Showing 351 - 360 of 430 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

40, Still at Home

Jones, Thom

Last Updated: Jan-28-2000
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Margo Billis and her son, Matthew, barely endure a strained and rather twisted relationship. She is a 73 year old woman dying from cancer. Despite her illness, she continues to provide for her lazy, 40 year old son who still lives at home.

Matthew's condition might also be described as terminal in an emotional and psychological sense. He claims to suffer from endogenous depression and wastes most of his life sleeping for long periods of time in his garish green bedroom. His mother implores him to get a job but all he seems capable of is wallowing in self-pity.

Matthew has neither empathy nor sympathy for his mother's misery. One day he finds his mother dead in her bed. Her safe is open and contains $14,000, some undeposited but endorsed checks, a bottle of 200 morphine tablets along with a prescription for morphine, half a carton of cigarettes, and Hummel figurines. Matthew transports her corpse to the freezer in the garage where she will remain until he is ready to announce her death. Realizing he can co-sign her checks and forge her signature, he has finally found a job to his liking.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The writer describes her experience as a cancer patient, thrust into "the Land of the Sick" by the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer four years earlier. Although she is not ill, the fear of mortality embedded in a diagnosis of cancer is a dragon that haunts her existence.

To cope with the dragon she relies on talismen: her doctors, personal will, and her garden peas, an emblem of everyday life and its constant renewal. The talismen create the semblance of control over her situation. She observes that "doctors and patients are accomplices in staging a kind of drama" and that the patient and her continued well-being become talismen for the doctor too.

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The Mourner's Bench

Dodd, Susan

Last Updated: Dec-21-1999
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Leandra lives alone in the backwoods of North Carolina where she makes a small but sufficient living repairing antique dolls for a dealer who sells them to collectors. The broken and ragged dolls occupy an old "mourner's bench" in her one-room cabin. For ten years she has lived in relative contentment, though she carries the pain of a trip to Boston when her sister bore a defective child who died.

The sister committed suicide soon thereafter. During that visit, as Leandra's sister withdrew into late-pregnancy depression and hostility, Leandra and Wim took comfort in one another's presence and finally fell in love. But after the suicide, Leandra returns to North Carolina with no intention of ever seeing Wim again.

Now, ten years later, he shows up on her doorstep, wanting to spend the final months of his life with her; he has inoperable brain cancer. He knows what course it is likely to take. He wants only to see her, but she insists that if he is to reenter her life, she wants to see him through all of it, even the worst parts.

They weather and cherish the days with gentle humor, frankness, careful sharing of memory, and the deepest love either has ever experienced. Leandra's neighbor, a friend from childhood, helps Wim build an extension onto Leandra's little cabin, one of several ways he finds to "provide for her" as he wishes he could have earlier.

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God Said, Ha!

Sweeney, Julia; Sweeney, Julia

Last Updated: Oct-27-1999
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Julia Sweeney performs on film the dramatic monologue that she wrote and performed "live" on stage. The period of her life on which she focuses are the nine months of her brother's dying, when he and her parents moved into her home--an idyllic bungalow that she had set up for herself, following her recent divorce. Instead of having the opportunity to enjoy the freedom of being single again, she is thrust into the thicket of family relationships, the sadness of her brother's poor health, and the demands made by his treatment for lymphoma.

Her parents, she says, have always been for her a "source of comedy, or a reason to be in therapy." These are the resources Sweeney is able to tap as she comments with humor and insight on living like a child in her own home, as her mother takes over the household and bickers with her father, who is drinking too much. But even as she jokes about the clash in lifestyles between herself and her parents (after all, she hasn't lived with them for 16 years), she weaves into the narrative the nature of life with her brother, whom she accompanies for his daily radiation treatments and whom she ministers to as he undergoes chemotherapy.

While not minimizing the seriousness of her brother's illness, she (as well as he) can find the surreal humor in their medical encounters. Thus Julia Sweeney describes how, when scar tissue prevents further injection into his spinal fluid and the doctors recommend a brain "shunt" for that purpose, assuring them that other patients "love their shunts," brother Mike not only agrees to the procedure, but adopts the slogan, "I love my shunt" for every conceivable situation.

