Showing 271 - 280 of 429 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

Bodily Harm

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Rennie is a freelance magazine writer. She writes mostly about fashion trends or travel and spends her free time with her controlling but sensual boyfriend, Jake. Her life changes dramatically when she finds out she has breast cancer, then has one breast removed. She feels as if she is about to die, as if worms are eating away at her insides.

Her boyfriend pretends to feel fine about it, but Rennie senses his disgust and their relationship ends. She realizes that she is in love with her surgeon. After all, he has seen a part of her that even she herself has never seen--her inside. The married surgeon is guilt-ridden and Rennie decides to go on vacation.

She ends up on a small island near Grenada. While she is there, a coup breaks out. Rennie becomes a hostage. Upon her release, she returns home. Now, however, she feels lucky to be alive and feels more alive than many around her.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This chapbook by Kentucky poet Leatha Kendrick features a sequence of poems dealing with her experience of breast cancer and mastectomy. The "science" in the title moves from a little girl’s fascination with nature, and her insight that "all she learned was nothing / is only what you thought you saw" (p. 2); through her mature view of "these spiky shadows" on ultrasound (p. 10); to chemotherapy, where she feels "like the muck this stuff is supposed to make of the fast- / dividing cells" (p.18).

But the science of cancer fails to amputate the poet’s narrative. Early on, "My first love called them Skeeter and Bite. / Equal then, if small. Skeeter got / most of his attention." (p. 14) Later, during her treatment, "Excuse me while I grow bald and fat." (p. 21) Eventually she learns, "The map back is a flat / red road, underpinned with bone, / she must learn to dance upon." (p. 28).

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Buying Dad

Aizley, Harlyn

Last Updated: Nov-16-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In this memoir, subtitled "One Woman's Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor," lesbian author and academic Harlyn Aizley confronts her approaching fortieth birthday by deciding to have a child. She and her partner, Faith, begin the process of choosing its biological father. The first major decision: a known or unknown sperm donor? Eventually they choose an unknown one, from a sperm bank with an identity-release program that will allow their child the option of meeting her biological father after she turns eighteen.

Aizley narrates, in absorbing and often very funny detail, the eight months it takes her to conceive, and then the nine months of pregnancy culminating in the birth of a daughter. Sad but telling counterpoints to this narrative are the terrorist attacks in September 2001, which occur during Aizley's pregnancy, and the experience of her mother, who dies three months after the baby's birth, of ovarian cancer.

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Annotated by:
Martinez, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

In Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Values, Peter Singer argues that "the traditional western ethic has collapsed" as we enter "a period of transition in our attitude to the sanctity of life" (pp. 1). The book begins with the tale of Trisha Marshall, a twenty-eight year old woman, who in 1993 was seventeen weeks pregnant when a gunshot to her head left her in an intensive care unit, her body warm, her heart beating, a respirator supporting her breathing. However, she was brain dead.

Her boyfriend and her parents wanted the hospital to do everything possible so that the baby would be born. The ethics committee of the hospital supported the decision. For the next 100 days, Trisha Marshall continued to be supported in the ICU until her baby was delivered by cesarean birth. After a blood test showed that the boyfriend was not the father, and after three weeks in the intensive care unit, the baby went to live with Marshall's parents.

Singer uses this introduction to pose the many ethical questions that are raised because of medicine's ability to keep a "brain dead" body warm for an extended period of time. "How should we treat someone whose brain is dead, but whose body is still warm and breathing? Is a fetus the kind of being whose life we should make great efforts to preserve? If so, should these efforts be made irrespective of their cost? Shall we just ignore the other lives that might be saved with the medical resources required?

Should efforts to preserve the fetus be made only when it is clear that the mother would have wanted this? Or when the (presumed?) father or other close relatives ask for the fetus to be saved? Or do we make these efforts because the fetus has a right to life which could only be overridden by the right of the pregnant woman to control her own body--and in this case there is no living pregnant woman whose rights override those of the fetus?" (pp. 17-18).

In the chapters that follow, Singer argues that whether western society will acknowledge it or not, we have, in our actions and decisions, moved to an ethic where "quality of life" distinctions trump "sanctity of life" positions. Yet, many continue to raise the "sanctity of life" position when it is clear that our legal and ethical positions in western society have embraced the "quality of life" stance. For Singer, this paradox results in an incoherent and illogical approach to the ethical challenges presented by modern medicine.

Throughout his book, Singer presents evidence for his argument through ethical and historical analysis of brain death, abortion, physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, organ donation, and the nature of persons. For those uncomfortable with Singer's position on "infanticide," this book allows one to follow Singer's argument and his recommendations in the last chapter for a coherent approach to these "quality of life" decisions.

