Showing 281 - 290 of 435 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

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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As I Lay Dying

Neuhaus, Richard John

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

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The subtitle of this memoir is "Meditations upon Returning." Richard John Neuhaus is a Catholic priest and scholar, director of the Institute on Religion in Contemporary Life in New York City and described on the book cover as "one of the foremost authorities on religion in the contemporary world." The book is a meditation on his near-brush with death as a result of colon cancer.

As Fr. Neuhaus describes it, he underwent two colonoscopies to ascertain the cause of persistent abdominal symptoms, but in both cases his colon was pronounced completely normal. However, shortly thereafter, he developed extreme abdominal pain and was taken to the hospital, where emergency surgery was performed and a colon cancer the size of a "big apple" was removed. During the first procedure, the surgeon nicked his patient’s spleen, so a second emergent procedure was required to control hemorrhaging.

The two procedures left Fr. Neuhaus very near death, but he gradually recovered over a period of several months. When introducing the story of his illness, the author comments, "several lawyers have told me my case would make a terrific malpractice suit." (p. 79) But he says he won’t sue, because it would "somehow sully my gratitude for being returned from the jaws of death." (p. 80) In fact, he has considerable praise for his surgeon.

The narrative of Fr. Neuhaus’s illness occupies a relatively small proportion of this memoir. The first three of seven chapters consist of the author’s reflections on the meaning of suffering and death, and especially the existential question of "Why me, now?" (His answer is "Why not?) In chapter five Fr. Neuhaus describes a near-death experience that changed his life, a scene in which he heard two "presences" tell him, "Everything is ready now." In much of the rest of the book, the author examines and rejects the possibility that the experience was a dream or an hallucination. He is convinced that he witnessed the "door" to a more glorious life after death, and this has, in some sense, profoundly changed his present life.

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Matuschka Archive

Matuschka,

Last Updated: Mar-26-2003
Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Multimedia

Summary:

In 1991 the artist and model Matuschka was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. Following her surgery, which she discovered had not been necessary, Matuschka became an activist on breast cancer issues. Hoping to increase awareness of the prevalence of breast cancer and also to suggest a more positive self image for women who had had mastectomies, she continued producing artistic portraits of herself, many of them revealing the results of her mastectomy.

Her career took a very public turn with the appearance of her photographic self-portrait on the cover of the New York Times Magazine on August 15, 1993.(She appears in a tailored white dress cut away from her right shoulder and torso to give a full view of her mastectomy scar.)This photo (titled "Beauty out of Damage" and accompanied by Susan Ferraro’s article, "The Anguished Politics of Breast Cancer") and a dozen other photos and paintings were exhibited on the Web by the Pincushion Forum web site and later put into an archive. The archive also contains several texts that help orient viewers to the visual works.

Viewer-readers may be interested in numerous poems, stories, and longer works about breast cancer that have been annotated in this database. Especially recommended are: Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals; Betty Rollin’s First, You Cry, excerpt from; Joyce Wadler’s autobiography, My Breast; Marilyn Hacker’s poem sequence, Cancer Winter; Linda Pastan’s poem, Routine Mammogram; Henry Schneiderman’s poem sequence, Breast Cancer in the Family; and a story by Helen Yglesias, Semi-Private. Other titles may be found here by searching for "breast And cancer."

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

Beginning with an informative introduction on the form of lyric poetry known as elegy, this comprehensive anthology of English-language poems from the late middle ages to the present represents both what endures and what varies in modes of lamentation. The first section (pp. 35-147) is divided into four parts: watching the dying, viewing the dead, ceremonies of separation, and imagining the afterlife. The second, and much longer section (pp. 151-444), is composed of subsections lamenting the gamut of specific losses: dead family members, children, spouses and lovers, friends, those dead by violence, the great and beautiful, poets mourning other poets, self-elegies, and meditations on mortality.

Within each section poems are chronologically arranged "to show how historical and cultural differences have produced aesthetic changes" and to illuminate "the often strikingly transformed procedures for mourning devised by so many poets in our own era of mounting theological and social confusion." (p. 26) An index listing authors, poem titles, and first lines is another way of navigating this voluminous collection.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This masterful collection of essays was written by Gawande while he was a general surgery resident. The book consists of fourteen essays divided into three sections: Fallibility, Mystery, and Uncertainty. Although some of the essays fall clearly within the boundaries of the section title (such as "When Doctors Make Mistakes" and "When Good Doctors Go Bad" in the Fallibility section), others cross boundaries or don’t fall as squarely in these general themes ("Nine Thousand Surgeons," an anthropological essay on the cult and culture of a major surgical convention, is also located in the Fallibility section). Nevertheless, the many pleasures of the individual essays, the range of topics explored in depth, and the accuracy of the medicine portrayed are the true strengths of this work.

The book begins Dragnet-style with an Author’s Note: "The stories here are true." (p. 1) And it is this attention to fidelity that makes the essays so compelling. Because even when the truths are hard--the terrible acknowledgment by the medical neophyte about lack of skill and knowledge, the mistakes in judgment at all levels of doctoring, the nature of power relations and their effects on medical pedagogy and on the doctor-patient relationship, the gnawing uncertainties about so many medical decisions--the author confronts the issues head on with refreshing rigor, grace and honesty.

Many of the essays reference scientific and medical research (historical and current) as part of the exploration of the topic. This information is imbedded within the essay, hence avoiding a dry recitation of statistical evidence. Typically, the reader’s interest in an essay is immediately piqued by a story about a particular patient. For example, the story of an airway emergency in a trauma patient, her oxygen saturation decreasing by the second as Gawande and the emergency room attending struggle to secure an airway, surgical or otherwise, sets the scene for "When Doctors Make Mistakes."

This leads to a meditation on not only the culture of the Morbidity and Mortality Conference, with its strange mix of third-person case narrative and personal acceptance of responsibility by the attending physician (see Bosk, Charles, Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure, U. Chicago Press, 1981 for an in depth analysis of this culture), but also a positive examination of the leadership role that anesthesiologists have played in improving patient safety via research, simulator training and systems improvement.

Gawande’s journalistic verve takes him beyond the confines of his own hospital and training to interview patients and physicians on topics as diverse as incapacitating blushing ("Crimson Tide"), chronic pain ("The Pain Perplex"), malpractice and incompetence ("When Good Doctors Go Bad") and herniorraphy ("The Computer and the Hernia Factory"). In addition, he visits his own post-operative patients at home ("The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating" and "The Case of the Red Leg") which gives a longer view of postoperative recovery and a broader exposure to patients’ perspectives.

Some of the most telling moments come with the introduction of his children’s medical problems into the text. These range from the relatively straightforward (a broken arm, but a chance to comment on detection of child abuse in the emergency room) to the downright parental nightmare scary (severe congenital cardiac defect in their oldest child and a life-threatening respiratory infection in their prematurely born youngest).

These last two experiences are introduced to provide an angle on issues of choice. Choice of a fully trained, attending physician rather than a fellow to provide follow-up cardiac care for their oldest, and the choice to opt out of the decision-making process for whether to intubate the trachea of the youngest and hence leave the medical decisions up to the care team.

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