The surreal becomes the real when Julia learns that she too has cancer--a rare form of cervical cancer that will require a hysterectomy. Even as she describes her shock and horror at this new blow, Sweeney takes comfort in Mike's sense of humor: he accuses her of getting even with him for taking "the cancer spotlight." Her narration of picking up her own pathology slides and of making the decision not to have her ova ("eggs") harvested and fertilized are both funny and poignant.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

Editors Angela Belli, professor of English at St. John’s University in New York, and Jack Coulehan, physician-poet and director of the Institute for Medicine in Contemporary Society at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, have selected 100 poems by 32 contemporary physician-poets for this succinct yet meaty anthology. The book is subdivided into four sections, each of which is prefaced by an informative description and highlights of the poems to follow.

Section headings take their names from excerpts of the poems contained therein. There are poems that describe individuals--patients, family members ("from patient one to next"), poems that consider the interface between personal and professional life ("a different picture of me"), poems that "celebrate the learning process" ("in ways that help them see"), and poems in which the poet’s medical training is brought to bear on larger societal issues ("this was the music of our lives").

Several of the poems have been annotated in this database: Abse’s Pathology of Colours (9); Campo’s Towards Curing AIDS (13) and What the Body Told (94); Coulehan’s Anatomy Lesson (97), I’m Gonna Slap Those Doctors (21), The Dynamizer and the Oscilloclast: in memory of Albert Abrams, an American quack (129); Moolten’s Motorcycle Ward (105); Mukand’s Lullaby (33); Stone’s Talking to the Family (79) and Gaudeamus Igitur (109).

Other wonderful poems by these authors are also included in the anthology, e.g. Her Final Show by Rafael Campo, in which the physician tends to a dying drag queen, finally "pronouncing her to no applause" (11); "Lovesickness: a Medieval Text" by Jack Coulehan, wherein the ultimate prescription for this malady is to "prescribe sexual relations, / following which a cure will usually occur" (131); "Madame Butterfly" by David N. Moolten, in which the passengers in a trolley car are jolted out of their cocoons by a deranged screaming woman (142).

Space prohibits descriptions of all 100 poems, but each should be read and savored. Some others are particularly memorable. "Carmelita" by D. A. Feinfeld tells of the physician’s encounter with a feisty tattooed prisoner, who ends up with "a six-inch steel shank" through his chest as the physician labors futiley to save him (23). In "Candor" physician-poet John Graham-Pole struggles with having to tell an eight-year old that he will die from cancer (27). Audrey Shafer writes of a Monday Morning when she makes the transition from the "just-awakened warmth" of her naked little son to tend to the patient whom she will anesthetize "naked under hospital issue / ready to sleep" (72).

In "The Log of Pi" Marc J. Straus muses about being asked "the question / I never knew" that he "pretend[s] not to hear" whose "answer floats on angel’s lips / and is whispered in our ear just once" (113). Richard Donze wants to know why "Vermont Has a Suicide Rate" (132). Vernon Rowe remembers the "hulk of a man" who shriveled away from an abdominal wound and begged, " ’Let me go, Doc,’ / and I did" (44).

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Another World

Barker, Pat

Last Updated: Sep-22-1999
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Nick and Fran move into an old house with their family: Miranda, thirteen, Nick's daughter from a previous marriage (her mother has been hospitalized with depression); eleven-year-old Gareth, Fran's son (who was almost aborted); and a toddler, Jasper, the child of both. Fran is pregnant again. Nick tries to hold them together as a family, but must also take care of Geordie, his grandfather, who is dying of cancer at the age of 101.

Geordie believes that what's killing him is a bayonet wound he received in World War I. As his disease progresses, the old man relives the war, especially the battle in which his brother died, with increasing vividness. After Geordie's death, Nick learns that in the battle he had killed his wounded brother who may, he thinks, otherwise have survived.

Geordie tells the story in an interview with a historian working on memory and war, and confesses that he hated his brother. She gently tells him that "a child's hatred" is different, but he--like the novel itself--refuses to see this as mitigation. Geordie's tale resonates both with what Nick learns about the house he bought--in 1904 the older children of the family living there were believed to have murdered their two-year-old sibling--and with Gareth and Miranda's resentment of Jasper, which has near-fatal consequences.