He closes his book with the recommendation that a new ethic should embrace five new commandments to replace the old "sanctity of life" commandments. His commandments are: 1) Recognize that the worth of human life varies; 2) Take responsibility for the consequences of our decisions (in end of life care); 3) Respect a person's desire to live or die; 4) Bring children into the world only if they are wanted; and 5) Do not discriminate on the basis of species.

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The Blood of the Lamb

De Vries, Peter

Last Updated: Jun-04-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Don Wanderhope grows up in a Dutch Calvinist family, but his father is a searcher, always questioning the tenets of his faith and the meaning of life. Don's life progresses through a series of traumas: his older brother dies of pneumonia; Don develops tuberculosis; his girlfriend at the sanitarium dies of tuberculosis; and, later, his wife commits suicide. Despite all this, however, there is one shining ray of hope and love in Don's life--his daughter Carol. By the time she turns 11, father and daughter are inseparable pals.

At this point Carol develops leukemia. At first they think it is strep throat and she responds to antibiotics: "She feels a lot better. Give her another day or two and you can take her home. But, anyhow, we've eliminated everything serious." (p. 165) But shortly thereafter, while father and daughter are on vacation in Bermuda, she becomes severely ill again, and soon the diagnosis of leukemia is confirmed.

This begins many weeks of progressive spiritual suffering for Wanderhope, as his daughter suffers terrible physical symptoms and medical interventions. He is reduced to bargaining with God, and to begging at the shrine of St. Jude: "Give us a year." Initially, his prayers seem to be answered as Carol responds to chemotherapy, but then she develops sepsis and dies, "borne from the dull watchers on a wave that broke and crashed beyond our sight." (p. 236)

After Carol's death, Wanderhope vents his anger at God and becomes overwhelmed with grief. However, months later, when going through Carol's things in preparation for selling the house, he discovers an audiotape that Carol had made during her illness, a message that she had left for her father: "I want you to know that everything is all right, Daddy. I mean you mustn't worry, really . . .

(You've given me) the courage to face whatever there is that's coming . . . " (p. 241) The tale ends with Wanderhope's final reflection: "Again the throb of compassion rather than the breath of consolation: the recognition of how long, how long is the mourner's bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship, all of us, brief links, ourselves, in the eternal pity." (p. 246)

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The framing story of this novel is simple: an elderly literary agent receives word that a person named Yvonne Bloomberg would like to meet with him. When he at last visits the woman, he discovers that she was an acquaintance from their youth--Yvonne Roberts--and she wishes to publish the journal that a mutual acquaintance, Dr. Simmonds, had bequeathed her. The agent agrees to read this journal, which provides most of the novel's text. A series of letters that appear in the last few pages indicate that, indeed, the journal is accepted for publication.

The journal recounts the first six months of 1950. Dr. Simmonds is an unmarried general practitioner nearing his 40th birthday. He has mixed feelings about his practice and his patients. For example, he likes Michael Butler, an irascible middle-aged man dying of cancer, but he dislikes many of his other patients, including Anton Bloomberg, a repulsive Jew with a "hooked nose," "too thick lips," and a "wheezing chest." (p. 25)

Bloomberg originally consults Simmonds about his young wife's frigidity; she simply will not perform her wifely duties. Simmonds himself is attracted to Bloomberg's beautiful young Yvonne, who mysteriously sends him a copy of a novel called Doctor Glas, published in 1905 by the Swedish author Hjalmar Soderberg [see annotation in this database]. Dr. Glas is the fictional journal of a doctor who treats Rev. Gregorius, a 57-year-old minister and his young wife. The wife complains that her husband's sexual advances are repulsive. From this point on, the story of Dr. Simmonds parallels in many ways that of Dr. Glas, a parallelism which Simmonds records in his journal and struggles to understand. Dr. Glas ultimately murders Rev. Gregorius.

Simmonds becomes obsessed with Yvonne Bloomberg and imagines that she is attracted to him. They interact in a variety of social settings, including a forum in which he suggests that he approves of euthanasia. She speaks to him of her husband's unwelcome advances. He considers killing her husband under the guise of treating his asthma, but shies away from taking that step. However, when Anton Bloomberg fails to respond to repeated injections of adrenalin during a severe asthmatic attack, Simmonds gives him morphine (which could kill him), then immediately relents and calls for an ambulance. Bloomberg recovers, but is permanently brain damaged.

Subsequently, Yvonne is free to spend the next 50 years living with her real lover (Hugh Fisher), and the two of them take care of her childlike husband. Simmonds, however, sinks into melancholy and several years later commits suicide.

