Showing 51 - 60 of 435 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

Our Cancer Year

Pekar, Harvey; Brabner, Joyce

Last Updated: Oct-17-2012
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

The year is 1990; a lump in the groin which Harvey had ignored has enlarged and his wife convinces him to have it checked out. It turns out to be a lymphoma and thus begins the yearlong chronicle. Intertwined with the couple's struggle with diagnosis and treatment is their decision to buy a home, and Joyce's work with an international group of teenagers who have survived war. However, the bulk of this unconventional work depicts in a stark and straightforward way the energy necessary to survive not just cancer, but cancer treatment.

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The Sickness

Tyszka, Alberto

Last Updated: Aug-23-2012
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

It started with a faint. Javier Miranda, a generally healthy 69-year-old man living in Venezuela, attributes his episode of dizziness to the summer heat and humidity. His only child, Andres Miranda, is a physician whose intuition tells him something is seriously wrong with his father. The doctor obtains blood work and schedules a CT scan and MRI of the brain for Javier. The medical work-up reveals rapidly progressing lung cancer with metastases to the brain. Violating his credo of complete honesty with patients, Dr. Miranda lies to his father and reassures him instead. Dr. Miranda's mother died when he was just 10 years old. Now his father's remaining lifespan has dwindled to a couple of months. The doctor must find a way to break the bad news to his dad.

Meanwhile, Dr. Miranda receives multiple messages - phone calls, e-mails, and letters - from a difficult and persistent patient. Ernesto Duran suffers from dizzy spells and multiple other symptoms. It could be panic disorder or maybe Ernesto is a hypochondriac. Dr. Miranda instructs his office secretary, Karina, to deal with these communications and remind the patient that there is nothing more that can be done for him. When Ernesto admits he is stalking the doctor, Karina worries. Pretending to be Dr. Miranda, she begins corresponding with Ernesto via e-mail. Before long, Karina develops symptoms similar to Ernesto's and experiences empathy for him.

When his physician-son finally summons the courage to announce the terminal diagnosis, everything changes for Javier - his mood, personal relationships, and awareness of his body's metamorphosis. He perceives the smell of rot associated with his physical deterioration. Dr. Miranda's frame of mind also changes as he copes with his father's impending death. Javier's deathbed request is simply for his son to shatter the terrible silence by talking about the two of them.

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Illness as Narrative

Jurecic, Ann

Last Updated: Jul-03-2012
Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

In Illness as Narrative, Ann Jurecic thoughtfully examines the unruly questions that personal accounts of illness pose to literary studies: What is the role of criticism in responding to literature about suffering?  Does the shared vulnerability of living in a body, which stories of illness intimately expose, justify empathic readings?   What is the place of skepticism in responding to stories of suffering?  Does whether or how we read illness narratives matter?  Jurecic's questions entice discussion at an interesting cultural moment.  The numbers of memoirs and essays about illnessand their inclusion in medical school and other humanities coursesmultiplied from the later decades of the 20th century to the present.   However, their increase, and their potential to encourage empathic readings, coincided with dominant literary theories that advocated vigorously skeptical, error-seeking responses to texts and their authors.  Jurecic reminds us that Paul Ricoeur called such responses "the hermeneutics of suspicion" (3). 

Jurecic's astutely researched, nuanced answers to those questions propose a corrective to the extreme skepticism of "disembodied criticism." Such criticism, she claims, dismisses testimonial writing from "a position of distance and privilege."  But her answers also affirm that intellectually "rigorous" responses to texts are central to the critical humanities (15).  To further her position, she offers attentive readings of accounts of illness by Virginia Woolf, Reynolds Price, and Jean-Dominique Bauby, as well as the theoretical writing of literary and other scholars.  For instance, Jurecic speculates that the condition of a reader's body aligns with his or her responses to texts.  In a chapter called "Theory's Aging Body," she observes that as skeptical scholarly readers ageStephen Greenblatt, Michel Foucault, Judith Butlerthey have turned their attention to "illness, vulnerability, and mortality" (93).  Jurecic also suggests that a function of criticism is to uncover the cultural conditions that memoirs and essays about illness respond to.  Living "at risk" is a recent one.  In stories of living with the risk of experiencing a particular illness in the future, potential patients create narratives of uncertainty to discover the "personal meaning of the impersonal statistics" that medical research now regularly delivers (18). 

