Jews and Jesus, Death and Taxes

I cried two-and-a-half times today, for about 20 seconds each time, and mostly because I was feeling irritable. It was embarrassing to cry, even in front of myself, because the cause was sentimental claptrap for one-and-a-half of the times. But the first was out of shock. My high school best friend J called me this morning; she'd had a mastectomy and reconstruction five years ago. I'd tried to reach her; I'd sent her e-mails but hadn't heard back. She says that her workplace is clamping down on Spam so maybe the "breast" in the subject line relegated the messages to the trash heap. She asked if Fancy Hospital had a good web site and I said the breast section is down for revitalization, or whatever it's called. She said M.D. Anderson has a very good site. I googled and found the breast-cancer page then clicked on the link for a guide for Jewish women about heredity and breast and ovarian cancer. All of a sudden on my screen was a picture of one of my mother's good friends. She'd had died of ovarian cancer several years ago. Apparently her family has set up a foundation at M.D. Anderson. The sight of her just caught me. I knew she'd died, and of ovarian cancer, but I'd forgotten. My mother has a picture of her on her dressing table shelves, along with family pictures. I know it had torn her up when her friend died. Why did the picture affect me so? I can't figure it out. I guess I'd expected to find generic information on the site, and here is someone from my personal past. The second picture was of the woman's daughter and granddaughter. I didn't recognize the daughter at first, though she used to be one of my sister's elementary-school friends and I remember the time she came on a picnic with us and got her tongue stuck on a popsicle. There was lots of information about genetic factors in breast and ovarian cancer and the higher incident of both among Ashkenazi Jews (such as myself and my friend J and my mother's friend and my cousin and aunt and Gilda Radner). I can say I was shocked because the cancer hit close to home, but how much closer to home can it hit than my own breast? The real answer may be that Death was hitting close to home. I was looking up my own diagnosis and there on the screen was the picture of my mother's dead friend. That doesn't seem to be all of it, but I will ponder it.

The second time I cried was in the car, coming home from buying the two cancer books mentioned in yesterday's post (below). I turned on the country music station and there was a song, sung in the voice of a father whose young daughter comes home from school reporting that she has a new friend named Alyssa, who lies. She lies when she's on the playground, she lies to the teacher--"as she tries to cover every bruise." That made me tear up some. On Monday the father knows what he has to do, but it's too late, he finds out: "Alyssa lies with Jesus/ because there's nothin' anyone would do." That's the only hint of regret. Why didn't he pick up the phone as soon as he heard and call the local child-abuse agency? Why doesn't he castigate himself for not doing anything, instead of passively accepting that she's with Jesus? The bigger question is why do I expect any sophistication from country music lyrics? Why do I listen? Just for something different, and because I like the narrativity of country music songs. I'm a writer who hardly writes with narrative, though I appreciate it in what I read and hear. Not always. I like it in folk and fairy tales. I don't need it in contemporary stories.

Why oh why do cheap sentimental lyrics get to me?

The third-ish time I cried was when a commercial came on about some little boy who was a "typical ten-year-old" except he almost didn't make it to his first birthday. But some hospital saved him. The commercial was full of cliches and sappy, but it hit me.

I don't know if this breast cancer has made me more weepy or if it's merely because I ran out of one ingredient in my anti-anxiety cocktail and did without a dose of it last night.
We went to a small Super Bowl gathering. There was a commercial for hair dye featuring Sheryl Crow, and I thought but didn't say, She had breast cancer. On last year she said, "...for me to know that God had me in his hands, I never felt alone." Would she have said the same thing if she were *dying* of cancer? Or would she say that God had had her in his hands but had dropped her?

At the little party I talked to C., who'd had breast cancer about four years ago. It turns out she'd had a mastectomy, with reconstruction performed by the plastic surgeon I'd met with. She liked him and his work very much, and showed me her breast and scar. I said I thought her torso looked familiar from the scrapbook the doctor had shown me. During the game I repaired two sweaters and began reading "Bathsheba's Breast," with its gruesome descriptions of mastectomies. The author is a professor at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, and reported that Sam Houston's wife had had breast pain and then had surgery at home without anesthesia. The doctor offered her whiskey, but because she was a teetotaler and had gotten her husband to give up the bottle, she didn't want to take a drop of alcohol, even for medicinal purposes. She bit into a silver coin during surgery instead. The author surmised that she probably had mastitis, a benign condition.

The author, James S. Olson, began the book after he was treated for cancer of the hand, at M.D. Anderson. Eventually his left hand and forearm were amputated. The hospital came about partly because Monroe Dunaway Anderson, a cotton king, set up a foundation so that his company wouldn't be ruined by estate taxes.