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On with the Story

Barth, John

Last Updated: May-30-2003
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A man and woman, probably late middle-aged and married, check into a tropical holiday resort for their last annual vacation. One of them is dying. The man begins telling stories to the woman, as he has promised to, in the unspoken hope of postponing the ending that will separate them. The book consists of the twelve stories he tells, interspersed with her responses to the stories. Each story is in some way about the same two things: about being half of a couple--about love, partnership, and the prospect of loss--and about narrative--about communication, the construction of meaning, and about the way all stories (and lives), sooner or later, must end.

Like their teller, though, these stories do their best not to reach closure. An example is the second story, "Ad Infinitum," in which a woman receives some bad news by telephone--we deduce it concerns her husband's cancer diagnosis--and goes out to where he is working in the garden in order to tell him the news. She has to cross the space of the garden before giving him the information that will change everything for the worse, beginning the end of his life and their marriage.

It occurs to her that the space she must cross can be infinitely extended if, as Zeno's paradox has it, she can keep halving the distance that remains before she reaches her husband (and thus the end of their story). This would infinitely suspend time in their story. And yet, as she walks, she also knows she WILL reach him . . . until the narrator intervenes by breaking into her thoughts and beginning another story, effectively enacting Zeno's theory of the arrow that keeps re-beginning its flight towards the target. Just as stories stave off death in the frame narrative, they seem able to keep this man happily and innocently gardening, in suspended story-time at least, forever.

In the last story, the narrator returns to all the others, pulling together their interconnected patterns and allowing each a kind of closure that, while it reiterates the storyteller's resistance to endings, his act of "beguiling" himself, his wife, and perhaps death itself, "with narrative possibilities still unforeclosed" (224), also reminds us that stories need to end in order to mean.

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The Topic of Cancer

Fromm, Pete

Last Updated: May-12-2003
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Mickey, widowed but one year, and his young son, Duncan, drive East from their home in Wyoming, to vacation with Mickey's family on the Jersey shore. As the story develops, the reader learns that Carol, who died from ovarian cancer, was a westerner, and that Mickey is being tempted to return to the east coast with Duncan and reestablish life there.

The two arrive at the vacation cottage very early in the morning; Mickey needs to be with the ocean and what it means to him; Duncan, who has never seen an ocean, rushes to the experience. The child becomes fearful, as he looks at the vast expanse, calls up the idea of sharks, asks if his Mom waits at the "topic" of Cancer for them. The tension develops when Mickey chooses to swim to assuage his own grief, not realizing that his venture terrifies Duncan. The reunion of father and son points to a new understanding of what it means and will mean to each to go forward without Carol.

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What Girls Learn

Cook, Karin

Last Updated: May-12-2003
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Told from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old girl, this story about a single mother with two daughters who moves, marries, and dies of breast cancer handles a variety of difficult issues with sensitivity and spunk. A list of those issues--absent father, new stepfather, a thousand-mile move to a new social environment, first menstruation, sibling rivalry, an uncle with incestuous impulses, family secrets, sexual experimentation, cancer, and death--might make it sound like a catalogue of the trials of contemporary suburban young adulthood, but in fact the point of view of Tilden, the main character, keeps the story grounded in very believable, sometimes amusing, often poignant, recognizable truth about what it is to come into awareness of the hard terms of adult life.

The mother's cancer is narrated largely in terms of Tilden's experience of it: secrecy, eventual disclosure, partial information, losses of intimacy, feelings of betrayal, confusion about caregivers' roles, and in the midst of it all, the ordinary preoccupations of early adolescence. The generous and understanding stepfather and neighbors with limited but ready sympathies lighten some of the novel's darker themes.

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In Strange Places

Cogan, Nancy Adams

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The author of this chapbook of poems is the chaplain of a large geriatric outpatient unit in Iowa City. Her In Strange Places is a series of 23 "poem portraits," each one of them a short narrative that speaks for one of the patients who is "not to be defined by illness and years and deserve(s) to be free of the condescending devaluing attitudes" that the elderly often encounter." (p. 3)

The poems are particularly eloquent in speaking of the progressive losses of aging. For example, there is "At Ninety: Embers of a World," which depicts two elderly persons as they "decompensate in sorrow." (pp. 8-9); and "Of Late I Have Taken to Falling," in which a patient describes her recent falls, but concludes, "I shall not / fall again." (p. 16-17).

Other portraits deal lovingly with an "impressively calm" dying matriarch ("CHF and the Matriarch, p. 6) and "The Good Storyteller" (pp. 18-19), who "wants her life / to begin again / to call her out / to play her part / once more with / cleaner closets / open doors." In "Funeral Plan" (p. 22), we meet an elderly woman carefully considering the magnificent array of flowers she plans to have at her funeral, "no hot house roses please," but great expanses of seasonal flowers: "ditch lilies / apple blossoms / naked ladies . . . " and so forth.

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