Showing 51 - 60 of 429 annotations tagged with the keyword "Cancer"

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.

View full annotation

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.

 

View full annotation

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. 

View full annotation

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.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

In 1951 when Henrietta Lacks was dying of cancer in the colored ward of Johns Hopkins, cancer cells taken from her without her knowledge "became the first immortal human cells grown in a laboratory"(4).  Known as HeLa cells, they are still reproducing today and are used world wide in research for cancer, cloning, genetics, Parkinsons, and many technologies. Henrietta's family did not know she was the source of these immortal cells until scientists began testing the family members too.  Poor and black, they were very angry to find the white establishment had made fortunes using HeLa cells while the family got nothing for it and couldn't even get good health care. In her thorough and careful investigation, Rebecca Skloot interviewed the Lacks family; scientists, doctors, and others who worked with HeLa cells; historians; journalists; ethicists. This book traces the complex stages of her search for the truth about what happened to Henrietta Lacks, her HeLa cells, and her family.

View full annotation

Wit

Edson, Margaret

Last Updated: Sep-07-2010
Annotated by:
Donley, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

Wit takes place in a University Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center. The main character, Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., is a John Donne scholar who has stage IV ovarian cancer. Much of the action takes place in the last few days/hours of her life, although flashback scenes to weeks, months, even years before are interspersed effectively throughout the performance.

Bearing has lived an isolated life. Her love is her teaching and research. She is a stern taskmaster, perhaps "non-humanistic" in her approach. Similarly, she faces doctors and a medical system that emphasize technique over caring. She does find, in the end, compassion from a nurse who prevents the medical team from carrying out a CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) attempt that she did not want.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The story follows the final twelve or so hours in the life of a 62 year old widow, emblematically named Dante Remus Lazarescu, (Ioan Fiscuteanu). Suffering with stomach distress and a terrible headache (eventually diagnosed as a subdural hematoma and late stage liver cancer), he spends his last night being shuttled by ambulance, or rather by an ill-equipped van serving as ambulance, from hospital to hospital, unable to secure the emergency surgery that would save him. The hand-held camera and long uncut takes -some are six or more minutes- give the movie the feel of unfolding in real time. In places, it has the look of a documentary, and it has been compared to Frederick Wiseman's Hospital (1970).

Before the odyssey begins, we meet Mr. Lazarescu in the cramped, unkempt Bucharest apartment he shares with his three cats. Of his circumstances we learn that he is a retired engineer whose only daughter has emigrated to Toronto, and that despite having had ulcer surgery years earlier, Mr. Lazarescu drinks heavily. In his every encounter -with neighbors and with a string of doctors- he is reprimanded for his drinking, implicitly or explicitly blamed for his ill-health. From the television blaring in his apartment we hear news of a truck gone out of control that has rammed a tourist bus. Casualties from the accident are taxing hospital resources, which accounts in part for why this ill-smelling elderly man who appears to be drunk (but turns out to be having a cerebral bleed) is a low priority, although this doesn't account for the callousness with which he is treated by much of the medical staff.

The most significant relationship in the film is between Mr. Lazarescu and the ambulance nurse, Mioara (Luminita Gheorghiu) who shepherds him throughout the night. Almost everything we know about her is what one knows from watching someone at her job; in Puiu's hands, this vantage turns out to be richly informative. (Ms. Gheorghiu's body language speaks volumes.) Mioara and Mr. Lazarescu hardly speak to one another; they don't "open up" to one another or have a "meaningful moment," nothing to compare, for example, to the Popsicle scene between the nurse, Susie, and patient, Vivian Bearing, in Wit (see annotation). The power of the relationship in this film is in what is not overt, but what is palpable nonetheless -that Mioara's presence means very much to Mr. Lazarescu, and that doing her job includes letting him know that she is standing by him, that he is the priority, the only priority. Mioara staunchly meets the irascibility and chastisement of various physicians in her efforts to advocate for her patient as he is passed off from one hospital to the next.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Garland-Thomson, an important figure in disability studies scholarship and activism, analyzes the social phenomenon of staring, particularly staring at people with distinctive bodies. After exploring why we stare and what staring is, i.e., "a physical response...a cultural history...a social relationship...[and] knowledge-gathering," the book analyzes the dynamics of staring, including the learned prohibition against staring and the dynamic power relationship between starers and the objects of their stares, whom Garland-Thomson terms "starees."

