Cancer Bitch has been traveling. She spent Friday-Monday in Philadelphia, having promised herself that after chemo she would take a mosaic workshop with Isaiah Zagar, whose insider-outsider artwork she loves and admires. And she did just that. She is now writing her speech for a panel discussion Friday morning in Iowa City about spiritual memoirs and so is going to have these pictures stand in for her experience. She will write about her trip later. The first picture is of Cancer Bitch at Zagar's Magic Gardens. Below that, Cancer Bitch and others are applying acrylic paint to glass. Below this text is a picture of a non-Cancer Bitch working on a mural that Isaiah designed. Sort of. He made sweeping brush strokes of human and animal figures and attached large pieces to the wall. Cancer Bitch and others glued on the pieces of mirrors and tile and slapped on the pink grout.

Toys R on Us & the Bad Oncologist

Monday I met with my friend C from the Bay Area, in town to give a lecture and to celebrate his father's 80th birthday. After being an adjunct lecturer and a freelance editor for many years, he's finally gotten a job as chair of liberal studies in a university. He is an inspiration to us all. He's considered full time but just has to work 30 hours a week. That is truly inspirational. All this is an answer to the question: What can you do with a Ph.D. in English?

We had coffee and then he went with me to Tom Thumb Hobby & Crafts in Evanston, because I wanted to look at outdoor furniture to put on my head. I'm working on a proposal for an art installation called Chemo/Lawn and part of it will be made up of pictures of such things on my lawn-like head. I bought two miniature trees, a swing set, slide, see-saw and picket fence. I don't know how I'll get the fence and trees to stay up. I sort of jokingly/seriously said I'd use chewing gum. The sales clerk said that it doesn't come off. I said, Peanut butter is supposed to work. And he said, On the Simpsons, they tried peanut butter and oil and nothing worked. I said, That's a cartoon!

How can people get household hints from cartoons? I mean, it's one thing to get political news from the Daily Show, but at least Jon Stewart is a real person. Though Jon Stewart isn't his real name.

Now on to the Bad Oncologist. As a scientist deciding what potions to give me, he was probably good. Or excellent. Let's say he was excellent. But as a person, not so good. My psychiatrist, the Effusive Shrink, had told me early on that some of my anti-despair medicines would mix badly with Tamoxifen. I mentioned this to the first oncologist while I was in the middle of chemo and he waved me off, saying there was plenty of time yet. The Effusive Shrink had to call him twice before he called her back. Flash forward to the Girl Oncologist, who made me wait while she looked up drug interactions. She found one, with Cymbalta. She said she'd talk to the Effusive Shrink about substituting Effexor. I met with the Effusive Shrink today who said that another anti-nihilism drug that I take, Wellbutrin, also mixes badly with Tamoxifen. Our plan is to taper off the Cymbalta and start slowly on the Effexor. Then we'll substitute something else for the Wellbutrin. In the meantime, I don't want to start Tamoxifen because then I won't know whether any side effects I have are from the Effexor or the Tamoxifen. But see, if the Bad Oncologist hadn't waved me off, we could have started this back in May. Though we were also waiting for the results of my genetic testing. Or rather, I was thinking about genetic testing then, though my surgeon had said it wasn't necessary, and I finally got the testing in July. If I had the BRCA gene mutation, I'd probably get my remaining ovary removed, and then I'd definitely be in menopause and I probably wouldn't be taking Tamoxifen. So I guess the oncologist was right to wait.

How disappointing to realize that there's no one to blame.

All Her Life or: Can You Spot the Southern Lady in This Picture?

My mother came in last weekend to Cancer Bitch World HQ. (See photo take by L on porch of CB World HQ.) My mother would have flown in for every chemo treatment, but I wouldn't let her. I asked if she would help me with my clutter, and she agreed. So we spent most of Saturday and Sunday going through the carved wooden buffet I inherited from my grandmother. That's where I keep photos. We filled some albums and threw a lot of pictures away. At first she tore them in half (no going back) but then we just threw them out. It is hard to throw photos out. That's why I needed her there. We pasted some pictures in my baby book, which she'd apparently lost interest in after my first full sentence. She's been diligent about collecting pictures in albums, though--I don't mean to imply that she ever lost interest in recording moments of my life. The book cover is puffy white moire taffeta. I think that's what it's called. It has those whorls and stripes like planks of wood have. The cover says: All Her Life, in pink script, and there's a painted rose with a painting of a little blonde baby sitting inside the flower. It was copyrighted in 1955, the year I was born.

