Showing 141 - 150 of 430 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Pauline Chen is a transplant surgeon and hence highly trained in the surgical care of desperately ill patients. She found, however, that although she had intensive and first rate training, time and again the message she received from her mentors and peers encouraged a distance from frank discussions about dying with patients who were clearly dying. Dr. Chen successfully suppressed her urges to reflect on the meaning of illness and death. Years into her training, she finally witnessed an attending surgeon stay with a patient and the patient's wife until the patient passed away. The widow sent a thank you note to Dr. Chen for allowing a "dignified and peaceful death." (p. 101) Chen notes that observing her attending stand with the patient during death changed her profoundly: "...from that moment on, I would believe that I could do something more than cure. This narrative, then, is my acknowledgment to him." (p. 101)

Final Exam chronicles Chen's journey from medical student to attending surgeon and examines her experiences with death and serious illness - of patients, family members, friends. The memoir contains three parts: Principles, Practice, and Reappraisal - each with three chapters. The book is chronologically arranged, beginning with anatomy dissection at the start of medical school and ending with Chen as an attending arranging for hospice, thus honoring a patient's desire to die at home rather than in hospital. Chen skillfully weaves her stories around commentary on the social, cultural and philosophical issues surrounding death and the medical response to death. An introduction and epilogue bookend the text and 46 pages of extensive notes and bibliography complete the book.

Although Chen claims to have slowly and painfully awakened to the fact that patient needs extend well beyond good technical care, in fact one sees Chen emerge as a caring physician even from her initial patient contacts in medical school. Chen speaks more to her role as an Asian-American than to being a woman in a male-dominated field, but she clearly has what it takes to succeed in this extremely competitive field, including a good dose of compulsiveness and an incredible work ethic.

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About Alice

Trillin, Calvin

Last Updated: Mar-29-2007
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This slim volume is Calvin Trillin’s tribute to his wife Alice, not only his muse and his first and most critical reader but also a figure well known to his readers. First written as a long essay in The New Yorker, the book is a slightly expanded version that chronicles their relationship, their family life, her many and varied interests, her illness—lung cancer—that first appeared in 1976, and her death in 2001 waiting in the heart failure unit of a hospital, her heart having been damaged by the radiation treatment 25 years before.

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The Lives of Rocks

Bass, Rick

Last Updated: Jan-16-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Although doctors have told her that things will get better, Jyl’s odds of surviving cancer are only five percent. She lives alone in a mountain cabin and receives cancer treatments at the hospital in town. She sleeps much of the day. “Her intestines had been scalded, cauterized as if by volcanic flow” [p 67], and Jyl continues to experience problem with digestion. She feels fatigued and is easily short of breath.

Her closest neighbors are the Workman’s, a Christian fundamentalist family of seven. They live miles away in a mountain valley near the creek. Without telephone, electricity, or indoor plumbing, they live off the land and toil day and night. Jyl starts carving small boats toting messages to send down the creek for the Workman children to find. Soon 15-year-old Stephan and 7-year-old Shayna visit Jyl. The two children bring her food that the Workman’s have hunted and gathered. They cut and stack firewood for the recluse. Jyl teaches them about geology and gives them small gemstones that her father had collected. The children’s visits revitalize the ill woman.

When Stephan and Shayna do not return to see her, Jyl is overcome by loneliness. She acknowledges that being alone is far worse than any aspect of her disease and treatment. Jyl makes the difficult trek to the Workman’s property to call on the children but finds that the place is deserted. Nothing remains in their boarded-up cabin except a stack of the small boats that she had crafted. Jyl sits outside their cabin and cries. The falling snow and silence envelop everything.          

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The Ship Pounding

Hall, Donald

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Poet Donald Hall writes of his vigil over wife Jane (poet Jane Kenyon), gravely ill with leukemia. To him, the hospital where he spends his days with her is a ship whose huge pounding engines keep the propellers turning so that the voyage to harbor can safely be made. The ship passengers "wore masks or cannulae . . . but I believed that the ship / travelled to a harbor / of breakfast, work, and love."

Hall writes about what he wrote at the time: " ’. . . bone marrow restored . . . I will take my wife . . . home to our dog and day.’ " After weeks of treatment, wife Jane is discharged, months pass, and now, at home, Hall re-reads his own words as he listens anxiously "to hear Jane call for help," and prepares to "make the agitated / drive to Emergency again," knowing that there is no safe harbor and that the ship is going nowhere, a " . . . huge / vessel that heaves water . . . / without leaving / port, . . . / without arrival or destination . . . . "

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Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Subtitled Women Novelists of Color and the Politics of Medicine, this book draws on novels by eleven women to illustrate how physical and emotional states of health and illness are linked directly to social justice. The book is divided into two parts. The first five chapters deal with individual characters, their illnesses, and sometimes their healing: Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters, Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow, Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Stories, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, Toni Morrison's Beloved and The Bluest Eye, Louise Erdrich's Tracks, and Sapphire's Push are among the works Stanford uses to examine women who have become ill because of broken ties to their histories and communities, because of racial hatred, or because of domestic and sexual violence (see this database for annotations).

The second part of the book finds novels examining medicine itself. Stanford uses Ana Castillo's So Far from God, Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (annotated in this database), Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead: A Novel (annotated in this database), and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents again to raise connections between patients and social conditions but also to ask questions about bioethics and uncertainty, medicine and epistemology, and how medicine might resist dehumanizing trends through the "myriad possibilities of communitas" (218).

