had only a short time to live.  Hema promised to keep this disclosure secret and grieved for the woman she had come to admire and love.
 
The second story in the link, "Year's End," is narrated by Kaushik.  With the opening line, "I did not attend my father's wedding," readers know that Kaushik‘s mother has died.  His father, in Calcutta for a visit, had married Chitra, a woman with two young daughters, and all would be returning to the North Shore house to live. Most of the chapter recounts the ordeal of the mother‘s dying, Kaushik‘s tremendous sense of loss, and the loneliness experienced by him at Swarthmore College.  No mention is made of Hema by the desolate narrator except to remember he had hated every day spent under her parents' roof, but later had come to think of that time with nostalgia.  

"Going Ashore" brings Hema and Kaushik together in Rome where she has a study grant and a visiting lectureship and he is on vacation from his work as an award-winning photo journalist.  Hema's parents have arranged for her to marry Navin in Calcutta.  Navin has accepted a teaching position at MIT. Until her unexpected reunion with Kaushik and the intense love affair that follows, neither had experienced any real connection with another person.  The story about them in Rome seems to represent an independence from the cultural forces that have shaped their lives, but this independence is short lived.  Ultimately, she is unable to set aside the expectations imposed by her parents.  The consequences of their final separation are more than any reader might imagine.

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The Book of Job

Author 2, Unknown

Last Updated: Nov-25-2008
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

Job, a prosperous but god-fearing man, is stricken with a series of misfortunes, losing his goods, his sons, and his health all as a result of a wager between God and Satan about whether or not a "perfect and upright" man will remain thus under relentless misfortune (1:1). As he sits in ashes, covered with boils, a group of friends come to mourn with and comfort him, sitting beside him for seven days and nights in complete silence "for they saw that his grief was great" (3:13).

Job proves a good bet by never following his wife's advice to "curse God and die," but he does deliver a series of lamentations and questions about his condition, countering his friends' theories about the possible causes (unacknowledged sin, primarily) for his troubles and finally asserting his desire to speak directly to God and ask Him the reason that a good man has been burdened with a host of sorrows (2:9). Job's friends, including a fourth speaker, Elihu, who was probably added into the text by a later writer, reprove him angrily.

God appears suddenly and speaks to Job from within a whirlwind, ending Job's complaints with his chastening response. Rather than offering a rationale for Job's suffering, God reminds him of the limitations of a human perspective. Ultimately God rewards Job and reprimands Job's friends.

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Summary:

Dr. Lois Ramondetta was a fellow in gynecologic oncology at M. D. Anderson Hospital in 1998 when she met Deborah Rose Sills, a professor of comparative religion, who had undergone surgery for ovarian cancer the year before and was re-admitted for small bowel obstruction. Ramondetta and Sills "clicked," and their relationship developed over several years from doctor-and-patient to close friendship and eventually co-authorship of this memoir. The women tell separate stories (Sills's are in italics), which interact more and more as the relationship progresses. Ramondetta writes about marriage to a medical classmate, its rapid unraveling under the stresses of residency, her infant daughter, and the complexities of her life as a single mother. Sills' sections tell of a highly regarded professor accepting a life with cancer, but struggling against reinterpreting herself as sick. Some of their interactions take place at MD Anderson Hospital, as Sills returns for a bone marrow transplant and later for management of recurrences and complications.

Their friendship also blossoms at their respective homes in Houston and Santa Barbara. Among the stories they share is that of Ramondetta's courtship and marriage to a local disk jockey, and the rock-solid support of Sills's family.  In addition, they begin to collaborate, first on a lecture and then on an academic paper about spirituality and ovarian cancer. This dialogue eventually leads to the book itself, completed only after Sills's death in 2006.

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A Better Angel

Adrian, Chris

Last Updated: Oct-03-2008
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A drug-addicted doctor, a dying father, and a cantankerous angel constitute a less than holy trinity. Carl is an impaired physician who is hooked on drugs. He happens to have a guiding angel following him around, but she is no guardian. Instead, she is moody and provides no protection. She offers warnings and advice. Carl met his angel when he was six years old. After being stung by wasps and experiencing an allergic reaction, she didn't lift a finger (or wing) to help him.

The angel is prescient. She can foretell who will grow up naughty or beneficent. She knows when a person will die. She tells Carl that not everyone has an angel. Only those individuals destined for greatness get an angel, but some people choose not to heed the suggestions of their spiritual attendants.

Carl is a pediatrician. He cheated in medical school and on his certifying examination but is pleased with his choice of careers: "I make my living praising the beauty of well children. I love babies and I love ketamine" (p121). His father is dying from metastatic lung cancer. Their relationship is terrible. To make matters worse, Carl cannot stomach sick adults.