The first thing in there is a congratulatory card for "that basket of joy/The stork just delivered to you!" It's from the local alumnae of my mother's sorority at the University of Texas. This was before sex education in college. Or high school.

My mother didn't fill in the details of our trip home from the hospital, so that page is blank. On the next page is space to put the names of visitors. I filled this in probably in junior high, when I found the book and asked my mother for information. Nine people are listed. Two are alive: my mother's older sister, and an uncle on my father's side. The very first person listed is my mother's friend who died about six years ago of ovarian cancer. My uncle came to visit with my aunt (my father's youngest sister), and she died a few years ago of lung cancer, the kind people get when they don't smoke or haven't smoked for a very very long time. My father's only brother died of lung cancer, the kind that smoker's get.

My baby book expects women to play sports, to go to college, have a philosophy and a career, get married and have a home and children--all reasonable, even progressive assumptions for mid-century. It doesn't necessarily expect the baby to be Jewish. The first clue is a page with an illustration of a baby on it. She's wearing a long white gown edged in pink. There are spaces for my name, its meaning, date, place, officiating clergyman, godmother and -father, notes and those present. What was the occasion? It doesn't say, but I think it's safe to assume it was something that starts with c-h-r-i-s-t. The book finally declares itself on page 22, asking for notes on the baby's first Christmas.

My baby book tells me my first road trip was to Dallas in 1957. My first bus ride was to the San Jacinto Battleground with my kindergarten class. (I remember that. I remember kids chanting, Nixon, Nixon is our man, let's throw Kennedy in the garbage can. And vice versa.) My first train ride was to Dallas in 1958 and my first airplane ride was to New Orleans in 1974. Notes: "Very good traveller, doesn't need dramamine-is very cheerful." That's in my own handwriting.

I discovered my own hands at about two-and-a-half months. I first smiled at about six weeks. I first recognized my mother at about three weeks. I first sat up at about six months. Do I spot a trend? There's more than a whiff of retrospect here. Apparently my mother mother didn't run to the baby book when I reached these milestones.

I had chicken pox in 1959, measles in February 1963, mumps (both sides) June 1964--all this in my mother's hand. In my own: "Pnemonia [sic]-Feb. 1969-was a very good patient." Should I add "Breast cancer, Jan. 2007, very good patient"?

Listed pets:
Gregg, 1963- dachshund
2 Goldie-goldfish
Tater, Latke, Sherice, Squeaky-hamsters (I got the original two for Chanukah)
Pretzel, Prince-dogs
April- 1/2 beagle

It does not say that my mother, in one of her worst days in the 1960s, backed her car over Prince. (Didn't your mother kill your dog? my cousin S asked me the last time I saw him.)

As I said, the baby book expected me to have a career. On page 46 there's a picture of a young woman in a blue dress, red hat and white gloves, pondering five gift boxes. They are labeled: Secretarial, Creative, Selling, Manuel [sic], Scientific. Should she go for the guy, Manuel?

Three pages later I'm supposed to be a bride. Then have (in this order) a honeymoon, first home, sports, club activities, first baby. Then have 50 wedding anniversaries. If a parent and daughter were to diligently fill out the pages of this book, they would create a record of a whole life, some kind of whole life. The pages peter out after marriage. Life no longer revolves around the girl-child. It's time for her to start filling out others' baby books, in which she'll have a supporting role.

The reason my mother didn't fill this book out, I think, is that we don't normally think in large blocks of time. We put the photos of the first birthday party into an album, and next, the pictures from the beach two months later, and then of the family trip to Dallas. We don't think to take one photo from each event or year or decade and paste it into a baby or any other kind of book.

But what if we did? What if every New Year's Eve we printed out a couple of representative photos from our desktops and put them in a book, a book with a finite number of bound pages? Is that too frightening to contemplate? This book is called All Her Life. When you get to the end, you're daid. Or sitting in the nursing home, with no one thinking to take your picture or record your first dentures, your first wheelchair, your last meal cooked for yourself, your last wisp of short-term memory. No, there's your golden anniversary, a page for notes, and then it's curtains: "This little book--a happy souvenir/Of all my life--is ended here."