She illustrates and analyzes four key "scenes of staring": staring at faces, hands, breasts, and bodies.  The book proposes a new "ethics of looking" in which starees offer starers a collaborative relationship that produces "[s]taring as beholding...a way to bring visual presence to another person, to see them as they need to be seen" (194). Garland-Thomson positions her argument in relation to key works of cultural criticism and sociology including Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others (see annotation), Erving Goffman's Stigma, Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just, and the ideas of historian Michel Foucault. Her evidence includes  auto/biographical narratives of scenes of staring, summaries of key historical contexts, examples from visual art (photography, painting, film, and cartoon), and literature, and auto/biographical narratives.

View full annotation

Summary:

Art. Rage.Us. Is a powerful collection of works by more than 70 artists and writers with breast cancer whose creative impulse was to transform their illness into an artistic form not only as part of their own healing but also for others to learn from their experiences. The expressions are varied, from poetry recording the experience of breast imaging, breast reconstruction, or chemotherapy; to self-portraits after mastectomy; to a collage of conflicting research reports and alternative therapies; to short autobiographical prose pieces.

View full annotation

The Betrayal

Dunmore, Helen

Last Updated: Jun-11-2010
Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In this novel medicine and  politics interface, with disastrous results. The time is the early 1950s, the place Leningrad, and the Soviet leader is Josef Stalin. Andrei Mikhailovich Alekseyev is a  conscientious young pediatrician in a city hospital.  Though Andrei has been warned to be careful, he chooses to take on Gorya, a patient with osteosarcoma, the only child of Volkov, an official high in the Ministry for State Security. Dr. Brodskaya, a Jewish woman surgeon, performs a biopsy and recommends amputation above the knee. Andrei recommends that she perform the surgery. But Gorya develops lung cancer. Brodskaya applies for a transfer to Yerevan, well aware that Volkov will take revenge if the boy doesn't improve, but Andrei decides to stay in Leningrad.

He lives a spartan existence with his wife, Anna, and Anna's younger brother, 16. They bicycle out to their country dacha to fish and  harvest fruits and vegetables. Suddenly, a phone call to his home tells Andrei he is suspended from his medical practice. The police arrest Brodskaya. Shortly thereafter, in the night, Andrei hears police  boots on the stairs. The officers raid Andrei's and Anna's home, breaking furniture, emptying pickle jars into the sink, and confiscating their English dictionary. They send Andrei to Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he is tortured to get him to sign a confession. Andrei reflects on his situation: "If he dies here, he'll die alone. The last faces he will see will be the guards' faces. Outside, he would never have believed that three initials scratched into a piece of soap [from the shared lavatory] could be so precious. In here, to know that another prisoner has taken the risk of trying to communicate brings a kind of hope"(262). He forces himself not to think about his pregnant wife, instead naming the muscles of the hand, or bone after bone of the human skeleton.

Finally, he is confronted with Volkov who tells Andrei Comrade Stalin has begun a purge of doctors because doctors have been killing communist leaders: "We are uncovering an international conspiracy of Zionists working as tools of the Americans, who directed these criminal murderers and saboteurs" (277). Volkov tells Andrei the Jewish Dr. Brodskaya has ‘suffered a heart attack', that is, she has been executed. Volkov accuses Andrei of betraying his trust by amputating his boy's leg, an operation that did no good, as the boy is now dying of cancer. Volkov dismisses Andrei and goes to visit his son who is comatose. Then he shoots himself in a dark Moscow street. Andrei is sent to the Gulag for ten years.

Anna has moved to safety at their dacha with her brother, Kolya. There she gives birth to her daughter and names her Nadezhda. In March 1953, Stalin's death is announced. Beria, head of the NKVD, announces an amnesty of Gulag prisoners serving shorter sentences. Beria sets up an investigation into the Doctors' Plot and exonerates those doctors. In the following years, thousands of prisoners make their way back to the Soviet Union - one of them is Andrei.

View full annotation