Horrors! Woman touches own breasts on TV!

{Sorry--I couldn't figure out technically how to capture a still of the woman examining her breasts. It is much less sexy than this stock picture from photosearch.com. }

It took a while, but I finally found the un-blurred video from the ABC News local WJLA in Washington, DC., which showed--horrors!--a pretty 28-year-old woman with cancer (before surgery) examining her small, perky breasts. Reporter Gail Pennybacker, thank goodness, warns us beforehand that "Images are going to be graphic." Gosh!! Nipples!! Nipples, which are obscene, are going to be shown. Lock up your women and children! Your children will be traumatized by seeing nipples! Of course, they are not affected by daily, hourly images of war and mutilation--or "action" movies and videos.
The news station brought this all on itself by happening to air this during sweeps week, when viewership is measured. If WJLA wanted to be as blameless as Caesar's wife, it would have run this earlier in the month.
Meanwhile, conservative groups have criticized this display. The AP tells us: The Parents Television Council reacted cautiously to news of the series but suggested it saw the potential for problems.

"We hope that WJLA-TV is not using a crucial public health issue as a ratings stunt, and that the station has fully considered what is appropriate to tell this important story to the public in the most suitable manner possible," the group said in a statement. That might mean different versions of the story at 5 p.m. and at 11 p.m., it added.

I wish the reaction were more outlandish so I could make fun of it. It's also annoying that that first thing that pops up on the PTC web site is a study that says that images of violence against women are on the increase on TV. Really, how can anyone find fault with an organization that cares about violence against women (at least representations of it)? If you read further, you find the organization is Mrs. Grundy-ish (Does anyone say "Mrs. Grundy" any more?) about "indecency" and cursing and sex on TV. Yeah, a lot on TV boils down to immature sniggling about sex, but that's not my most pressing issue.

It's easier to make fun of another critic, Concerned Women for America, which strives "to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens - first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society - thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation." But reading about them makes me more scared than sarcastic. Separation of Church and State, anyone?

[Mrs. Grundy by Walter Crane, 19c]

[not to be confused with Miss Grundy of Archie Comics, pictured at top]

Breast cancer is one thing I do think about a bit. And I was and am lax on breast self-exams. Mostly, the hoopla about the news report is serving to remind me that I need to examine my right breast, that I shouldn't just rely on the six-month mammograms and doctor exams. So ladies, go to it! See instructions and illustrations at this site.

Click here for visuals that are really adult and graphic and for which our country is to blame.

"Murder is a crime; describing murder is not. Sex is not a crime. Describing sex is. Why?" Gershon Legman wrote years ago. I know, I know, this weakens all of the above, because my implied argument is that showing a breast exam is not a smutty, sexual event, but it seemed apropos.

Breast Cancer Drove Her to This

[Imagine a red slash through the smiley face]

The pinkness and cheeriness of the breast cancer industry made Barbara Ehrenreich note the pervasiveness of exhortations to be positive. This is from Saturday's New York Times, by Patricia Cohen:

.....In “Bright-sided,” [Barbara Ehrenreich] traces the roots of the nation’s blithe sunniness to a reaction against Calvinist gloom and the limits of medical science in the first half of the 19th century. Starting with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, perhaps one of the first American New Age faith healers, she draws a line to Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science; the psychologist William James; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Norman Vincent Peale, who published “The Power of Positive Thinking” in 1952; and the toothy television minister Joel Osteen, who preaches the gospel of prosperity.

To Ms. Ehrenreich, the reliance on one’s personal disposition shifts attention from the larger social, political and economic forces behind poverty, unemployment and poor health care. “It can’t all be fixed by assertiveness training,” she said wryly.

Ms. Ehrenreich found that the more she listened, the surlier she became. All that shiny optimism, she said, was “like sitting in a warm bubble bath for too long.” Luckily she found other churlish comrades, scholars and doctors who were similarly skeptical of undimmed positivity.

“We began to call ourselves the Negatives,” said Micki McGee, a sociologist at Fordham University and the author of “Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life.” The group would meet on occasion and discuss their research and the news of the day. The thread of positive thinking that runs through self-help culture says, “If you dream it and believe it, it becomes reality,” Professor McGee explained. “That kind of thinking contributes to the economic bubble that we just saw explode in enormous ways. Barbara’s take on it is very important.”

Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral psychology at Columbia, is a more recent member of the Negatives. He has written at length about the absence of scientific evidence showing links between prayer and healing in his book “Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance Between Religion and Medicine.”

“There is some relatively recent evidence of the benefits of positive affect, but not the simplistic approach that is advocated by coaches that all you need to do is be happy,” he said. “There is no evidence that trying to put on a happy face makes a difference.” Rather, those who are characteristically more optimistic may have an advantage over those who aren’t, but, he said, “you just can’t change who you are very easily.”

Janet Maslin didn't like it so much: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/books/12maslin.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper (My linking thing isn't working.)

