Showing 351 - 360 of 441 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

Vigil

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.

Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.

Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.

Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.

Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)

He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.

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The Resurrection Machine

Gehrke, Steve

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This interesting and meaningful book of poems is difficult to describe and to classify. The author has had three kidney transplants and so is knowledgeable about chronic illness and its impact. Though he does write about dialysis and transplantation, he also writes about many other kinds of illness, including the chronic fatigue syndrome, dementia, autism, cancer, and mental illness.

"Three Doctors" describes the gathering of physicians each morning to check on their narrator/patient, regardless of who overhears their conversation. The "Non-verbal Autistic Man" traces the daily, lockstep gait of a human being who speaks only one phrase and who walks the same path over and over. Not all of the poems concern the failure of the body. There are also descriptive poems about the Midwest and about various well known personages. The constant reinvention of the individual, even in the face of difficulty and death, is a common theme of this collection.

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Zink

Bennett, Cherie

Last Updated: Jul-06-2000
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Ten-year-old Becky Zaslow is diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) just before her class talent show. The sudden changes in her world include a hospital roommate whose experience with chemotherapy has left her rude and embittered; a lively nurse who levels with her; and parents who react strongly and differently to her illness. Even though the treatments leave her bald and weakened, she shows up at the talent show just before her bone marrow transplant, to the acclaim of all but one of her classmates.

A key coping strategy for Becky is an increasingly vivid fantasy life in which she finds friends among a herd of zebras and one monkey. Holding her stuffed zebra, she "travels" to Africa to escape the pain and trauma of treatments. Gradually she loses ground; as her body gives way, her mind and spirit move increasingly to the other world where an old zebra offers wisdom and help for the crossing she is about to make. She dies, leaving behind a journal that becomes her younger brother's incentive to learn to read, a task he has been resisting.

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Survival Rates

Clyde, Mary

Last Updated: Jul-06-2000
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

In the title story of this collection, "Survival Rates," a husband's thyroid cancer appears to be a greater threat to his marriage than it does to his health. The young girl who survives an accident in "Jumping" ends up a casualty anyway. In "Howard Johnson's House," a plastic surgeon repairs a nine year old girl's nose after it is severely damaged by a dog bite. Even before the injury, however, the child's nose was hideous. When the surgeon gives her a cosmetically perfect nose, the girl's mother is not merely disappointed but outraged. Two girls must adapt to life after colon surgery in "Krista Had a Treble Clef Rose."

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The Wisdom of the Body

Nuland, Sherwin

Last Updated: Jun-19-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Written by surgeon and renowned author Sherwin B. Nuland, this book offers both a detailed look into the workings of the human body and a glimpse into the heart and work of the author. Furthermore, it is also a philosophical treatise on the wonder of human life and the beauty of "animal economy." As a human biology text for the layman, the book explicates the major organ systems of the human body, such as the nervous system (including the sympathetic nervous system), the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal tract, the immunologic and hematologic systems (including coagulation, cell lines, lymphatics), and the urogenital system (including reproduction and childbirth).

Nuland intertwines dramatic stories of his surgical patients with the systems review. For instance, the book begins with the near death of a woman by hemorrhage from a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm. Another dramatic story involves the near death of a young diabetic woman from bacterial overgrowth in the gut. The reader also hears the patients' versions of their illness experiences--Nuland gives direct quotes from what they have said or written about their experiences. Through it all, Nuland expresses his awe and wonder at the workings and capabilities of the human body.

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Taking the History

Watts, H. David

Last Updated: Jun-19-2000
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In the first poem, Starting the I.V. (see this database) the poet tells us that he will approach the secrets of the body without flinching, "I have learned not to hesitate here, / not to let fears of my own" get in the way. The instrument he uses is the poem. Through these poems he reveals some of the hidden truth of the healing relationship. "A transformation," he calls it, "as if through this intimacy / we have become part / of each other." ("Physical Exam")

Watts captures the pain and horror of illness in striking images. For example, the numbness felt by a person suffering from multiple sclerosis "felt like oatmeal / drying on the skin" and the disease itself was "this moth of his nightmare / . . . eating at the wool / of his nerve endings." ("ms") In another poem ("restrictive") a patient's tortured breath "creaks like a tight box / a ship in a storm." Among the most remarkable of these 35 poems are "The Body of My Brother," "July 16th," "Chronic Pain Syndrome," and the exquisite prose-poem, "The Girl in the Painting by Vermeer."

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In the Gloaming

Dark, Alice Elliott

Last Updated: Jun-01-2000
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The title story, "In the Gloaming," recounts a mother's final weeks with her 33 year old son who is dying from AIDS. Janet realizes that "the enemy was part of Laird, and neither he nor she nor any of the doctors or experts or ministers could separate the two." (p. 29) He dies at home with his mother next to him.

"Home" depicts the struggle of an elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's dementia who is being coerced by her family to live in a nursing home. She immediately understands that living there would essentially kill her.

In "Watch the Animals," Diana Frick is a wealthy animal lover who has no interest in human relationships. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, she refuses conventional treatment and continues to smoke cigarettes. Surrounded by her pets, she commits suicide by drug overdose but not before she has arranged new homes for all her animals.

