Showing 251 - 260 of 435 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This selection of Miroslav Holub's poems is organized around five major topics--genealogy, anthropology, semiology, pathology, and tautology--rather than chronologically. The poems, some of which date back to his first collection in 1958, were translated into English by a number of different persons, but mostly by David Young, who has had a long-term collaboration with Holub.

Holub states his major preoccupation in "Bones," the very first poem in this collection: "We seek / a backbone / that will stay / straight." (p. 13) The search reaches its fullest expression in "Interferon," a long poem about messages, messengers, and interference: "Cells infected by a virus / send signals out . . .

And when a poet dies, deep in the night / a long black bird wakes up in the thicket / and sings for all it's worth." (p.159) The first step in the search is to learn to interpret the signals, and to understand the black bird's song. To do that, one has to ask questions. Yet, in the face of enormous "Suffering," we are drawn to passivity: "But I ask no questions, / no one asks any questions, / because it's all quite useless." (p. 147) How to overcome the inertia and proceed, even in the face of likely failure?

Holub reminds us that even "In the Microscope" we find "cells, fighters / who lay down their lives / for a song." (p. 149) In fact, there may be something worth fighting for, although perhaps we can only see it under extreme circumstances, as in "Crush Syndrome," where a concrete mixer snaps up the hand of a man cleaning it: "The finger bones / said a few things you don't hear very often...In that moment / I realized I had a soul." (p. 174). But perhaps what we call the soul is really just our deep yearning to survive, as in "Heart Transplant": "It's like a model of a battlefield / where Life and Spirit / have been fighting / and both have won." (p. 179)

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Collection (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

Fifteen selections--short stories, essays, and memoir--make up this collection. Two stories are notable: The Whistlers' Room and Atrium: October 2001 (see annotations). The title story is a translation and retelling of an obscure German tale published 75 years ago. Set in a military hospital in Germany during World War I, four soldiers share a common wound--throat injuries and laryngeal damage necessitating a tracheostomy for each man. This remarkable quartet of patients forges a fellowship of the maimed.

"Atrium: October 2001" describes the random meeting between a physician and a terminally ill teenager in the hospital atrium. The subject of death dominates their discussion. "Parable" chronicles an elderly doctor's efforts to comfort a dying man, and in the process, ease both their suffering.

Excerpts from Selzer's diary reveal much about the character of the author as well as the characters in his life. He also reminisces about growing up in Troy, New York. Approximately one-quarter of the book is devoted to Selzer's musings on works of art (sculpture and painting). Lighter fare includes a discussion of life behind the podium, a description of his home, and a new ending for A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

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Evidence of Things Unseen

Wiggins, Marianne

Last Updated: Oct-12-2004
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This book interweaves an American love story with the development and repercussions of x-ray technology and atomic energy. It is an intriguing and beautifully written story. The setting is the southeastern United States, where the male protagonist, Fos, meets and marries Opal. Fos is a returning World War I veteran when the story begins; the story ends some years after the atomic bomb is dropped in World War II.

Fos is stationed in France during World War I. His assignment is to produce chemical flares. He shares a trench bunker with "Flash," the regiment photographer. After the war is over, Fos and Flash open up a photography shop in Flash's hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. Fos is fascinated by natural phenomena such as phosphorescence, radiation, and the application of scientific discoveries for practical use. Flash is a good businessman and has a way with the ladies.

After Fos marries Opal, the three are in business together--Opal has accounting experience and handles the shop's "books." On the side, Fos and Opal have a traveling show that features an "x-ray box" where people can view the skeleton of their own feet. Opal is part of the show, on exhibit to demonstrate how this works as Fos x-rays her feet. A baby comes into their lives--they name him Lightfoot. The novel takes these characters and a few other connected figures through the 1920s into the Depression of the 1930s and formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, to the work on the atomic bomb at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Fos is recruited by the government to work at Oak Ridge--to take photographs. To say any more about the plot would spoil the pleasure of reading this absorbing book.

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Cancer

McCabe, Eugene

Last Updated: Oct-11-2004
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Boyle drives out to the cottage to visit Joady, who is dying of cancer. Dinny and Joady are two elderly brothers who live together. "In all his years Joady had never slept away from the cottage," until recently when he went to the hospital and had an operation. Boyle and Dinny speak about how, a week earlier, they had been stopped by police in a helicopter as they were driving to the hospital to visit Joady--this was the day after an IRA bombing in which five people lost their lives. When they reached the hospital, they spoke to the surgeon who told them that Joady was terminal. By this time (back at the cottage), Joady knows that he is dying. However, he follows his normal routine, apparently unchanged, while Dinny is sullen, distracted, and complaining.