His three pregnant sisters implore Carl to care for their father after discharge from the hospital. Carl reluctantly leaves San Francisco and heads to Florida. He takes his father to chemotherapy sessions, but the oncologist thinks it's time to stop further treatment. Carl administers painkillers to his dad and frequently consumes some of the prescribed morphine and Percocet for his own pleasure. The two men hardly speak to each other.

Carl's angel repeatedly implores him to reach out to the dying man. She knows that emotional and physical connection will heal both men. Carl's father longs for a storm but the weather won't deliver his wish. One night, Carl stages rainfall with the aid of the garden hose. He rests his head against his dad's chest, and they fall asleep. When morning arrives, Carl awakens and discovers that his father died during the night. The angel is weeping in the room.

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The Cure for Grief

Hermann, Nellie

Last Updated: Sep-22-2008
Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The voice of a young girl leads us through this spare and tautly told story of a closely-knit family upon whom tragedy falls like a plague.  Before death and mental illness take up residence there, we meet the Bronstein’s, two parents and four children, in their comfortable, well-run home outside of Boston.  Hermann delicately renders the portents of change and pain that haunt all loving families. The novel opens with the nine year-old Ruby Bronstein’s discovering, while walking along the beach with her three older brothers on a winter afternoon, an old rusty pistol poking out of the sand. 

The family story deepens as the teenage Ruby recounts a sojourn with her parents to Terezin, the Nazi concentration camp where her father was interned as a child. Hermann’s restraint and precision in this sequence make this potentially familiar journey entirely new.  With her young eye trained on her father’s every muscle-twinge of reaction to what he sees, she crisply conveys the unknowability of even an adored father –let alone the events that took place within these walls. Her father’s inaccessible childhood memories are not miraculously jarred by this return to the scene of trauma – but he learns shortly thereafter of a brain tumor that soon will end his life.

One tragedy follows another, the emergence of mental illness in one brother, the death of another.  The narrative traces Ruby’s efforts to carry on in the face of these devastating losses.  Here is where the novel explodes in cold fire, in its quiet accounting of a young person’s grief as it is lived in its ordinary, daily course.  Loss begins to deform her social life, giving her the feeling that she is a freak.  The scale of things is too disproportionate; she dresses for the prom while her brother lies dying in the intensive care unit.  Carrying the stigma of disaster, she hides news of family developments for which she has no vocabulary.  What good would talking do anyhow, she asks –until she finds the listener she needs.  

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Summary:

A Place Called Canterbury by social historian Dudley Clendinen, former New York Times national correspondent and editorial writer, provides readers with an intimate and revealing account of aging in a particular place at a particular time--Canterbury Tower in Tampa, Florida. The story about the author's mother, Bobbie--and so many others--begins in 1994, a few years after the death of James Clendinen, Bobbie's husband of 48 years, and known to the community as the progressive editor of the Tampa Tribune. Although she had been "falling apart, a piece here, a piece there...collapsing vertebrae...bent, frail, and crooked...subject to spells and little strokes...." (p. xii),

Bobbie Clendinen was in reasonably good health. Nevertheless, her grown son and daughter did what most children their age do--they worried. When she finally agreed to move from the home where she had lived for twenty-nine years to Canterbury Towers, room 502, two bedrooms, two baths ($88,000 in cash, $1505 each month), Clendinen and his sister were relieved. She would be cared for and safe in "the small, cream colored, obsessively well-run geriatric apartment tower and nursing wing...across a broad boulevard from an arm of Tampa Bay" (see book cover).  And, so many of her old friends were already established residents!

Clendinen was fascinated by his mother's new circumstance and by what he came to regard as the new old age. As a writer, he could not resist the opportunity before him. Although he lived in Baltimore, he could come and go, but over the twelve-year period of his mother's residence--three in the Towers and nine years in the hospital wing--he spent more than 400 days as a live-in visitor, observer, listener, interpreter. This unusual arrangement provided Clendinen with a close-up view of a 21st Century phenomenon, the comings and goings of aging people in the final setting of their lives.

Canterbury is a well-run camp and life there is a soap opera. Between his exchanges with the witty rabbi and the former jitterbug champs, the enthusiasm generated by a nudity calendar proposal (declined) and the geriatric bib enterprise (thriving), the inhabitants provided Clendinen with an abundance of riches. Whether at lunch in the dining room overlooking the Bay, over daily drinks at 5pm, or in bed in the health center, everyone of this Greatest Generation had a story to tell. This ethnographic page-turner, with its cohort of named characters--the Southern Belle, the Rabbi who escaped the Holocaust, Emyfish, the ageless New Yorker, Lucile, the warm-hearted Fundamentalist, the raunchy Atheist, the crusty Yankee, the horny widower, and the maddeningly muddled Wilber--reads like fiction. Whether rich or poor, married or widowed, Clendinen listened as they spoke and in doing so became a trusted friend and chronicler of small and great events in their collective lives: childhood, Depression, World War II, medical advancements, healthcare costs, 9/11. Because Bobbie Clendinen spent so many years in the hospital wing, much of the story describes the kind of care and staff standards that we would hope for all--including ourselves. Mrs. Clendinen died at age 91.

