Showing 301 - 310 of 436 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

D Day, 1994

Coulehan, Jack

Last Updated: Nov-11-2002
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this five-stanza free verse poem the speaker, a physician, observes the patient, a young man dying of cancer and suffering pain in the arm he has lost to the disease. The patient watches television, and sees the fiftieth-anniversary commemoration of D Day, the Allied landing in France in World War II. The old soldiers, the war veterans, are enviable for the "honor" provided by the source of their losses and injuries, the sense of meaning that comes from winning a war, which is so unlike the arbitrary and passive suffering of cancer in which, as the speaker says, there's "no honor."

The patient has asked whether a scan would explain the pain in his phantom limb; the physician muses that a scan is the wrong place to look, not just because there is no arm to scan, but because what the cancer patient really lacks is a story which can make sense of and justify his misery. The veterans have such a story. Although they are aging and have suffered, the speaker longs to give his patient "their battles," the sense of significance and value (a story recognized by the whole world, as the TV broadcast indicates) which cancer lacks.

The poet plays with the "D's" of D Day: "deception, danger, death," are all inherent in the world, but seldom accessible to confrontation as they are in war (to this extent war is like the scan, making the sources of pain visible and so manageable). A fourth "D" is added, for "deliverance," implying that the "old men's stories" of battles and victory compensate for their suffering in a way that nothing can for the cancer patient.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Lance Armstrong, (currently) four time Tour de France cycling champion, is a survivor of metastatic testicular cancer. This book is largely the story of how his life changed from the moment of his diagnosis (October 2, 1996) onwards. He had been a world class cyclist prior to cancer, but his experience with cancer gave him profound insight not only into his life as a cyclist and competitor, but into life itself.

It is this latter insight which he recognizes as ultimately the most important aspect of his cancer experience. Armstrong notes: "Odd as it sounds, I would rather have the title of cancer survivor than winner of the Tour, because of what it has done for me as a human being, a man, a husband, a son, and a father." (p. 259)

Written in a conversational, straightforward tone, the book chronicles Armstrong's childhood in Texas as the son of a strong, loving, supportive, financially struggling, young mother; his beatings at the hands of a step-father; and his early excellence at endurance athletics. Armstrong became a brash powerhouse cyclist and began to enjoy the material rewards of winning while ignoring the onset of symptoms. At the time of diagnosis, the cancer had spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain.

He documents his search for optimal care, sperm banking, lack of health insurance, surgeries, chemotherapy, self-education and interactions with doctors and nurses. Through it all he acknowledges the tremendous support of his mother and friends, as well as sponsors who stuck with him with no assurance that he would survive, let alone race.

Before he was even through the first year, he decided to start a charitable organization, The Lance Armstrong Foundation, dedicated to cancer research and support of cancer survivors. Through this effort he met his future wife, Kristin Richard (Kik), and her love and support helped him through the dark days of emotional soul-searching post-treatment. The book also details her struggles with successful in vitro fertilization (They currently have a son and twin daughters).

Chapter Nine, The Tour, is an in depth look at the 1999 Tour de France which Armstrong won with the help of his US Postal Service teammates, expert coaching, and his will. This race is brutal, dangerous, and as Armstrong notes, both "a contest of purposeless suffering" and "the most gallant athletic endeavor in the world." (p. 215) He details the maneuvering in the peloton, the strategies, the stages and personalities.

The book concludes with reflections on the birth of his son, the anniversary of his cancer diagnosis, the love of his wife, and his need to ride.

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The Breast Cancer Wars

Lerner, Barron

Last Updated: Aug-28-2002
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Written by a medical historian who is also a physician, The Breast Cancer Wars narrates how breast cancer diagnostic methods and treatments have developed from the early twentieth century. More significantly, the book describes the debates and controversies that permeated this evolution and the ways in which not only clinicians and researchers, but, increasingly, women patients/activists shaped how we view, diagnose, and treat breast cancer today.

Individual chapters explore the influential (and ultimately contested) radical mastectomy procedure of William Halsted, the development of the "war" against breast cancer as a full-blown campaign developed and conducted within the public media and consciousness of the United States as well as within medical practice and research, the intertwined development of feminism and breast cancer activism, the "fall" of the radical mastectomy, and the continuing controversies surrounding mammography and genetic testing as modes of early detection and risk assessment. Lerner draws on a range of primary sources including texts from the archives of the American Cancer Society, the papers of doctors and patients, and advertisements from popular and professional magazines throughout the century.

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Say Yes Quickly

O'Connor, Mary Bradish

Last Updated: Aug-07-2002
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection of poems chronicles moments of felt experience in the writer's life before and after her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Starting with a memory of a carefree childhood lived in an era when streets were sanitized with DDT, and a poem entitled "The Body is the Repository of Memory," the poems move freely from close-ups of moments in the hospital or grieving at the waterside to wide-angle views of a life that has been and still is normal, worth living, pulsing, albeit a bit more irregularly, with creative energies.

Cumulatively the poems explore the paradox that illness (and a terminal prognosis) changes everything and also, but for the shadow it casts, changes very little. "Still," she writes in a final line, "my wild heart beats." The poems are interspersed with prose-poems that shift the focus toward the writer's reflections upon the project and circumstances of creating this "memory board"--a term borrowed from the Luba people of Africa, who bead boards that represent memories to pass on as visible legacies of lives they believe worthy of being remembered.