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Creeping Thyme

Pies, Ronald

Last Updated: Oct-11-2004
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

"Spell Check for a Malformed Fetus" (p. 1) sets the stage for some of the important themes in this collection by poet-psychiatrist, Ronald Pies. First, the lack of honest language to express life’s "mistakes" and disappointments. Our attempt to disguise the pain by using easy, but inaccurate, words. And finally, an expression of hope, even if only in the world of imagination: "if only / in your first fission / some godly processor / had blessed / your blighted genes."

Some of these poems emerge from relationships with patients, notably "Consultation Request" (p. 35), "Three Patients" (pp. 37-39), "Prolapse of the Uterus" (p.76), and "Congestive Heart Failure" (p. 85). "Smoke, Lilac, Lemon" (p. 45) evokes a fascinating test apparently used by some clinicians to distinguish depression from Alzheimer’s disease on the basis of olfactory function. The four "Alzheimer Sonnets" (pp. 87-88) tackle the difficult task of expressing the experience of dementia from the patient’s point of view.

Many of the other poems deal with love, memory, loss, and pain in the context of family and intimate relationships. Among the best of these are: the title poem (p.3), "Sitting Shivah" (pp. 14-15), "Riding Down Dark" (p. 16), "Visitant" (pp. 41-43), and "Migrations" (pp. 64-69).

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Birth Sounds includes 45 short tales of labor and delivery, ranging through a wide swath of the human comedy, but always maintaining focus on the very first scene. In most of these stories, it isn't the delivery that provides the drama, but rather the people. Take the first story, for example. In "Faceless" a Vietnamese husband cautions the obstetrician-narrator, "In our country no man will examine a woman in such an intimate way." The obstetrician never sees the patient's face, which she has covered with a towel. After the delivery, he examines her and speaks carefully, not sure that she understands English. However, from beneath the towel, she thanks him in a perfect American Southern accent. A neat surprise!

In "The Little Devil" (p. 6) a 38-year-old member of a satanic cult announces that she intends to kill the baby if it is a boy. She has been directed to do so by her satanic mentor. When, amid a panoply of lit candles and inverted crucifixes she delivers a boy, the resident contacts the sheriff's office, where the mother's intentions are already known. Sure enough, the SWAT team storms the delivery room and takes the baby.

In "Red Bag" (p. 31) the narrator is serving as a medical expert in a murder trial. The defendant had arrived at the hospital hemorrhaging after delivering a baby at home, evidently into the toilet bowl. The baby had died of head injury. The obstetrician-narrator turns out to be more supportive of the woman and less compliant than the prosecutor had expected; but afterward the doctor receives his financial reward--a check from the state for a full $7.00!

In "Resilience" (p. 259) a woman with a near-term pregnancy asks the obstetrician to examine her breast, which has suddenly developed a red lump. He takes one look and immediately experiences a flashback to another young woman he cared for who had developed breast cancer during pregnancy and died of metastatic disease about a year later. Sure enough, the current patient also has cancer. But in this case the patient delivers, receives treatment, and recovers, apparently cured of her cancer.

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The Radiation Sonnets

Yolen, Jane

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Sonnets)

Summary:

This is a collection of sonnets written by Jane Yolen, a well--known children’s book author, during her husband’s 43-day course of radiation therapy for an inoperable brain tumor. In an introductory note, she explains that "each evening after David was safely in bed" she composed a sonnet and "poured (her) feelings onto the page."

Day 1 begins, "Do not go, my love--oh, do not leave so soon . . . " She soon directs her anger at the limitations of technology (Day 4, "The damned machine has broken, cracked . . . ") as David develops side effects of treatment (Day 8, "Sucking candies"; Day 11, "Confusion"). The stakes rise (Day 12, "Today you did not want to eat. / We knew this day would come."), and eventually she succumbs to physical and emotional exhaustion (Day 18, "A friend drove you today, I did not go." and Day 20, "Off you go again, like a toddler to school . . . "). Family gathers; on Day 23 the youngest son arrives to visit his dozing father ("Your eyes flew open, your familiar smile / Told him his coming was worth each mile.")

