It took a lot out of me when she took a bit out of me

It never ever ends.
I had some spotting (not on my face) in late December and early January, and since that can be a sign of uterine or endometrial cancer, and because those cancers can be caused by tamoxifen, which I'm taking, I knew I needed to see a gynecologist. I have the Boyish Gyne, who felt my breast lump and said it was nothing, and never apologized for missing the cancer, and I never meant to have a male gyne, so I wanted a female. Long story short, I googled Breast Cancer, Menopause and Chicago, and found Dr. K, called her office last week, and got an appointment last Friday. (Don't ask why I waited until late February to take care of this. It was just one of those things.) Today I went to have her take out some of my endometrium lining to have it checked. She said I might want to take a Valium, which I did. Still it was uncomfortable. L came with me and I held his hand while Dr. K did her work, which included probing around with what she called a French Tickler. I think that is not its patented name. She said it was hard to get the cells, which was a good sign. If it was cancer, there would be lots and lots of tissue. So that's good. She calls with the results on Thursday.

I told her that I just found a web site on which a young woman is posting photos of her cervix.
The doctor thought that was strange. She said once she had a patient, who had psychiatric problems, who was waiting for her, with her own speculum already inserted.

I don't see anything wildly strange about that. I always meant to go to one of those gatherings where you buy a speculum and borrow a mirror and look inside yourself.
But I never did.

Afterward the gyne we went to see B, who is in a rehab hospital after having a pump implanted that will send out liquid to lessen the pain in his legs. At least that's the idea. B is getting occupational and physical therapy, and I think that's very good. Still his legs hurt. Arthritis in the joints, they tell him. He's reading
Rachel Shukert's Have You No Shame?, which I brought him. I read aloud from it the other night and B, L, and I laughed until we couldn't speak any more. This afternoon L the girl was visiting B, and asked if a non-Jew would think the book was funny. I recounted some of it: that when she's eight or nine, in the 1990s in Omaha, she would make lists: People who would hide us from the Nazis. Her mother gets into the act and makes her opinion known. ("'The Nagels?' she shrieked. 'Are you kidding me? The Nagels would own slaves if they could.'") I told L that a non-Jew who knows Jews and lives in an urban area would get the book.

Valium is a powerful drug. I felt woozy for about five hours. I can't believe housewives were on this. How did they function? (Not very well.)

Here is a picture from the cervix project, bringing introspection to a whole new level:

Why does it gross me out? Even if I didn't know what it was, I would feel disgusted. I'm supposed to embrace my innards but this exposed cervix is so tonsilly, so pink and gooshy looking I want to gag. But why? It looks like raw meat torn of its skin and fur. It looks like it shouldn't be out in the world. And it isn't; it's in.

Where's Georgia O'Keeffe when we need her?

A votre santé?

Choose your poison. A new study of more than a million British women indicates that if you have one alcoholic drink a day, you're more likely to get breast, liver and rectum cancers. Of course, a drink a day is good for your heart. But your healthy heart won't be pumping much if the rest of your body has died of cancer.

One theory for the alcohol-to-breast-cancer link is that the alcohol boosts estrogen levels.

On the other hand, two years ago the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute found that a component of cannibis sativa can help stop breast-cancer metastasis.

Don't look for any million-women studies on that any time soon, though.

Here's the link to an article on the British study:
And on the marijuana study:
For some reason, my hot links tool isn't working.


It started out in the '60s when there were just a handful or two or three creative writing programs in the country and the directors of them wanted to get together to compare notes. Now it is this huge conference of maybe 7,000 this year (I heard it was 10,000 last year in NYC) because the number of MFA programs has exploded. Not to mention MA and BFA and PhD. I am talking about the Association of Writers & Writing Programs' annual conference, which started Wed. night and will end Saturday night at the Hilton, 720 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. More info at If you go there, expect to see hordes of dazed non-biz types with name tags wandering around carrying bags of magazines and books. These are my people. This is my tribe. These are the people who believe words are important and that literature means something and that innovation is necessary. We may be insular but we're dedicated. There are still people who worship the short story even though the days of print culture might be numbered. These are people not writing screenplays or potboilers but poems that they hope will define some fraction of the universe so precisely and beautifully that others will commit their lines to memory. These are people who also know that Keats said his name was written in water, and though that's a little heart-warming because it means that Keats thought he'd be forgotten, and thus those of us who think we'll be forgotten might actually be remembered and revered as much as Keats. But it also means that our names might really be writ in water and soon we and our words will be forgotten, and Keats was 25 when he died and we're twice that and what do we have to show for ourselves?

Lark & Owl

There are larks and owls and I've always been an owl but I try every so often to become a lark. I went to bed early last night and had a devil of a time getting to sleep. I was going to go to sleep early tonight but I got home from school around 10:30 and then had dinner and started reading.

It is so much easier to get things done if you get up in the single digits. You have all day to make phone calls. The odds are stacked against us: If left to our own devices, the sleep experts say, we would stay up a little later every day, so that we'd never have regular hours for anything.