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Rich Men Tend to Be Strange

Klíma, Ivan

Last Updated: May-10-2000
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Alois Burda loves money. He is a wealthy owner of a car dealership who has many acquaintances but no true friends. He has been married twice and has three children but is uninterested in his family. Prior to his sixtieth birthday, he experiences weight loss, abdominal pain, and night sweats. Burda is diagnosed with inoperable metastatic cancer of the pancreas.

He seems worried most about what to do with his property and money. Before entering the hospital, he hides his money in some old slippers until he can decide what to do with it. He is comforted by a young nurse, Vera, whose voice reminds him of his mother's. After he dies, Burda's wife discards her husband's belongings into a heap of rubbish, unaware of the fortune hidden in his slippers.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

The author, a Canadian physician-historian-educator, blows the dust off the shelves of medical history with this fascinating text designed for medical students, educators, and those with an interest in history of medicine. Duffin begins this survey of the history of Western medicine with a glimpse at a pedagogical tool designed to spark the interest of even the most tunnel visioned medical students: a game of heroes and villains. In the game, students choose a figure from a cast of characters selected from a gallery of names in the history of medicine.

Using primary and secondary sources, the students decide whether the figures were villains or heroes. The winner of the game is the student who first recognizes that whether a person is a villain or hero depends on how you look at it. This philosophy imbues the entire book, as this treatise is not a tired litany of dates, names and discoveries, but rather a cultural history of the various times in which medical events occurred.

The book is organized by topics which roughly follow a medical school curriculum: anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, health care delivery systems, epidemiology, hematology, physical diagnosis and technology, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, psychiatry, pediatrics, and family medicine. The last chapter, entitled "Sleuthing and Science: How to Research a Question in Medical History," gives guidance to formulating a research question and searching for source material. Fifty-five black and white illustrations are sprinkled throughout the book, as well as 16 tables.

Direct quotes from historical figures, such as Galen and Laennec, as well as excerpts from writings of eyewitnesses of events, anecdotes and suggestions for discussion, appear in boxes within the chapters. Many of the chapters contain discussion about the formation of professional societies. Each chapter ends with several pages of suggested readings and the third appendix delineates educational objectives for the book and individual chapters. The other two appendices list the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and tools for further study, including titles of library catalogues, and resources in print and on-line.

Although the book is a survey covering multiple eras and topics, each chapter contains choice tidbits of detail. For instance, the chapter on obstetrics and gynecology includes the story and photograph of Dr. James Miranda Barry, the mid-nineteenth century physician, surgeon and British military officer, who was discovered to be a woman at the time of her death. The impact of the stethoscope on the practice of medicine is explored in depth in the chapter, "Technology and Disease: The Stethoscope and Physical Diagnosis."

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Summary:

This posthumously published collection of essays by Dr. Klawans, an eminent neurologist and writer, explores the interactions between patient, family and neurologist and the implications of specific neurologic diseases. Klawans's special interest in neurology is movement disorders, such as Huntington's chorea and Parkinson's disease, but his outside interests range from evolutionary biology to classical music. His essays, therefore, focus on single patients or families, but the author weaves thoughts about his other interests into each "case."

The book is divided into two sections, "The Ascent of Cognitive Function" and "The Brain's Soft Spots: Programmed Cell Death, Prions, and Pain." In a brief preface, Klawans declares that this book is "more than just a set of clinical tales about interesting and at times downright peculiar patients" from his 35 years of practice, but rather it "humbly grapples with the 'whys' of our brain, not the 'hows.'" (pp. 9-10) In the preface, as well as in one essay, Klawans acknowledges the work and impact of fellow neurologist-writer Oliver Sacks ("Oliver is truly the father of us all." p 12).

The title essay concerns a six-year-old girl who was found, locked and completely speech-deprived, in a closet. Because she is still within the window of opportunity for language acquisition, "Lacey" quickly learns to speak, unlike Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron, whose story was immortalized in the François Truffaut film, L'enfant Sauvage. Klawans uses these stories as a launch pad to discuss the evolution of language, including a proposal that the cavewoman, not the man, was responsible for development of the human species as she taught her offspring language.

Other chapters focus on patients with epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, localized and hemispheric stroke, "painful-foot-and-toe syndrome, " and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Two particularly memorable chapters concern Huntington's chorea and Refsum's disease. The chapter, "Anticipation," explores the profound ethical concerns of genetic testing for Huntington's chorea as applied to three generations of one particular family. In the chapter, "The Hermit of Thief River Falls," Klawans recollects his first year as a neurology resident, and his care of a reclusive patient with a rare eponymous illness, Refsum's disease--just in time for a visit by Refsum himself, a famous Norwegian neurologist.

The book concludes with a speculative "afterthought" about genetics, evolution, and the importance of extended "juvenilization" --the protracted post-natal development of Homo sapiens. This essay intertwines some of the threads regarding speech development and evolutionary biology, particularly brain development, that were introduced earlier in the text.

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