Later in the course of treatment, the sonnets display the author’s uncertainty about what to believe. Should she listen to the doctor, who on Day 26 brings guardedly optimistic news ("I would not shut the gate quite yet")? Or should she believe what she sees and feels, as she cares for a man who appears to weakening and withering away? The food fights continue: "You who are sixty have just turned six: / You dissemble, deceive, eat half, call it whole." (Day 37) Patient, caretaker, family, and physician all avoid using the word death, even though it "is the one true word that lies within our reach" (Day 38).

In a postscript Jane Yolen reveals that a year after her husband’s "graduation" from radiation therapy he was doing well and, with regard to The Radiation Sonnets, he had promised to "be around for publication day."

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The Encyclopedia of the Dead

Kis, Danilo

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator is still grieving over the recent death of her father, D.M. He suffered from emphysema and died from a sarcoma of the intestine that metastasized to other organs. While visiting Sweden, the narrator explores the Royal Library. There she discovers the celebrated Encyclopedia of the Dead--a massive collection of thousands of volumes chronicling in detail the lives of ordinary people who have died.

She finds the biography of her father and takes notes while reading it throughout the night. Fifty years of his life in Belgrade are summarized in only 5 or 6 pages yet amazingly nothing seems to be left out. No detail is too small--the first day he ever smoked a cigarette, an episode of food poisoning, a love letter.

The text is illustrated with a picture of her father and an odd flower. Late in life, he began painting floral patterns like the one depicted in the book. According to the Encyclopedia, his interest in painting paralleled the onset and progression of his cancer. In fact, the narrator learns that the flower in the book closely resembles the appearance of the sarcoma that claimed his life.

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Atrium: October 2001

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Jul-02-2004
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

While eating lunch in the hospital atrium, the retired doctor who narrates this story notices a boy in a wheelchair looking at him. The elderly physician and the youngster begin a conversation. The fourteen-year-old boy is terminally ill with cancer. The doctor quickly determines that the lad only has time left for honesty. The boy lies, however, about his name. He calls himself Thomas Fogarty but his real name is Tony. "What will you do on your last day on earth?" the moribund boy asks the narrator.

The doctor shares with Tony his own fantasy about dying. He envisions a former student who is now a great surgeon transporting him to an ancient forest. There he becomes part of the woods and keenly aware of the mystery of life. Soon his mind breaks with his body. Death is just "a painless transition."

Tony dies the next morning. He had dictated an unfinished letter to the doctor, and Tony's nurse delivers it to him. As a retired physician, the narrator has performed a valuable service by helping prepare the boy for death. As a writer, the narrator still hopes to save him. He has immortalized Tony by converting him into an enduring story.

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Song and Dance

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Jun-30-2004
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this collection of poems, Alan Shapiro looks unflinchingly at his brother David’s illness and death from brain cancer in 1998. David was an actor and a "song and dance" man on Broadway, hence the title and the frequent allusion to songs and show business. The poems trace an arc from the two boys’ childhood, when they dance together lip-syncing to Ethel Merman’s "There’s No Business Like Show Business" ("Everything the Traffic Will Allow," p. 1) through the diagnosis of brain tumor ("Sleet," p. 8) to the poet’s "Last Impressions" after his brother’s death (p. 57).

The everyday, ordinary world bursts its seams as the poet sits in a radiology waiting room waiting for his brother to return from his "Scan" (p. 10) The poet tries to watch a basketball game on TV, but "soon as my brother’s name / was called" a woman sitting next to him begins to tell the story of her husband, who has turned into "a well trained zombie." Soon his brother David moves toward zombie-hood as well. In "The Phone Call" (p. 23), he listens to "the mangled speech, aphasic / pratfalls halfway through the / sentences . . . " that tells him "you can’t imagine it at all."

But brain damage doesn’t mean the loss of wisdom. In "The Last Scene" (p. 33) the poet sits beside his dying brother, who bestirs himself from somnolence to ask, "Do you think / you have a / problem?" "Look at yourself," he says, "how you sit here / drinking all alone."

David dies without missing a beat, according to the script, but his brother loses his place in the text; he simply doesn’t know his lines. In the beautiful "Broadway Revival" (p. 43), he concludes, "I play / the brother / who doesn’t know his lines, / and you the actor / who waits there in the wings, / who holds the script, / who knows it all / by heart and / will not say."

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