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Summary:

This is a collection of approximately 45 pathographies-essays, memoirs, biography, autobiography, poems, and reflections on illness experiences -grouped loosely into four categories of related subject matter. These categories are: Illness and Identity: Dynamics of Self and Family; Concealing Illness, Performing Health; Agency and Advocacy; Medicine at the Margins. The majority of the pieces are written by non-health care academics about their experiences with a wide variety of illnesses. A few have been written by or with health care professionals.

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Second Opinion

Kendrick, Leatha

Last Updated: Apr-19-2008
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Poet Leatha Kendrick is the author of two chapbooks, Science in Your Own Back Yard (see annotation) and Heart Cake. In this full-length collection she continues to examine themes explored in her first titles: love and loss; the fleeting of time; and her personal experience of breast cancer. Second Opinion is divided into three sections: the first two sections have 14 poems each, the final section has 13, perhaps to indicate that for this passionate and articulate poet the the final poem is yet to be written. The first poem in the collection, "A lesson in Love Unleashed," sets the theme for the poems that follow: "yes, I think, even in their distorted flesh, / I still desire what's gone. What I'm leaving" (p. 3). In the first and third sections, the poet writes of marital and familial trials and triumphs, both past and present, and in the second section--for me the most vivid in the collection--she writes about breast cancer and how this experience weaves in and out of her other loves and losses. This weaving is given both visual and emotional expression in the poem "Tonight Weaving" (p. 28)

Throughout the book, Kendrick's poems take varying forms and tones, and yet there is always the assurance of a constant voice--personal, passionate and often humorous. In the second section, the poems become more visually complex and fractured, poetic representation of the "distortion" of the flesh as the narrator considers the diagnosis and treatment of her breast cancer. In this section's opening poem, "The Calculus of a Cracked Cup," the poet writes, "Our position is never certain, only our / velocity" (p. 27), adding the concern of the swift passing of time to the collection's overall theme. In "Second Opinion," the title poem, she notes, "I want to believe in sudden remission, / in some way to avert what we are certainly / headed for" (p. 34). But while time rushes on, the reality of cancer, the loss of a breast becomes a "stopped surface" under which a "lost life" wants "its old course, not subject to IVs or a knife" (p. 35).

It is life--difficult and sweet--that is ultimately celebrated in these poems and that overcomes the losses. The most wry poems are found in the breast cancer section: "Christmas, Adolescence, Yin and Yang" (p. 32) is a sort of ode to "Skeeter and Bite," so named by a first love; now "they'll lift / one out, the eye sewn shut by mastectomy." "Costume. Fakery. The Sell." is a tough, nervy poem that has the narrator claiming acceptance for who she is, post surgery: "Alive! Tender, I'm not hiding" (p. 39). Throughout the book there is a subtle triple play on the word "tender": woman as caregiver; woman as collateral in a society that values cleavage; and woman as injured, post op, and physically vulnerable.

In the collection's final poem, "What You Leave Me," the theme of love and loss balanced against time comes to some resolution as the narrator and her partner join in a "sweet tangle": "the blossoming / hide, this bounded / time against brevity" (p. 64).

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

This book consists of a series of "found poems" abstracted from transcripts of interviews that Loreen Herwaldt conducted with 24 writers who had previously published accounts of their illnesses. Dr. Herwaldt, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Iowa, began her investigation into the personal experience of illness after having read Mary Swander's Out of this World: A Journey of Healing and Reynolds Price's A Whole New Life, both of which revealed a negative dimension of medical care. These books initiated an "unexpected turn" (p. 1) in Dr. Herwaldt's life, culminating in a sabbatical year during which she interviewed a wide array of writers, intending to investigate the texture and dynamics of their experience of medical care by textual analysis of interview transcripts.

However, as a result of a further (and fortunate) insight, the author decided to abstract and arrange these texts into "found poems" that have "a concentrated emotional power that the unedited stories did not." (p. 5) Among the authors whose stories of illness appear in these poems are Arthur Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller ), Nancy Mairs (A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories), Richard Selzer (Raising the Dead), Oliver Sacks (A Leg to Stand On), Mary Swandler (The Desert Pilgrim: En Route to Mysticism and Miracles), and Christina Middlebrook (Seeing the Crab: A Memoir of Dying). In most cases Dr. Herwaldt has crafted two or more poems giving voice to different aspects of the subject's experience. For example, Richard McCann (pp. 82-90) speaks about loving his primary care physician, why patients can't talk to doctors, what he needs from a doctor, and being labeled as a patient with hepatitis C (cf. "The Resurrectionist").

The author includes a section on "How to Use This Book" (pp.9-20) that summarizes her experience utilizing these poems in medical education settings and provides helpful hints for teaching them.

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