Welcome to the Dollhouse; Cancer Bitch Embarrasses Herself and Others

Today I passed by the dollhouse furniture store where I bought the lawn furniture (see photo below). I went in looking for accessories to put on the table, but the problem was they didn't have any more of the lawn furniture on sale so I had to guess at proportions. I had told the saleslady the other day that the furniture was for my head. This time I didn't mention it. This saleswoman seemed used to waiting on people who were specific and serious about what they wanted. Never did she say: Oh, why does it matter, it's just a dollhouse.

I guess if she felt that way she wouldn't work there. I almost bought a miniature pot with (fake) cactus in it and also a little tea set. It is amazing how detailed the little dishes and boxes and jars are. It is a completely different world. Dealing with these things can put you in a different place. I imagine it can be a form of meditation. I knew of someone who had "a nervous breakdown" (I've never been sure what that meant) and part of her recovery was working on dollhouses. But how can you not think of Ibsen?

In other news, tonight I received a teaching award from the continuing education division of WRU. First there was a reception, during which I had my second Very Hot Flash of the Day while standing near some hot hors d'oeuvres. Luckily I was had on Hot Flash Defensivewear (silk scarf around my hairline, tied in back) to catch some of the sweat. As I was standing around I saw a person come into the room with my exact hair do. I had to talk to her. I assumed she was a sister chemo-head and I felt immediate affinity. Even her salt to pepper ratio was very much like mine. I went up to her and said, I had to talk to you because your hair's like mine. She said, Is your haircut intentional? and I said no. And then I don't know what happened. Did someone else swoop in? I lost her. I felt immediately stupid. I felt that I had insulted her: No one would have hair like ours unless she couldn't help it. I didn't get a chance to finish talking to her, to say, It looks good on you, I don't think it looks good on me.

I had a class at Intellectual University at the same time as the WRU awards ceremony, so I had asked my class if we could meet later. The students had very nicely agreed. The ceremony was supposed to end at 7:30, and class was going to start at 7:45. I figured I had plenty of time for a half-mile cab ride between the campuses. Of course the talks by various WRU personnel took longer than scheduled. It was getting to be 7:10 and we were one speaker behind. I had shpilkes. L came for the ceremony and told me I should just leave. But I wanted to stay and hear nice things said about me. L called the IU office for me to leave a message but no one answered. Miraculously, several self-sacrificing personnel cut their talks short so that we got just about on schedule. First the distinguished teacher of undergraduates got his award. He was from Europe, with a thick accent, and had received a number of teaching commendations. Then it was my turn, and I came up to the front of the room, and looked down as I was being lauded, then shook the associate dean's hand and took my award in a blue box. The European had said a few thanks so I just said I wanted to repeat his thanks and invite everyone to the free workshops my students will be giving in December. Then I sat back down as the distinguished teacher of noncredit programs was named and praised As soon as he was applauded, we made our exit. He had started to give a little speech. I had a little, really little speech prepared in my head but I had thought enough is enough, I gotta git.

And I got to my classroom at IU by 7:42.

But I was addled. Why o why couldn't the people keep on schedule? I have to remember that when I teach. Usually I do end on time, but occasionally we go over. I read somewhere that when you steal someone's time, you're a thief. Corny as that sounds.

In the blue box was an engraved piece of crystal and on top of the blue box was an envelope with a check. Which was unexpected and very nice. Thank you, WRU administrators and students. The nice thing said about me was that I challenged students more than they had imagined. Or something like that. Students nominate faculty for the award, and then the deans look up your teaching evaluations and discuss you and decide who gets honored. I was pleased to get the award, even as I suspected it was a sympathy vote. My friend P said that students aren't sympathetic. I hope she's right. I have been teaching college for 21 (!) years and still I get insecure. And of course I still make mistakes. In class tonight at IU we went off on a tangent about which ethnic groups worry a lot and a student got lost in the muddle. I was leading the way on the tangent. In a distinguished manner, of course.

Good News, Sort Of

U.S. cancer rates are on the decline, a group of private and public scientists announced today. In further good news, the AP reports: "New breast cancer diagnoses are dropping about 3.5 percent a year...." It's either because fewer post-menopausal women are opting for hormone replacement therapy, or--here's the punchline--fewer women are getting mammograms.

That's probably at least one reason that there is more breast cancer in developed countries than developing: because women in the Third World are less likely to have access to the machines that detect early cancers.

So what does it mean? I don't know. If we ever get national health insurance, and the rates soar, we'll know it was the access problem. And then what? Maybe we'll look at pollution and the human effects of the -cides: herbi- and pesti-. That's why I call this picture of my head Chemo/Lawn.