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By the Bedside

Vivante, Arturo

Last Updated: May-30-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A woman lies in her bed, dying of cancer. Several family members have gathered in the room around her, including her son Bruno. From the age of 11 Bruno had wanted to be an artist, but had become a doctor instead because it was easier to make a living. "And medicine at one point--when he was nineteen or twenty--had seemed more humane than the humanities, more artful than art." Yet four years earlier, Bruno gave up his medical practice in Rome to devote his life to painting. But now he is back to medicine, helping to coordinate the efforts of his mother's physicians.

The dying woman sips an opium solution to ease her pain. She teases Bruno about the many times she had embarrassed him as a child, by acting funny or assertive or eccentric, behaving very differently from the other children's mothers. She would always make people laugh. Likewise, she was never confused about what she wanted. Even now, tipsy with opium, she remains in charge, a rock among the gathered family members, deflecting their sadness with her good humor.

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Routine Mammogram

Pastan, Linda

Last Updated: May-15-2002
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem depicts the vulnerability a woman may feel during this procedure, one that feels anything but routine. Even though the mammogram turns out predictably normal, the patient knows that she is changed. She has seen the fragile faults deep in her body, and she knows that no one, not even her doctor with his reassuring diagnosis, can "give innocence back."

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Last Rites

Vivante, Arturo

Last Updated: May-10-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

The narrator's mother, having received "all the benefits of modern medicine," was still alive after 14 months. The son, himself a doctor, finally told her that she had cancer, after which she requested that she receive no treatment, other than pain control. Thus, her son provided her with a bottle of opium solution to use as needed. However, the other doctors continued their pretense that, if only she would take the "cure," she would get better.

She died six days later, "not slowly, like a train arriving at a station, but swiftly and convulsively, like a train derailing." She was buried without the priest's blessing because she hadn't been a practicing Catholic. However, the "ceremonies" of the craftsmen creating a masonry border around her grave, and of the stonecutter carving her headstone, were "last rites" more to her liking than the priest's prayers anyway, because she had never been fond of religion.

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The Doctor Stories

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Apr-09-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

In this collection Richard Selzer brings together 25 stories from his previous books, along with two new stories, Avalanche (see this database) and "Angel, Tuning a Lute." The unifying theme is the world of medicine and healing, which Selzer explores with a keen eye and compassionate heart. These stories are firmly grounded in the foibles, suffering, and exultation of the human body.

In the Introduction Selzer sketches the path by which he became a surgeon-writer and he indicates the origin of some of the stories. Particularly interesting are the stories that do homage to literary and historical figures; for example, "Poe's Light-house," which grew out of a fragment Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his last delirium, and "The Black Swan," a re-writing of a Thomas Mann novella (Mann's The Black Swan is annotated in this database).

Likewise, the story of how "Avalanche" was written is an interesting tale in itself. Selzer's description of pruning the story from his journal reminds me of Michelangelo's comment that the sculpture already exists in the block of marble. The sculptor merely removes the unnecessary stone. The Doctor Stories contains many of Selzer's tales that have become part of the Literature and Medicine canon; these include, for example, "Tube Feeding," "Sarcophagus," Imelda, Mercy, Brute, and Four Appointments with the Discus Thrower. (See this database for annotations of the latter four.)

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The Transparent Man

Hecht, Anthony

Last Updated: Apr-08-2002
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem begins, "I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis." The speaker is a woman who is dying of leukemia and Mrs. Curtis is the lady who comes around periodically with the book-cart, offering patients something to read. While the other patients are celebrating the holiday with family or friends, the speaker, who has no visitors, feels conspicuous and lonely. Thus, she is grateful for Mrs. Curtis' regular visit, especially since the book-cart lady appears willing to sit down and listen.

The patient's father is afraid to visit, since he knows "that I will predecease him / which is hard enough." Chemotherapy hasn't helped. The leukemia makes her so fatigued that she doesn't even feel like reading. So instead, she sits by the window and looks at the trees. Since the leaves have fallen, the trees look like "magnificent enlargements / Of the vascular system of the human brain."

The patient has given names to these "discarnate minds." For example, "there, near the path, / Is the great brain of Beethoven, and Kepler / Haunts the wide spaces of that mountain ash." These trees remind her of "The Transparent Man," a toy one of her friends had when they were girls. "It was made of plastic, with different colored organs, / And the circulatory system all mapped out / In rivers of red and blue." At the time she and her friend giggled, but now she remembers the intricacy with amazement, and stares at the riddle of the trees.

The dying patient decides not to take one of the books, but thanks Mrs. Curtis again for coming. [120 lines]

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What the Doctor Said

Carver, Raymond

Last Updated: Mar-05-2002
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
Chen, Irene

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry — Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Words rushing forth in a punctuationless stream, a patient describes how his doctor gives him the bad news of advanced lung cancer, and his reaction to it. There is an almost comical aspect as the doctor struggles to be both factual and sympathetic, and the patient struggles to absorb what he is being told. The doctor asks if the patient is able to find comfort and "understanding" from religion (since, apparently, he is unable to provide them). This triggers a brief poetic flight of fancy in the patient, but then he departs in a state of dazed politeness.

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