Showing 181 - 190 of 437 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

Losing Julia

Hull, Jonathan

Last Updated: Aug-30-2006
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Losing Julia is narrated by Patrick Delaney, age 81, a World War I veteran, who lives, somewhat independently, in Great Oaks, an assisted living facility. Still able to go into town to get new clothes, books, etc. and enchanted with the kindness and loveliness of Sarah and other female staff members, the well-educated and quick-witted protagonist offers a fresh perspective on "institutional" care.

Much of Patrick’s story, however, concerns Daniel, a war-time buddy, and other soldiers in his embattled unit prior to and during the hellacious Battle of Verdun. Several soldiers are carefully and memorably drawn by the stories they tell about life at home and their aspirations. Daniel stands out as Patrick’s closest friend in the trenches, a young man who is courageous, rational, fearful, and in love with Julia.

Like his peers, Patrick listens to Daniel’s lyrical recollection of the woman others can only imagine. Patrick realizes that he has fallen in love with Julia’s image. Most of the men, including Daniel, are killed brutally in one of the war’s most savage battles. When Patrick’s post-war efforts to find the elusive Julia fail, he marries, works as an accountant, and has two children. Like the war, Julia remains, however, a constant shadow throughout his life.

When a war monument is constructed ten years later on the site of the last atrocious battle, Patrick, his wife, his toddler son, and his sister-in-law journey to Paris. With his family happily detained in Paris, Patrick goes to Verdun alone for the monument’s unveiling ceremonies with many other veterans and grieving family members. It is here that Julia appears and the two become lovers during the time at Verdun and then for a short time in Paris.

The story, non-sequential in its presentation, weaves the various elements of aging, memory, war, love, and loss together for readers to untangle and follow.

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Loose Threads

Grover, Lorie Ann

Last Updated: Aug-30-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Kay, a 7th grader, lives with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She is particularly attached to her grandmother, who is diagnosed with breast cancer. Kay’s subsequent waves of response to Grandma Margie’s illness include denial, fear, withdrawal from friends, discovery of a new friend whose mother, it turns out, died of cancer, and discovery of new kinds of intimacy with her mother and great-grandmother. During the illness her grandmother teaches her to knit--one last gift before she dies. After her grandmother’s death, she finds herself a little more grown up, recognizing in herself some of her grandmother’s features and habits, and reclaiming her own life on new terms.

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This posthumously published short (132 pp) collection is by a former New York Times book reviewer and essayist who was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in 1989 and who died the following year. Broyard responded to his illness by writing about the experience. The book is comprised of six parts:

Part 1: Intoxicated by My Illness

Part 2: Toward a Literature of Illness

Part 3: The Patient Examines the Doctor

Part 4: A Style for Death: Journal Notes, May-September,1990

Part 5: The Literature of Death

Part 6: What the Cystoscope Said

Parts 1, 2 and 5 appeared in slightly different form in the New York Times between 1981 and 1990.

Parts 2 and 3 are in part from a talk Mr. Broyard gave at the Univ. of Chicago Medical School in April 1990. Part 6 is a short story written by Broyard in 1954 about his father’s death.

Mr. Broyard had long been fascinated with death and dying, before his prostatic cancer, publishing "What the Cystoscope Said" in 1954, some 35 years before his own diagnosis. It is as though he had been preparing for what he knew would be his finest work. Always an engaging essayist and reviewer, Mr. Broyard here offers what he did best--a discursive (in the best sense) soliloquy on disease, suffering, the majesty of the educated, reflective person with illness--all amplified with widely ranging withdrawals from the broad literary bank account one would expect of a professional reader and reviewer: one reads about personal fate vis-à-vis D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love; one reads, as one can read nowhere else, about illness, dying and sexuality and its relevance to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

Part 1, Intoxicated By My Illness, is a personal statement about the effect of this illness on Broyard’s attitude and is rich with his own and others’ literary sense of how he should and did react to it. Part 2, written later than Part 5, deals with literature and illness as opposed to the emphasis on death in Part 5. Within Part 2 are references to Susan Sontag, Norman Cousins and Siegel, among other students of this subject. It is interesting to compare the more powerful and personal and moving appeal of the later writings on illness (Part 2) to the more abstract, critical ruminations on death (Part 5) at a time when, in fact, Part 5 was a literary exercise. Part 2 is written with the pen of the heart.