Hmm. Now the University of Michigan has found that certain women with estrogen-positive breast tumors were not helped by the nasty chemo drug Taxol. These women had tumors that did not express a protein called HER-2. This is a crude rendering of the findings, which you can read about here.

What does this mean for Cancer Bitch? That's always the question, isn't it? Otherwise, she would be Cancer Sweet-One. Cancer Bitch just looked at her pathology report and read the notes she took at the first meeting with the oncologist, and saw that she was borderline HER-2 negative. So she sort of expressed the protein. The Michigan study found that "women whose tumors were HER-2-negative and estrogen-receptor-positive had no additional benefit from" Taxol. Which, as loyal readers may remember, was the drug that made my bones ache, and after that, the stuff that was supposed to help the ache flung me into the valley of despair.

To further complicate matters, I didn't have one of the drugs in the usual chemo triumverate of ACT (Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxol) because it was feared that C might be dangerous because of my blood disorder. (High platelet count, in layperson's terms.) Which reminds me of the story of the little old Jewish lady who went to her first live theater performance. She saw the lead actor fall to his death on stage and she jumped up and shouted, Give him chicken soup! Her embarrassed, American-born son tries to explain acting to her and at the same time to shush her, and she insists, undaunted: It couldn't hoit!

So I guess that's the notion when it comes to giving Taxol to Cancer Bitches whose HER-2 status is borderline.

Where does that leave you, dear reader, if you happen to have had cancer that fed on estrogen and that didn't express (secrete?) HER-2? Ask your oncologist, says the article in Science Daily. Don't jump to conclusions, say the scientists, based on our conclusions.

News Flash

This is an update on the continuing Cancer Bitch Quest for unflavored protein powder that contains neither soy nor bovine growth hormones--because those things just encourage the kind of tumor I had. They whisper sweet nothings into my little normal cells, saying, Come on, bloom out of control! Cells, go wild!

I want my cells to continue their staid and regular mitosis and meiosis, I want them to be normal, so I just placed an order with, which claims that its whey protein powder:

"comes from farm-raised, pasture-grazed, grass-fed cows not treated with the synthetic bovine growth hormone rBGH."

Let us ruminate on the blissful ruminants merrily chewing their uncontaminated cud just so they can supply pure whey to cancer bitches everywhere. In truth, the cows are making milk for their calves. But we won't think about that. We don't know any calves.

Too bad for you, calves.


Days like this I think I'm manic. I've been sleeping a lot probably still because of chemo, and I keep sleeping later and later and then I have to get up early some time and I screw up my inner clock. Last night I went to bed late but this morning I couldn't sleep. I got up early (meaning, in the single digits). I drank decaf and milk. I met with a client and had an iced latte with rice milk. I wrote emails. I am helping arrange practica for students. I am the middle-gal, writing to the student and to the person helping arrange the classes. I'm feeling that I'm writing too many emails. Do the receivers discern my franticness? Do they think I'm irrational, beyond caffeinated? A student is helping me organize a party for grad students at WRU (Well-Regarded University). In the past we had alcohol we bought ourselves. We're finding out this was illegal and we could have been liable if someone had--we don't even want to think about what someone could have done. Gone beserk at the party, after the party. Been a danger to himself and others. If we served alcohol to someone arrested later for DUI, could we be arrested under the dram- shop ordinance? I don't want to think about it. Nothing bad happened last year or the year before during or after the parties. I am the middle-gal here, too, going back and forth from the student who's helping me and who's hearing from caterers about not following the rules, to the administrator who knows what the rules are. When I don't get enough sleep I am hyper. I am drunk on not-enough sleep. I lived like this for most of high school. Diet Dr. Peppers, No-Doz, five hours a sleep a night on weeknights and a visit to the opthamolologist: Why do I have headaches? Always a lump in my throat because--well, partly because I was nervous and irritable from not enough sleep--and partly because that is my nature. See many posts below about pills I take now to keep melancholia and despair at bay. Those pills were just a glimmer in an R&D researcher's eye back when I was in high school. On weekends I would sleep 12, 14 hours. I stayed at school until 2am working on the semi-weekly school paper. We worked in a separate little building (one of the "shacks") on campus, which had a Selectric typewriter, printing machine, couch, fridge, and a closet in which a stray cat had given birth. The editors had keys and I was an editor. The main school building closed at 10pm or so. Once we went inside the building for the bathroom, and set off the alarm at about 1am and the cops came. Several cars of 'em. Probably all of the cop cars that existed in the little suburb where the school was (surrounded by the city; our school was part of the Houston Independent School District). We had to call the principal (on the pay phone) to vouch for us to the police. He did. He knew us. We went home. We were outraged but amused and contained. When the other editor and I went away to (the same) college, the principal gave us $20 so we could go out for a nice meal.