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Summary:

As editor Judy Schaefer writes in her introduction, this collection provides "the rare opportunity to read both the poem and the poet's commentary." It is somewhat like a good poetry reading, where we get to hear about the events, thoughts, feelings and contexts that have stimulated the poem. Often the writer's commentaries have a richness of their own, complementing the poetry but not necessary to it. Also the commentaries describe some of the writing process the nurse poets go through in creating the poem. The fourteen nurse poets in this volume have all published their work in journals and anthologies, but this is the first collection to include commentaries along with the poems.

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Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Winter surveys the rise and fall of mesmerism in Victorian Britain, from animal magnetism to hypnotism, including electrobiology (a form of group hysteria), table-turning, and other fads. The book offers rich detail about the different stages of the use of mesmerism in medicine: its initial appearance in staged experiments; its uncertain status and the struggle to locate the boundary demarcating alternative medicines; its performance by professional medical men as well as travelers and quacks; its importance in the development of anesthesia; and its role in prompting skeptical scientists to consider the possibility of mental reflexes as one way to explain away mesmeric phenomena.

Winter argues that mesmerism was not "illegitimate" so much as it brought "legitimacy" itself - of medical authority, of evidence, of knowledge -- into question. Thus, she argues, mesmerism crucially inspired many of the considerable changes in nineteenth-century medicine as well as the reorganization of science and the educational reforms of the later nineteenth century. The book also discusses mesmerism as a form of religion, as a conduit for spiritualism and communication with the dead, as a catalyst in orchestral conducting, and as a model for liberal political consensus.

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Get a Life

Gordimer, Nadine

Last Updated: Jan-02-2007
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Untouchable. Paul Bannerman considers himself a modern day leper. Diagnosed with papillary carcinoma of the thyroid at the age of 35, the white ecologist in South Africa undergoes surgery to remove the malignant thyroid gland. Four week later, he is treated with radioactive iodine to obliterate any residual cancerous cells. Paul will remain radioactive for 16 days and poses a risk to anyone in contact with him. He must be quarantined. His parents, Adrian and Lyndsay, offer to care for him in their home so that Paul will not expose his wife, Berenice (Benni), and 3-year-old son, Nickie to potentially harmful radioactivity. While at his parent’s house, Paul is isolated. Nothing of Paul’s is allowed to mingle with that of others. He spends considerable time in the garden reflecting on his life.

As Paul recovers, his parent’s marriage unravels. His mother has had a previous affair. Now his father has a fling of his own (with the tour guide) during a trip to Mexico. His dad never returns home and dies of heart failure in Norway. Paul’s mother adopts an HIV-positive 3-year-old black girl.

Benni wants to have another child, but Paul is worried. Are his radioactive sperm still capable of fertilization, and if so, will the child be somehow deformed or mutilated? Eventually conception occurs, and the baby is healthy. Paul’s most recent scan shows no signs of recurrent cancer. On the professional front, Paul gets additional good news. The environmental and conservation organization he works for has been successful in opposing and temporarily halting a mining project in the sand dunes and the development of a pebble-bed nuclear reactor. Lately, most things associated with Paul are starting to glow.        

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Heroes and Saints

Moraga, CherrĂ­e

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This searing play takes place in California's central valley where Mexican immigrants are employed at survival wages to work in fields poisoned by pesticides. Their ramshackle government homes are built over dumps where toxic waste poisons the water. The community has suffered a high incidence of cancer--especially in children--, birth defects, and other illnesses related to long-term intake of toxic substances.

One of the main characters, Cerezita, has only half a body, and often occupies center stage encased in an altar-like contraption where only her head shows. She turns pages, points, and performs other basic functions with tongue and teeth. She is a prophetic figure, willing to see and speak, because seeing and speaking are all she can do, and to name the evils that others prefer to call the will of God.

She seeks and finds intellectual companionship in the local priest who is struggling to find an appropriate way to minister to a parish divided among disillusioned cynics turned alcoholic, pious women who want nothing to do with politics, and the angry young, including one young homosexual who feels driven to leave a loving but uncomprehending family, and reveals to the priest that he has AIDS.

The community has been involved in recent protests that consist of hanging the bodies of recently deceased children on crosses in the fields. This dramatic protest has caused public outrage and attracted media attention. The play culminates in a protest in which Cerezita and the priest are shot down and the young man with AIDS cries out for the community to burn the fields. The curtain falls on burning vineyards.

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Saying the World

Pereira, Peter

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This three-part collection of poems offers powerful images and vignettes from the life of a family practitioner living and working among the urban poor. The first section is the most explicitly medical in theme, including poems that pay painful tribute to a mother after stillbirth, a hydrocephalic child, an addict covered with boils, a young man murdered at eighteen, an old man with a failing heart.

The second section weaves images from the writer's personal story together with those from his life as physician, and the third focuses primarily on life lived as a gay man among the sick and dying, patients to be treated and friends to be mourned while life remains to be claimed and savored.

Despite the pain and grief attested to in many of the poems, a lively voice of clarity, compassion, and consent to the goodness of life even on hard terms gives the collection a defining note of celebration. Pereira's lines about a bereaved Cambodian seamstress suggest something true about his own work: ". . . she joins the circle / of other Khmer women to sew. / Punctuating the fabric / with yellow thread, finding her remnants / into a piece that will hold." ("What is Lost")

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