Self-conscious Narrators

L took the picture of me above and it didn't seem to look like me. It reminded me of young Leonard Michaels (1933-2003), whom I talked about in class on Thursday. He was known for reading student stories aloud and then stopping when they ceased to hold his interest. Then he'd ask the class to explain why.

I always get him mixed up with Leslie Epstein, who is alive and well and heading the MA-turned-MFA program at Boston U. They don't look alike, though, do they?

I was writing stories in little pieces when I was a grad student writing by instinct. At Iowa I was like an outsider artist with no training in fiction. I had a bachelor's degree, a GRE score but I didn't have any of the basics that everyone else had. I didn't know that a story should have suspense at the beginning, I didn't think about whose story it was, or if the ending was "earned." My friend E read my story in little pieces and said I would like Leonard Michaels' collection, I Would Have Saved Them If I Could, which had stories in pieces. Was I even thinking I might learn from him? Was I looking for a kindred spirit? I don't remember.

I don't remember when I read Leslie Epstein. Maybe it was before I went to grad school. I read The Steinway Quintet plus four. I still remember a line from it, more or less: "Gentlemen, I believe that these are not Jews," said by an elderly member of the quintet when they're about to be robbed. Maybe I read it because I was reading books by faculty at the schools I was applying to. I didn't apply to Boston, though, because it required the literature GRE, and the deadline was late, so I figured I'd wait to see if I heard from any others, and I was accepted by others before the BU deadline. I was successful at applying to grad schools, which in my day was a simple enough thing, once you got your transcripts and test scores sent in, and got the recommenders to send their letters, and all you had to write about yourself was maybe a line or two. Plus of course you sent two stories. Nowadays, you have to write a personal statement and there are dozens upon dozens of MA and MFA programs, and all around the country kids are wringing their hands and worrying and asking each other teeny tiny questions on the MFA blog. They make the Kremlinologists of old look like pikers. There you can also find aceptance rates, so you can figure out if you want to apply to a selective school or very selective school. It is all quite scientific. (Whenever I talk about the olden days, I remember this from a high school play, rendered in a shaky old voice: "I can remember when there were Indians in this very territory. We had to put boards across the street to walk across."--Long Christmas Dinner, Thornton Wilder). And I wasn't even in the play.

There are at least three MFA guidebooks around and several blogs. If we'd had the technology back then in the olden days, would we have asked the same questions and worried as much as these young'uns worry now? I don't know. I do have to say that I don't like the sample personal statement provided on the MFA blog. In case anyone wants to know what I think, after having participated in more than 25 admissions committee meetings, I will tell you: Tell me what you read and what you've learned from what you've read. Tell me what you admire. Tell me how your work has grown up to this point, and tell me how you want your work to grow in our program. Be specific. Do you want to work on point of view, for example? If you're trying to brown-nose us by mentioning our faculty, please be sure to spell their names correctly.

I saw Leslie Epstein on a panel about bad Jews (I think; or did the panelists all claim they were bad Jews?) at a Tikkun conference in Boston in 1990 or 1991. I think it was Epstein. It could have been Michaels. You can read about "Lenny" in Wendy Lesser's book Room for Doubt. Also on the panel was E, my Iowa grad school friend.

I think I got into MFA program(s) because I submitted a story in second person. This was years before Jay McInerny's whole novel, Bright Lights, Big City, was published. It was told completely in the second person. I was influenced by Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps, which is one of my favorite books. It's a collection of autobiographical short stories and is clever and brilliant and features a self-conscious narrator. One story,
"The Genial Host," is in second person ("When he telephoned to ask you to do something he never said baldly, 'Can you come to dinner a week from Thursday?' First he let you know who else was going to be there..."). I discovered the book in a neighborhood library in Paris in 1976 or 1977 when I also fell in love with another self-conscious narrator, Christopher Isherwood.

Mary McCarthy

Epstein grew up around LA and his father and uncle wrote the screenplays forCasablanca and Arsenic and Old Lace. Leonard Michaels is the other one, the one who went from East to West, not the other way around.

The Need for Health Insurance

At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without universal health insurance.

Health insurance is like elementary education. To function properly, it must be universal and to be universal, it must be obligatory.

Certain interests which think they would be adversely affected by health insurance have made the specious plea that it is an un-American interference with liberty. According to the logic of those now shedding crocodile tears, we ought, in order to remain truly American and truly free, retain the precious liberties of our people to be illiterate, to suffer accidents without indemnification, as well as to be sick without indemnification.

It is by the compelling hand of the law that society secures liberation from the evils of crime, vice, ignorance, accidents, unemployment, invalidity, and disease.
--by Irving Fisher, The Progressive, Jan. 1917

Maybe I'm wrong.

Maybe I'm wrong about the reason the original oncologist didn't give me Cytoxan. Maybe there was another reason, which I forgot in my chemo-brain-ness. But I must have been wrong for two years. In June 2007 I wrote: L reminded me that I'm not taking Cytoxan, which is one element of the usual ACT chemo brew--Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxol--because I have a platelet disorder. Cytoxan could cause a blood clot, which is more dangerous than the cancer.
I am confused.