In high school I was miserable because of the anxious lump in my throat, and because I wasn't accepted into an Ivy League school (Both L and I were wait-listed at Brown, in different years; and we're both still waiting for our numbers to come up), but those aren't terrible things. The afternoon of my 18th birthday I skipped school and smoked dope for the very first time with my boyfriend and his friend at a playground near an elementary school. We weren't caught. One night I sneaked out my bedroom window and smoked dope and hash with this boyfriend and I wasn't caught. (And I didn't get high. I'm impervious.) I drank beer with girl friends during lunch and we came back and played a very giggly and spirited volleyball game in gym and we weren't caught. On Saturday nights we had parties at the houses of friends whose parents were out of town and we didn't get caught. We didn't know you shouldn't drink and drive. The admonition hadn't been invented yet. We drove to Fredericksburg near Austin for Oktoberfest. The drinking age was 18 and all of us were 17. At the fest I got so drunk I poured beer down the front of a (male) friend's shirt on purpose. (We're still friends.) The summer after graduation (or else the next) I had a party and when it was over a friend wouldn't wake up on the living room couch. The rest of us decided around 5am we had to get him up and out so my father wouldn't come across him on his way to breakfast. Somehow we maneuvered this friend into his car and we followed him as he slowly, very slowly, drove home. How could we? But nothing bad happened. A few years later he realized he was an alcoholic and quit drinking. But not in high school. Excess wasn't recognized as such then. Except there was a boy who was going to be a doctor and he got very drunk and rammed his car and became paralyzed. We don't know what happened to him next. At all.

Literature about Cancer

And I mean literary literature, not brochures and such. Next month I'm going to be speaking at a cancer colloquium sponsored by Nearby Big Ten University (NBTU) in an adjoining state. I'll be holding forth in a public library, so I thought it would be good to have a handout of titles of good prose & poetry about the cancer experience. The web site below has a great list of genu-wine literary cancer literature. If you have favorites (that aren't listed on the NYU site), please list 'em in the Comments section. Thank you kindly from Miz Cancer Bitch.

Four Legs & a Tail

Or: The hunt for the right oncologist
My original oncologist, my first and only, is deadpan but with no humor. I found him increasingly hard to talk to. He also didn't return my shrink's first call about possible drug interactions (didn't get the message, oh well) and he was dismissive about the clinic's not booking me for my last chemo treatment. When I told my shrink I was going to switch doctors, she said she hadn't wanted to tell me before, but she'd heard this guy was difficult. My friend M from yoga likes her oncologist a lot ("I tell her all about my personal life") but I looked the doctor up and she doesn't specialize in breast cancer. My student B likes her oncologist a lot ("We just talk about writing") but he's at another hospital. My friend T likes her crusty female oncologist in her early 70s, but I thought I don't want crusty. I want soft, even on the outside. And since I'm going to be seeing an oncologist for the rest of my life, I don't want to start with someone near retirement. I asked my surgeon's nurse for suggestions and she gave me names of two female oncologists that she found easy to talk to. One had no publications. The other, according to the web, is interested in breast cancer, colon cancer and genetics. Since my grandfather had colon cancer (twice), I thought she'd be a good choice. She also smiles in her picture and looked young and open. My friend P made inquiries of her friend who's a chaplain at Fancy Hospital, but I was getting confused with all the options. I decided to go with the breast-colon-genes gal with the curly hair. By chance, she showed up at my genetic counseling appointment where I got the results. She seemed friendly.

It seems everyone these days has an oncologist. And we just accept. One in eight. That's fine. That's how it is. And some of those one in eight will die of breast cancer. Oh well. Tie a pink ribbon 'round the old oak tree, to remember me by.