 Jurecic also reflects on the ways theorists have understood the possibilities of representing and responding to pain in the varied approaches of philosophers Elaine Scarry, Martha Nussbaum, and Richard Rorty and of anthropologists Jean E. Jackson, Byron Good, and Veena Das.  In an exceptionally comprehensive and nuanced reading of Susan Sontag's theoretical, fictional, and journal writing about suffering, Jurecic uncovers Sontag's inconsistent, yet revelatory positions on the human capacity for responding to representations of pain.  The chapter on Sontag is enriched by Jurecic's reading of Annie Lebovitz's and David Reiff's responses to Sontag's suffering: in Lebovitz's controversial photographs of Sontag's final days (included in A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005) and Reiff's memoir about his mother's illnesses (Swimming in a Sea of Death). 

Illness as Narrative closes with examples of what Jurecic calls reparative writing and reading practices.  In the first instance, ill writers such as Jean-Dominique Bauby (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) both recreate "a more coherent sense of themselves" and dislodge "fixed ideas and narratives" about illness (109).  In the second instance, Jurecic outlines the limits of two competing readings of Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.  One assumes that readers will by nature empathically imagine those who are culturally different from themselves.  The other looks skeptically at the assumption that what medical educators call cultural competence can be acquired by reading a book.  Jurecic suggests that strategies for reading and teaching informed by Janelle S. Taylor, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Rita Felski can encourage more complex habits of response, such as Taylor's "'empathic curiosity'" (quoted 122).

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Jo Spence Archive

Spence, Jo

Last Updated: Apr-26-2012
Annotated by:
Metzl, Jonathan

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Multimedia

Summary:

Unfortunately,the archive as described and annotated here is no longer available on line. The quotes, summary, and commentary below are nevertheless worth reading. Some images may be found as noted in Miscellaneous below.

Powerful series of self-portrait photographs documenting the artist’s fight against breast cancer, accompanied by a narrative describing her responses to the medical community. In early images, Spence undergoes mammography, lumpectomy, and finally, mastectomy (images 1-3, 5). These "clinical" images provide a temporal narrative of the course of Spence’s "illness," while concomitantly tracing the inter-relationship between the corporal/medical and the artistic body. In so doing, Spence calls into question medical notions of autonomy and ownership, while re-claiming her "right" to the representation of her body-parts.

In later images, Spence rejects Western medicine, in favor of alternative therapies such as acupuncture (image 4) and phototherapy (image 6). As Spence writes: "Women attending hospital with breast cancer often have to subject themselves to the scrutiny of the medical photographers as well as the consultant, medical students and visiting doctors. Once I had opted out of orthodox medicine I decided to keep a record of the changing outward condition of my body. This stopped me disavowing that I have cancer, and helped me to come to terms with something I initially found shocking and abhorrent."

Supporting text by Terry Dennett (Curator, Jo Spence Memorial Archive) at the end of the series of images provides additional excerpts from Spence’s writing, and several useful links to breast cancer awareness sites.