Part 3 is a wonderful account of Broyard’s first meeting with his personal physician. While Broyard analyzes this man, he reflects on what he would like in his ideal doctor. Part 4 is a brief (7 pages) collection of short diary entries reminiscent of Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings. Part 5 includes essays on death and dying in literature and what these books, e.g., Robert Kastenbaum’s Between Life and Death and David Hendin’s Death as a Fact of Life and Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death, have to offer us.

Part 6 is a short story about his father’s death, the son’s sexual escapades and the relationship between the two. Clearly sex, death and their nexus have long been on Broyard’s mind. This is a welcome reflection and is of interest more as it compares to Broyard’s later writings on the subject, especially in Part 2, than for its intrinsic worth as a short story.

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Illness as Metaphor

Sontag, Susan

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Sontag argues against the use of illness as metaphor. She states her main point on the first page of this long essay : "The most truthful way of regarding illness--and the healthiest way of being ill--is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking."

Tuberculosis and cancer serve as her two central examples of the human tendency to use metaphoric thinking about illness. In the 19th century, tuberculosis was considered a disease of passion, of "inward burning," of the "consumption" of life force. Sufferers were thought to have superior sensibility; the illness purified them of the dross of everyday life. The romantic image of the TB sufferer became "the first widespread example of that distinctively modern activity, promoting the self as an image" (p. 29). Metaphoric thinking about TB declined in the early part of the 20th century as the disease succumbed to science and public health measures.

Cancer has now become the predominant disease metaphor in our culture. Cancer is considered a disease of repression, or inhibited passion. The cancer sufferer characteristically suppresses emotion, which after many years emerges from the unconscious self as malignant growth. As in Auden’s poem, Miss Gee, reproduced on page 49, (see annotation in this database): "Childless women get it, / And men when they retire . . . . " Sontag uses the 19th century view of insanity as another example of malignant metaphoric thinking, while metaphor related to syphilis was somewhat more benign. She concludes the essay with an eloquent prediction that, as we learn more about the etiology and treatment of cancer, its metaphorical system will die on the vine. (I wonder if Sontag would consider my "die on the vine" an appropriate metaphor here?)

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Invincible Summer

Ferris, Jean

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Invincible Summer introduces illness and death into what might otherwise be a standard teen love story. Here, first love is also a last look at life, and the rites of passage into romance, sexuality, and intimacy are intensified and thrust into profound paradox by approaching death. Robin and Rick meet in the hospital where she has come for a battery of tests, and he for chemotherapy. Both have acute lymphocytic leukemia. He’s been sick for two years. She’s just finding out about her own condition.

Robin lives with her father, who can hardly bear to be around her illness, and her grandmother, who, since her mother died years ago in a car accident, is the primary caretaker. The father’s love has to be understood and accepted in light of his emotional limitations. The book thoughtfully explores how sickness rearranges family systems as well as treating familiar young adult themes of separation from friends, wanting sex, embarrassment about physical appearance, uncertainty of remission, and how to talk about the future.

After Rick’s death, at which Robin is present, Robin recalls a game her mother used to play, called "The Worst Thing." "What’s there to be afraid of? What’s the worst thing that could happen?" The aim of the game is to look at the worst case until it seems manageable, because for every worst thing, there is some way through to remedy or acceptance. The game, reproduced as internal dialogue, drives to ultimate questions, ending with something like Pascal’s wager--a version of intellectual comfort that will do in the absence of positive faith in the promise of afterlife.

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Island

Huxley, Aldous

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Will Farnaby, reporter and underground agent for an oil magnate, is shipwrecked on the island of Pala, where for 120 years an ideal society has flourished. In the mid 19th century, a Scottish doctor successfully treated the enlightened Raja of Pala and settled on the island. These two men then designed a perfect society in which (according to the book jacket's description), "sex lives are unabashed; children are carefully conditioned from infancy and none is at the mercy of one set of parents; jobs are assigned according to physique and temperament," and everyone uses "moksha medicine," a drug that sharpens and deepens powers of consciousness.