The appointment was Friday. I thought I would take myself afterwards to the Shedd Aquarium to see the lizard exhibit. I'd been meaning to see it since I love lizards (I grew up chasing green anoles through the bushes), but during the summer the lines at the Shedd were out the door. It makes me happy to watch lizards. L urged me to ride my bike (he's always urging me to ride my bike) to the hospital and that way, I could take the lakefront right to the Shedd. That sounded good. I'm always afraid to ride my bike because I imagine my death by car-crush at every moment, but once I get on it, I'm fine. I hadn't ridden that far for a while. It was an easy ride, about four or five miles. L and I arrived at Fancy at the same time and we took the elevator up to Ye Olde Cancer Floor. The receptionist said the wait would be about 20 minutes. After less than that we were shown to the examination room. I took off my t-shirt and put on the hospital gown. It had a safety pin in it. Not just a safety pin, but one bent at the top, as if it had gone through the wringer a few times. There is nothing safe about having a safety pin on a hospital gown, so I threw the pin away.

The physician's assistant came in and seemed alive and interested and knowledgeable. We talked about my hot flashes, which she took seriously. I told her about the three anti-despair medications I'm on, and told her my shrink had concern about an interaction with Tamoxifen, which it was clear I was going to be taking. Then she left. Then we waited. Then we waited. Then the nurse came in and said the oncologist was coming, but she was delayed. I asked why. Could be she had to give bad news, she said. I told L, Aren't oncologists always giving bad news? but even as I said it, I knew that wasn't so. I'm hoping to never get bad news from an oncologist. But it's true, if you're seeing one, you know you're already in trouble.

Two hours after the time of the initial appointment, the curly-haired oncologist came in. She made the mistake of asking how I was. I told her. I said I was annoyed at having to wait so long. She said she was sorry and that she'd spent 15-20 minutes looking to see how Cymbalta interacted with Tamoxifen. I said, Aren't all my medications listed in the computer, so that you could have looked it up already? Believe me, I said this in a calm way. She said she doesn't have time to consult with patients' charts two days before an appointment. She looks at them right before. She said that there aren't studies about Cymbalta and Tamoxifen because Cymbalta is new, but Effexor, which is similar, has been studied and it seems safer. (Effexor is also supposed to help with hot flashes, but she said if Cymbalta wasn't helping them, Effexor probably wouldn't either. Tamoxifen is also known to bring on hot flashes.) She said she would see if my psychiatrist could make the change. She gave me a prescription for Tamoxifen but told me not to start taking it until I heard from her or the physician's assistant. She touched me on the leg when she walked in and while she was talking to me. It seemed a little scripted. (Touch patient to establish humanity.) I asked her about Vitamin E for hot flashes and she said that it had the same success rate at the placebo, but I could try it. I asked if E was safe because the oncology nutritionist had told me not to take it any more. The oncologist said, You just shouldn't take it during chemo. I said, She was talking about after chemo, because there have been reports of cardiac problems. The oncologists brushed that aside. You'd think people who worked down the hall from one another would agree. I guess not. She said it's not clear that I'm menopausal and that I should take another FSH test, either then or later. I said, Well, I was going to go somewhere, not wanting to tell here I was counting on seeing the Komodo Dragon. I realized I wouldn't get to the aquarium before it started to close. So I decided I'd take the blood test then.

I'm not sounding angry, because my anger has dissipated. But I was still angry that she was late. After she left, L said I shouldn't switch again. You've already burned one bridge (oncologist #1), he said. I don't want to keep having appointments with new oncologists. He left and I got the blood test. The phlebotomist was friendly and she said she recognized me. She talked about surgery she'd had on her thumb. It's common with people who take blood, she said, because of repetitive motion. What exactly? I asked her, and she said she's always using her thumbs, to pick up tubes and so on. Or did she say the injury was common in nurses? I don't remember. In the hallway I saw the very very nice nurse-phlebotomist who always commented on my earrings. She was so very friendly. I was surprised that she remembered me. Is that all I want, someone to remember me? I want an oncologist who remembers all the little facts of my case. That's what I want. I'm assuming all the ones at Fancy Hospital have the same access to medical studies and research. I'm just trying to pick the softest medium for the message.

Afterwards L called and asked how I was. Angry, I said. You can be a little angry, he said, but you shouldn't be very angry. I can be however angry I want, I said.

I decided to stop at the dog shelter, so that I could at least see some animals. (There are cats there, too, but who would want to see cats?) I was on my way there when I saw my friend R, whom I'd run into downtown the day before. She loves dogs and came with me to the shelter. It smelled and there were no hounds, only terriers and shepherds and labs and a mix that had that disturbing Rottweiler jaw. I have to admit, the Jack Russell was cute. It's upsetting to see how small the cages are. R made a donation on the way out. Your Shabbat tzedakah (charity), I commented. She asked if it counted if the recipient was animal and not a person. Oh yes, I said.