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Sailing

Kenney, Susan

Last Updated: Feb-12-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A few years into their marriage, while their children are still young, Sara and Phil discover that he has an aggressive form of cancer.  He undergoes grueling surgery, but the cancer returns.  For Sara the prospect of Phil's death reawakens the trauma of losing her father when she was twelve.  Phil does his best to live a normal life between chemotherapy treatments and further surgeries, and even enters an experimental treatment in hope of seeing his children grow up.  His greatest pleasure in life is sailing, and one of his deepest hopes for his remaining time with his family to enjoy sailing with them in the ocean near their New England home.  But Sara finds it scary, even though she gamely learns to crew, and the kids never take to it.  So Phil sails with friends, and sometimes alone.  After learning that the cancer has continued to spread despite every medical effort, Phil decides to take one last sailing trip, this time alone, on the ocean.  There he has to make a decision:  his intention is simply to sail until his body gives out and die on the boat he loves, sparing Sara, he thinks, having to watch him die a slow and painful death.  But he begins to realize that letting her see him through might, after all, be a better way to go.  As the novel ends, he turns the boat, now quite far from land, toward home.  

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Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA is the biography of the scientist whose research James Watson and Francis Crick needed to elucidate the structure of the DNA molecule.  Even though the discovery has had profound implications for modern medicine, Franklin's contribution to it almost remained obscure.

In 1968 Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) became visible to the world beyond a small circle of scientists when Watson published The Double Helix (1968), his "personal account" of puzzling out DNA.  If not for Watson's self-incriminating candor about stealing glances at Franklin's research, we might not know how crucial her lucid x-ray diffractions of hydrated DNA were to him and Francis Crick.  However, the account that indirectly acknowledged Franklin's contribution to their work represented her in a patronizing caricature.  Since ovarian cancer took her life a decade before Watson's memoir appeared, others have been left to respond to his version of the DNA story and representation of his female colleague.  Among Franklin's defenders, Brenda Maddox offers the most complete and insightful restoration of the scientist, her research, and her life. 

Maddox's biography draws from not only the many scientific archives and personal papers of scientists Franklin worked with in England, Europe, and America, but also from previously undisclosed letters written by Franklin, her friends, and her family.  Maddox also interviewed Franklin's relatives.  Doing so allowed her to position Franklin's life within the history of her close, extended Anglo-Jewish family, generations of wealthy London publishers and bankers who experienced discrimination.  This history does more than belie some of Watson's hasty assumptions about Franklin's background.  It creates a biography of a complex woman who negotiated biases as a citizen and a scientist.     

The biography is divided into three parts.  The first narrates the story of Franklin's childhood, rigorous education, and successful career before accepting the fateful research post at King's College, London.  She's known for thinking skeptically and working mathematically.  Yet early on she showed an aptitude for three-dimensional thinking and for understanding crystalline structures.   As an undergraduate at Cambridge she speculated about a "'Geometrical basis for inheritance'" (56).

The second section concentrates on the 27 months at King's when she worked uneasily with Maurice Wilkins, who showed her revelatory x-rays of DNA to Watson.   This balanced account of a controversial episode in the history of science offers evidence that Franklin was close to drawing the same conclusion about the structure of DNA that Watson and Crick rushed into print.  This section also accessibly explains the molecular biology of her day and the painstaking physical and intellectual intricacies of making and interpreting x-rays of crystalline molecules. 

The third section reminds us that Franklin had a very productive, though short career after leaving DNA to others.  She directed research programs for the study of plant viruses, and she investigated the polio virus shortly before she died.  Respected scientists, including Crick, praised her research.   Many, unlike Wilkins, liked working with her.  More than 40 years after viewing what's known as Franklin's Photograph 51, Watson publicly acknowledged that seeing it "'was the key event'" in understanding the geometry of DNA (316).  (See the note on Photo 51 below.)        

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In Another Country

Kenney, Susan

Last Updated: Jan-17-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this series of six linked stories the narrator, Sara Boyd, weaves together stories of loss: her father's death when she was twelve, her husband's diagnosis of terminal kidney cancer, her mother's recurrent descent into mental illness, and even the death of a beloved dog. The stories merge in ways that reinforce the notion that new griefs bring up old ones, and that the trajectories of mourning are unpredictable and sometimes surprising in the conflicting currents of emotion they evoke. Sara doesn't present her life only in terms of losses, but the losses frame the story in such a way as to suggest that while key losses may not trump all other life-shaping events, they do organize and color them. The mother's mental illness is, in its way, a crueler loss than the death of Sara's beloved father, since hope of recovery keeps being dashed. Her siblings and children are marginal characters, but enter the stories enough to develop complex family contexts of caregiving.