Please vote.

Dear Cancer Bitch readers,
I will relate a scenario to you and I'd like you to vote on my response.

Today I went to a town hall sponsored by Fancy Hospital. My oncologists (past and present) were there, as well as my surgeon, and they all spoke and the audience asked questions.
I went to the mic and asked two:
1. For chemo, I took Adriamycin and Taxol, but not Cytoxan, which usually goes with them, because of the fear of blood clots. Is there any research on the effect of using just Adriamycin and Taxol?
2. What is the research about drinking milk with Bovine Growth Hormones?

I'm going to 2. first. The only person with a clear answer was the nutritionist on the panel, and she said she recommends that you avoid milk with BGH. My surgeon said that organic milk is expensive.

Now for 1. My erstwhile oncologist said that he doesn't know why someone wouldn't prescribe Cytoxan, but he thought that a chemo regime without it would probably be effective. (I wanted to ask, Then why do you include Cytoxan, if you can do without it?) So here's the question. I really wanted to say, You prescribed the chemo regime without Cytoxan. (Because it's true.) But I didn't say that.
Should I have? Please vote in the Comments area. I have a blood disease that gives me, in essence, "thick blood," which makes me more likely than the average person to get a blood clot.


D called at noon when I was finishing up my morning sun salutations and we decided to meet for lunch at 12:30. I rushed out and got into L's car because it was closest to Clark Street and would get to Ben's Noodles faster. I'd gone about 20 feet when I noticed some noise and bumping. I pulled into the nearest alley to check it out. As I was getting out, a guy ran into the alley and told me I had a tire as flat as a pancake and to park my car on the left and he would fix it. Then he disappeared behind a gate.

It was true--the tire was flat and the guy returned and fixed it. Just like that. He was wiry and a cop. He showed me the badge to prove it. He's a detective in the organized crime division. He showed me more proof. I believed him before he showed me anything, but I think he wanted me to be street-smart and require that he show me proof. He was quick and said he owns the apartment building across the street from us, and he was doing repairs and improvements. He was fast-talking. When I told him my last name, he asked if I had good holidays, and said his wife was Jewish. I said we would have invited them to our break-fast (dinner when you break the Yom Kippur fast) but he said they go to the Standard Club. I asked if his wife was German Jewish. He said Russian. Ashkenazi. This is a standard misconception. I asked the German question because the Standard Club was started by German Jews--Jews who came to the US in early waves, were often assimilated and middle class. You used to have to be a German Jew to join, I'm told. I'm part of the unwashed masses who came over in the first quarter of the century. I mean my grandparents and great-grandparents were. We were the Eastern European Jews who were typically more religious and poorer than the (snobby) German Jews. And Yiddish speaking. And historically the Eastern Jews (Ostjuden) have embarrassed the Westjuden, because we were unassimilated and allegedly smelled of garlic and the shtetl. I grew up without being able to discern the difference between us and them, but my parents were quite aware. And in Germany, especially, in the late 19th century and early 20th, there was a big divide.

Now the misconception: Most of us from Northern Europe are Ashkenazi--those from cities as well as shtetlach (plural of shtetl, little Jewish town). That means we speak Yiddish (again, our foreparents) and eat certain holiday foods--gefilte fish, matzah balls, tsimmes (carrots), kugel (noodles), apple haroset on Passover. (Hmm, these foods seem Eastern European. What a coincidence.) We are the Jews you know, because we vastly vastly outnumber the Sephardic Jews in the US. They are generally from Arabic countries, speak Ladino instead of Yiddish, don't divide themselves up among Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox branches, and have cooler traditional clothes--shinier, for one. This is a generalization--there are Sephardic Jews in and from Spain and Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and other Christian countries. Many or all Sephardic Jews descend from Spain, which had a little thing called the Inqiusition where they killed all the Jews they could.

Jewish Yemenite bride

A great story about the tension between the assimilated and the unassimilated is Philip Roth's "Eli, the Fanatic."
Roth is writing about the Western Jews (assimilated Ashkenazi Jews) and Easterners (unassimilated Ashkenazi Jews who survived the Holocaust and are religious). Europe is, after all, east of the US.
And us Ashkenazim, you may recall, are more likely than the Sephardim and the general population to have the BRCA gene mutations linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Whether we're assimilated or not.
I was walking later this afternoon to L's car and it was raining. It was medium-heavy, not oppressive. A woman with a large, deep umbrella gestured for me to get under it with her. We agreed that the rain was muy frio. I said something about invierno, hoping it meant winter. When we got half-way down the block, she wanted to walk me across the street to my car but I said it wasn't necessary. After I started the car, I realized I should offer her a ride. I drove up next to her, rolled down the window, asked her, but couldn't get her attention. I turned and drove away.
I was running late. If I was a nicer person I would have made sure she saw me and understood my offer.