What a Friend We Have in Cheeses?*

I mentioned yesterday that I was looking for organic whey powder at Whole Foods. The oncology nutritionist said to have more protein (I don't remember if this had to do with both cancer and losing weight, or just the latter.). She suggested whey. I've been mixing it with organic yogurt and organic ground flax seeds for breakfast for a couple of months. Then I started worrying that the whey might contain recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH), which are exactly what I don't need. Nobody needs them, but cancer bitches with estrogen-positive tumors really don't . Monday the supplement gal at Whole Foods said that none of the store's dairy products contains BGH and that the brand of whey that I buy, Jarrow, is very clean. (I had my doubts; Whole Foods is pretty waffly about whether its U.S. cheeses contain rBGH.) Jarrow's web site says that the goats that provide the company's goat milk protein are free range and hormone free. Jarrow doesn't make the same claim for its cows. You'd think if the cattle herd is leading a free and pure existence, the company would be sure to let us know. Monday night I wrote for more info. Today, Tuesday, I received a response from Jarrow: "Thanks for your inquiry. Our goat milk protein would be the only choice because growth hormones are not used in goat milk production. We are unable to know for sure with cow's milk whey protein because there is no accurate test that can distinguish between what is natural and what is synthetic. You might look for organic whey protein, which cannot contain GH by law."
I have looked for organic whey protein and haven't found it. I will have to order the goat protein.

So the gal at Whole Foods was wrong. Caveat cancer bitches.

Another option, theoretically, is to ingest organic hemp protein powder, which is readily available. But have you ever seen unflavored hemp protein powder? It looks like henna. I mixed it with yogurt and couldn't eat it. It's dark green. If you live in the Chicago area and would like a nearly-unused jar of hemp protein, gratis, let me know.

*This is apparently a common misapprehension and parody of the hymn. My friend Jennifer Berman has a cartoon that doubles the pun. The cartoon show a couple of people walking towards some bottles of juice (with arms and legs) trying to foist pictures of cheese onto passersby. One person says to another, "Oh no. More juice for Cheeses."

Cancer Bitch Turns a Corner & Runs Into a Wall

Tonight I looked in the mirror and thought to myself, You are cute. I think I have just passed the awkward Sluggo stage and am now a boyish woman in a shorter-than-crew cut. I even have most of my eyebrows back. I am surprised that in all this time, no one's thought I was male. I did have girly-feminine designs atop my scalp and I usually wear two earrings, not the lone little hoop that often signifies Cool Male Who Dares to Pierce One Ear. But approached from the left, I am flat-chested. Then again, I do have a female voice. Today at Whole Foods, for example, I stopped at the Customer Service desk to ask about organic whey protein and the woman at the counter referred to me as a woman. Which I am, of course. But if she could tell, how come other people couldn't tell I was female a few times when I was in my full-tressed glory? My head could have also signified a different identity; last month I met a young person who asked me if anyone thought I was gay because of my short/non-existent hair. I told this young person that only at the Whole Foods I might have been eyed a few times by women, but probably because it's right next to a new LGBT community center.

I choose my words carefully here. I met this young person and I was dying to know this person's gender-- I, who was all prepared to have people ask me whether I was male or female, and to respond tartly: Why does it matter? Yes, I wanted to know whether this short, slight person-- with about 1/8-inch-long hair under a cap, body swallowed by a baggy long-sleeved white shirt tucked into loose pants--was male or female. Why? Why is it so disconcerting not to know? Why couldn't I just have a conversation with a Person? Years ago, a friend and his then-wife returned from seven months in Provincetown. I remember the erstwhile-wife saying she'd been taken aback by all the gay men in P-town. This is what she said bothered her: She was used to speaking to men in a certain way (flirtily, I guess?), and being noticed by men in a certain way, and these men (in stores, for example) were responding differently (or maybe she said not responding). This surprised me. I didn't think I expected as much as she did from men in casual encounters. But I'm not very flirty. Sometimes, though, I feel my eyes widen when I'm speaking to a man who's in possession of stereotypically male expertise--mostly having to do with appliances and automobiles. I guess I sink into the O, what do I know? housewifey mode. I am stereotypically female when it comes to home repairs and hardware, and I'm not proud of this dumbness. But I come by it honestly. My mother didn't change ceiling light bulbs, and as for my father--changing light bulbs was the extent of household expertise. That and killing cockroaches. L changes the difficult high light bulbs because when I use the extender thing I break the bulbs. I kill silverfish and roaches myself. I let spiders out. The other day at the dentist's I noticed a spider, and he caught it in a cup and I let it out on a planter on Michigan Avenue.