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The Art of Racing in the Rain

Stein, Garth

Last Updated: Jan-06-2012
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The story of race-car driver Denny Swift, as told by his appealing dog, Enzo, is his death-basket memoir. Denny’s tale of woe seems endless. His wife, Eve, dies of a brain tumour and he is in a struggle with her parents for custody of his daughter Zoë. Making matters worse, he is falsely accused of raping a minor by a 15 year-old who has a crush on him.

Enzo would love to intervene. However, he is frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs—but he sees clearly the worth of his master and the need for careful perseverance—like racing in the rain.

 

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This is a huge and wonderful book about cancer, the collection of diseases that sickens people all over the globe and kills many of them. An epigraph to the book states, “A quarter of all American deaths, and about 15 percent of all deaths worldwide, will be attributed to cancer,” but the book also describes medical advances that now heal, prevent, or palliate most forms of cancer.

Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, has several strong themes. He sees cancer as an affliction with a long history, a story worthy of a biography; indeed recent discoveries show it to be rooted in our genes (although external factors such as viruses, asbestos, and tobacco smoke can cause genetic disruption). The story of cancer implies a surrounding triangle, the stories of sick people, treating physicians, and biological researchers, all of which Mukherjee artfully weaves across 472 pages. Cancer has Rohrschach blot qualities: depending on time, place, and role in life, humans have perceived different attributes of cancer. As the book ends, however, there is a coalescence of scientific understanding that is satisfying—although there is certainly more to be learned and we are all still vulnerable to genetic errors and, of course, we are intractably mortal.

Another strand is the nature of stories themselves, their twists and turns, presumed early solutions, and personal and social values embedded in them. Mukherjee threads throughout the book the case of a contemporary kindergarten teacher, Carla Reed, who has a leukemia. He bookends his text with ancient Persian Queen Atossa with (presumably) breast cancer. Reed, healed by the end of the book, was Mukherjee’s patient; Atossa was described by Herodotus: both suffered emotional turmoil because of their disease.  Mukherjee understands the affective dimensions of disease for patients and caregivers alike; literature represents these in various ways, and he quotes in his chapter epigraphs and in his prose many writers who describe human experience deeply: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Susan Sontag, Charles Dickens, Thomas Mann, William Carlos Williams, Carlo Levi, and Italo Calvino, to name a few.

The primary story, however, is the interplay of cancer and a large cast of observers, investigators, doctors, scientists, activists, and government officials. Sidney Farber and Mary Lasker dominate the first 100 pages with their two-decade war against cancer. While surgery—historically dramatic and disfiguring—had been a mainstay for treatment of cancer, Farber pursued a biochemical route, which elaborated into chemotherapy, the second major approach of the late 20th century.

Mukherjee also explains ancient views, Hippocrates’, Galen’s humors, Vasealius’ anatomy, Hunter’s stages, Lister’s antisepsis, and Röntgen’s X-rays, which became the third major approach. By 1980, however, the American “War on Cancer” had not been won.

Further advances in cellular biology and genetics would be needed to make targeted molecular therapy possible.  Mukherjee tells this complicated story clearly and engagingly, showing the human investigators to be personable and dogged in their pursuits.  

Another important approach is prevention. The biostatistical work of Doll and Hill, for example, showed the links between tobacco and lung cancer. Screening, such as Pap smears and mammograms, also saved lives, but the basic cellular understanding still eluded investigators.

The final 150 pages explain the search for and discovery of genetic factors, specifically oncogenes. Harold Varmus and J. Michael Bishop were the leaders, winning a Nobel Prize in 1989. Bert Vogelstein, Judah Folkman, Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan took the work further, opening the doors for such drugs as Herceptin, Gleevec, and Avastin. 