Some people move from owl-dom to lark-life when they have children. They're forced to get up early. But I skipped a generation. I have not children but step-children and step-grandchildren. I have not had to stay up all night with a colicky baby. Which, if you think about it, would make a person an owl.

Don't go against your natural rhythms, people say. But my natural rhythm or way-of-being-in-the-world is to be lazy and slovenly and slow and messy and never get things done. You have to fight against what's "natural" sometimes.

I know that the most depressing thing is to be staying up late and then when you're getting ready for bed you start hearing the birds chirping. They're saying: You wasted a whole night when you should have been asleep.


My high school best friend J had breast cancer before I did. It was a very early stage (maybe zero?) but because cancer runs in her family, she had a double mastectomy (and reconstruction). I remember her telling me that in a way she missed the intensity of the early days of her cancer and treatment. There is the Grab On to Life phase where you pay more attention to everything around you and are more conscious of the passage of time. As someone who has always contemplated death, I didn't think that I'd have a similar experience with my cancer.

And I haven't. But when I was writing this blog every day, and I was living with cancer treatment and its after-effects, I carefully observed the world around me. Everything was relevant and everything had to do with cancer because I was looking at it with cancer-colored lenses. I was hunting for material. I paid more attention. (as Willy Loman said we must, in a different context.) I collected, in an almost physical way, tidbits around me.

Now I feel I'm wasting material, letting it fall around me without picking it up. I've become lazy about cancer reports, not feeling obliged to report on the latest studies, such as the one last week that linked the lowering of breast cancer rates in the US and Canada to the declining number of women using hormone replacement therapy.

What fell today? I don't remember.

Web Weirdness

I joined Facebook about two weeks ago, just in time to get in before the fifth anniversary of the network. I found this very bizarre notice just now:

"The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recently launched a fan page in Facebook. You are invited to join, learn about our online resources and upcoming events, share with your friends, and please provide feedback about how we can best serve the Facebook community! The USHMM fan page is at"

The Facebook language is limiting, of course. But it doesn't seem right that a person can be a "fan" of a Holocaust museum. Any ideas for other words?

On Facebook, join Friends of Cancer Bitch. It's free, and no salesmen will call.

The Book

My kind editor at the U of Iowa Press FedExed me a copy of The Adventures of Cancer Bitch. I got it yesterday and brought it to Show and Tell today, where it was roundly oohed and ahhed over.

My first local reading is March 25, but I have others before:

~Reading, 6:30 pm, March 17, 2009, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI
~Reading, 12:30 pm, March 19, 2009, Aquinas College, Grand Rapids
Debut Chicago reading of The Adventures of Cancer Bitch, Wed., March 25, 2009, 7:30 pm, Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60640. Tel: 773.769.9299
~Reading, 7:30 pm, April 16, 2009, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa
~Writing Workshop: The Joy Joy Joy of Repetition in Writing about Health, Medicine and the Body, 6-7:15 pm, Wed., April 29, 2009, The Examined Life: Writing & the Art of Medicine Conference, University of Iowa, Iowa City
~Pizza and conversation, "From Blog to Radio to Book," 12:30-1:30 p.m., May 14, 2009, Northwestern University Center for the Writing Arts, Evanston, IL

TBA: Loyola University Chicago; Program in Medical Humanities and Bioethics,
Feinberg School of Medicine


I was talking on the phone to R today, and she told me about her hometown best friend who has a terrible blood disease. What is it? I asked. I was pretty sure what she would answer. I was right: Polycythemia vera. Oh, I have that, I said. Mine is almost asymptomatic, except that I get pins and needles from taking a shower or bath with water that hotter than warm, and I often have red cheeks. Oh, and I have to get my blood sucked out and disposed of every couple of months. The technical term is therapeutic phlebotomy. Her friend has it bad. Her friend's mother has it worse. She's had small strokes. Her friend had been feeling tired for the past two years and so now when she sees her mother's symptoms she imagines she's seeing her future. PCV isn't usually hereditary but in her case it is.

I felt very lucky and charmed even though I had terrible pins and needles for about 90 minutes after physical therapy one day for my Achilles tendonitis, caused by the rousing of my circulation.

The thing is we are all getting older and we are getting more and more diseases and injuries and conditions. R has had many, many health problems and said she's disconcerted by having so many of her friends cross the line to the illness side.

I found out last week that my friend P had had a month of bad reactions to a dental operation. I don't mind hearing about everyone's bodily status. At least not yet. I don't believe there's such a thing as TMI (too much information).

In grad school my friend D found a letter on the street written by one nun to another. The letter-writer detailed her bowel movements. At least in my circle, we haven't descended to such detail.

But I have to admit that PCV (I think that's the abbreviation used) does worry me. I fell on ice last week and got a huge bruise across my arm and it was warm to the touch. After panicking, which started after midnight, that it was going to turn into a blood clot, and talking to two emergency room nurses and then in the morning, to my hematologist's assistant, I calmed down.

For those of you who get midnight health panics, I recommend calling the Northwestern Memorial Hospital emergency room. The nurse at Illinois Masonic wouldn't give out any information.

Don't tell NMH that Cancer Bitch sent you.