But I am moving away from the uncomfortable subject of the young person of uncertain gender.
I introduced myself by name just so s/he would be forced to do the same. Wilily, this young person answered with a name that was neither male nor female. In fact, it wasn't a regular name. Later in conversation I found out that the person was a pre-op tranny, born a girl, identifying as male. And only 18. OK, that explained everything, I was no longer uneasy. I solved the mystery. But there's still the mystery of why I was uneasy in the first place, why I needed the answer to the question: What are you?

And I know that we classify people, and that we want to know the gender of the baby in the passing stroller, and even the dog walking by on the leash. And I know that I want to ask, Where are you from? each time I hear an accent. But why? Because we have certain ideas about what constitutes male and female, and male and female characteristics, and what it means if the person speaking to us is from Poland or Germany (Ossie or Wessie?) and I know I bring certain assumptions if I know my interlocutor is Jewish.

I won't answer this now because I can't. I will only say that in the summer of 1992 I was in Krakow and I was looking for the building where a Jewish girls' boarding school had been housed before the war. It was now a school for the deaf. There was a caretaker couple that was not hearing-impaired, but they didn't speak English and I don't speak Polish. We made do in pidgin German, and using gestures and drawings. I managed to understand that the granddaughter of a former student had visited, and that the couple was going to let me in and look around. School was out for the summer. They asked me, Was sind Sie? What are you? American, I answered disingenuously. I knew that wasn't what they were asking. But I wouldn't tell them I was Jewish. Why? Because I didn't want them to know. Or to know for certain.

Genes and Hormones

As I suspected, I do not have a BRCA gene mutation, more common in Ashkenazi Jews than the general population. That mutation predisposes the bearer to breast and ovarian cancer. The very very cheery and and rushed genetic counselor gave me the news Thursday. She's still waiting to see if I have a certain other mutation responsible for breast and uterine cancer. I need to get her one more piece of information before she can tell me that I'm a suspect. And if I am? I guess a hysterectomy will follow. Does this never end?

Recently I talked with a woman I know about professional/academic matters and then she said, You're my age, aren't you? and I am, and she turned the talk to menopause and hot flashes. Hers sound worse, only because she doesn't have a partner, so that she's been on dates when she's broken out in a sweat. At least I don't have to be embarrassed about them when I'm with L. How many times have I asked him, Is it hot in here? And we know the answer: No, it's just me. That, more or less, is the title of no fewer than four books about menopause. I think I'm still fascinated by the oddness of the flash. I'm like a kid who keeps saying: You know what? That's what! How many times have I implored L to touch my clammy scalp just to feel its sponginess? And he doesn't like to do it because of the clamminess. The attribute that gives amphibians a bad rap.

What could be the evolutionary advantage of the hot flash? I can't figure it out. I found an article that explains that motherless children are more apt to survive if they are cared for by an older woman without her own children. That makes sense. But surely there must have been some women through time who lost estrogen, yet remained free of hot flashes. Unfortunately, those women wouldn't still reproduce, so that's a dead end. I try to cheer myself: Could it be that menopause symptoms were more extreme back in antiquity? What if there were once scads of menopausal women who were so irritable and ferocious that they killed their offspring? The genes for the worst symptoms would have died with them. So we should be grateful now, huh?

The macrobiotics folks point to soy, which is good for easing hot flashes. Except if you had a breast cancer tumor that was estrogen-positive. In that case, you have to avoid soy because it's too close in form to estrogen. So I am soy-less and flashing. It helps to fold a scarf into a band and to wear it at my (low) hairline and tie it at the back of my neck. That way the fabric absorbs the sweat. Or at least keeps it from dripping into my eyes. Tonight I wore a tie-dyed bandana and S called me Tom Sawyer.

(I typed "Tom Sawyer" and "sweat" into Google and found quotes from Huck, such as: "Looky here, Tom, being rich ain't what it's cracked up to be. It's just worry and worry, and sweat and sweat, and a-wishing you was dead all the time," and just thinking about how I could be foxy and twist the quote some to make it relevant to menopause made me embarrassed...and sweaty.)