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Summary:

Johanna Shapiro, Director of the Medical Humanities Program at University of California Irvine School of Medicine, brings her considerable skills and experience as medical educator, writer and literary critic to this unique volume of medical student poetry. Shapiro collected over 500 poems by medical students not only from her home institution but also from other US medical schools and performed a content and hermeneutic analysis. As Shapiro carefully details in her methodology section, she treats "poetry as a form of qualitative data, and [therefore] techniques of analysis developed for other sources of qualitative data (such as interviews, focus groups, and textual narratives) can be applied to an understanding of poetry." (p. 42)

Relying on the work of Arthur W. Frank (see The Wounded Storyteller), Shapiro devises a typology of student poems: chaos, restitution (and anti-restitution), journey, witnessing, and transcendence (this last category was not Frankian in origin). These categories are developed and explicated in Chapter 2: Functions of Writing for Medical Students. As the author notes, poems traverse the boundaries between types; nonetheless, the framework of the analysis rests with this typology. Further, Shapiro explores the metaphors of topography (illness as a foreign land) and quest (student on a heroic, however tentative or confused, journey) throughout her study.

The book contains many fully reproduced medical student poems, contextualized with academic theory on medical education. Hundreds of references, particularly in the fields of narratology and medical education, are cited. After three chapters of theory and methods, eight topics are explored using the outlined analytic tools: anatomy class, becoming a physician, patient experience, doctor-patient relationship, student-patient relationship, social and cultural issues, death and dying, love and life. Prefacing each of these topics is a scholarly essay providing historical and research foundations; every chapter concludes with a summation.

Within the chapters are examples of poems, not only organized by typology, but also by content. For instance in the patient experience chapter, the topics are: "patient pleas for empathy and compassion," "patient fears and suffering," "stigmatized voices," "vulnerability/courage of child patients," and "personal experiences of illness." Within each topic/subtopic, different poems are highlighted and fully analyzed. Additionally, other poems, not reproduced, are quoted as illustrative examples. Summary arguments are provided at the conclusion of each chapter as well as in the final chapter: "Strangers in a Strange Land: What Matters to Medical Students on Their Journey and How They Tell About It."

Although Shapiro states that her purpose "is not to address the literary and aesthetic attributes and value of the poems", she also notes "when students write authentically about their own experience, the results are uniformly moving, compelling and impossible to ignore." (pp 44-5) Indeed many of the poems are rewarding to read not only for content but also for word choice, word play, imagery and narrative line. For instance, in "Ode to the Peach" Brian McMichael explores the senses Neruda or Pollitt-like: "you invite me with / your voluptuous curves / your feminine little cleft". (p 236) Another example is the humorous, self-deprecating "Piriformis" by Curtis Nordstrom relating an early clinical experience by a medical student who hopes against hope that the patient's presenting complaint will require the student to demonstrate his acumen. Unfortunately the sum total of the student's knowledge base is limited to the location of the piriformis muscle; both the student and patient are "so screwed" when, "Alas, the patient presents with / an upper respiratory infection." (p. 16)

Shapiro's sensitivity and generosity of spirit vis-à-vis the medical student experience are evident throughout the volume. She concludes that "what may be most noteworthy about the analysis of these poems is that, amidst their own difficulties and fears, time and again these students reported engaging deeply with their patients." (p 259) She hopes that medical educators will be encouraged to support "in solidarity" the "idealism and high aspirations" expressed in these student poems. (p. 260)

In a postscript, Shapiro reveals her own experiences as a poet-patient. After noting that "[m]edical students are mostly annoyingly healthy, energetic, smart, and capable young adults who like order, structure, and control", (p 261) she also acknowledges how frequently students grapple with the topic of death and dying in their poems. That her poems emerged from advising a student creative writing group demonstrates how poetry can be renewing and vital not just to the student, but to the educator as well.

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