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East of the Mountains

Guterson, David

Last Updated: Aug-18-1999
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ben Givens, a retired surgeon whose wife of several decades has recently died, knows he has inoperable colon cancer. The only other person who knows is a friend and colleague; he hasn't told his daughter or grandson, not wanting to burden them with the news. Not wanting, either, to burden them with his eventual care, or to face the inevitable deterioration and pain to come, he decides to take a putative hunting trip into the mountains where he hunted quail as a boy and there to stage what is to look like an accident by shooting himself.

His plans are thwarted, however, when he gets into a road accident, is helped by a young couple, has to attend to an injured dog and later a young migrant worker giving birth. Life keeps intruding on his plans to die. In the course of several long and eventful days, memories of childhood and young adulthood, love, college, the war, medical school, return to give him back the story of his life and eventually lead him to reconsider how that story should end.

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The Lives of the Dead

O'Brien, Tim

Last Updated: Jul-09-1999
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This excerpt from Tim O'Brien's autobiographical fiction about the war in Vietnam is a reverie of memory, dream, and story that resurrects the dead. The dead are fellow soldiers, the enemy dead, and a first love who died in childhood.

Tim, the narrator and writer, was only four days into his tour of duty when his platoon commander ordered an air strike against a village that is the source of sniper fire. When the platoon walked through the destroyed village, they found one old, dead, mutilated villager. Tim's fellow soldiers had developed a ritual of "greeting the dead" in which they pretended the dead person was still alive, was someone to be greeted, spoken to, both in mockery and in respect. They applied this ritual to the enemy dead as well as to their own dead.

Both repelled and fascinated by the ritual, Tim remembered his own method for animating the dead-in childhood-friend, Linda, whom he mourned and continues to mourn. After she died of brain cancer, he intentionally dreamed her alive and held conversations with her, just as his compatriots held conversations with their dead colleagues. Now, years later, he is telling the story of these experiences, these dead, these rituals, "keeping the dead alive," and "trying to save Timmy's [his younger self's] life with a story."

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This book concerns the care of dying persons. Hospice care provides a multidisciplinary approach to caring for the whole person, including his or her physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Often, however, discussion about hospice or palliative care tends to focus almost exclusively on relieving physical symptoms. Kearney tells us a number of dying patients' stories. Some die at peace, in seeming fulfillment. Others die in great distress, with what Kearney calls "soul pain," a deep existential anguish that is not relieved by symptom control or social support.

Kearney proposes two complimentary models to describe what occurs in dying persons whose "soul pain" is relieved. For the first, he recounts the Greek myth of Chiron. The wise centaur Chiron suffered from an incurable arrow wound inflicted by Hercules. Chiron learned that if he would be willing to sacrifice his immortality on behalf of Prometheus, he would be freed from his suffering. After he did this and descended into the underworld, Zeus raised him to the heavens, where he became a constellation.

Thus, the mythological model has a hero who is wounded, struggles, makes a choice, then descends into the depths, and finally returns transformed. The second, psychological model portrays the mind as having a surface rational part (where the ego resides) and a deep symbolic and intuitive part (where the "deep center" resides). The relief of "soul pain" lies in choosing to reject the ego's resistance and "letting go" to get in touch with the deep center.

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A Whole New Life

Price, Reynolds

Last Updated: Jun-28-1999
Annotated by:
Borgenicht, Louis

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is a personal narrative by one of America's most accomplished authors. For the past thirty years Reynolds Price has written novels, stories, poems, essays. In this memoir Price describes his battle with a spinal tumor detected in 1984 which left him with some neurological impairment. He struggled with his own rehabilitation and eventually recovered with the aid of biofeedback and hypnosis.

The most compelling part of the book is near the end. The author muses about the meaning of his illness, "advice I'd risk conveying to a friend confronted with grave illness or other physical or psychic trauma" (p.182). He puts the travails of life into a philosophical perspective that is almost Zen-like.

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