The Palinese also practice hypnosis, eugenics, and a form of sexual yoga that leads to virtually perfect sexual experience. While Pala has enormous oil reserves, the people are uninterested in developing them because they are happy with their way of life and do not feel the need to become wealthier or more Westernized. Pala's companion island of Rendang is ruled by a ruthless dictator, Colonel Dipa, who plans to develop its oil resources and industrialize the island, while, at the same time, enriching himself.

After his shipwreck, Farnaby is injured climbing a cliff from the beach. He spends time recuperating, during which he meets a number of Palinese people, including Dr. MacPhail (descended from the original Scottish physician) and Murugan, the young man who will soon become the new Raja of Pala. As he learns more about the society, Farnaby comes to respect it and turns away from his plans to promote oil development on the island.

However, Murugan (who was raised largely in Switzerland by a fanatic mother who runs a fundamentalist Christian movement) frowns upon the sexual freedom, drug use, and general lack of "ambition" among his countrymen. He secretly conspires with Colonel Dipa to sell-out Pala. At the end of the book, the army of Rendang has invaded Pala and declared a joint kingdom of Rendang and Pala with Murugan as king and Colonel Dipa as Prime Minister.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

An epigraph preceding this 28-line poem, apparently from notes by the physician-writer’s physician-father, sets the action of the poem in Wales in 1938. In the operating room, the surgeon attempts to locate the brain tumor of a patient who was under only local anesthesia because of his blood pressure. In those days in that place, finding the tumor was a "somewhat hit and miss" procedure that seems to have involved looking for it with one’s fingers.

A grotesque image, but all goes well until the patient, in a "gramophone" or "ventriloquist" voice not his own, cries out, "Leave my soul alone, leave my soul alone!" The doctor withdraws from the brain, but the patient then dies, after which the mood in the operating room is shocked and speechless, as "silence matched the silence under snow."

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Dirt Cheap

Miller-Lachmann, Lyn

Last Updated: Aug-28-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Nicholas Baran, a one-time student activist, is now in his 40s, teaching at a community college in rural Connecticut after having been denied tenure at an Ivy League school. The tenure denial, despite consistent teaching awards and high performance was clearly politically motivated and instigated by a right-wing professor protecting his turf and the school from a labor-oriented, media-challenging progressive. Nicholas has leukemia, and, upon noticing that he appears to be living in a cancer cluster, begins a private investigation of the large chemical company located just upstream on the river that runs through the town near his neighborhood.

The investigation becomes more intense after he comes upon a local rescue squad retrieving the body of a small boy who has drowned in the river, but whose body reveals effects of considerable acid in the water. Though his wife fears for him and resists his efforts, even to the point of temporarily allying herself (and engaging in a dailliance with) a powerful local real estate broker, Nick finds an ally in his son's teacher, hesitant, but committed to finding out the truth.

Though Nick's disease is progressing rapidly, he and Sandy, the teacher, manage to break into the company's files and retrieve enough damaging evidence to expose deliberate deception of the public as well as documenting the high incidence of cancers in the immediate neighborhood. Before his death Nick manages to supply enough material to the major media to expose the scandal, and leaves a hard-won legacy of truthtelling to his children.

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Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

This is a collection of poems written about breast cancer, many of the poems by women who have experienced the disease. A very full range of response to the disease is evident in these poems, from dry humor regarding prostheses; to fear and denial of the disease; to one’s often painful adjustment (along with family members) to a different body; to emotional transcendence of the experience of breast cancer.

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Her Hair

Grace, Maggi Ann

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Julia’s sister, Kara, has a recurrence of leukemia, and, because of the horrors of chemotherapy along with a dismal prognosis, decides to forgo treatment. Kara asks Julia, along with two of her closest friends, to participate in a "sweat," an Indian purification ceremony intended to "recenter" one’s spirit prior to death. The idea of her sister dying has caught Julia off guard, despite Kara’s dismal prognosis, her baldness, her gray color in the mirror.

Kara lives life to the fullest, without fear; in sharing her life, Julia had forgotten about the reality of death. Julia is surprised when in only five days the ceremony takes place, and thinks of all the practical reasons this ceremony makes no sense. Against her will, Julia takes her sister to the sweat tent and participates in the ceremony. Even though it might have hastened her sister’s death, Julia comes to realize the importance of the ritual, for as her sister dies, she, herself, feels closer to her than ever before, and is finally able to see how Kara’s life had fit into a larger design.

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