Nobody Likes Blago--Not Even Komen

Maybe Blago will keep sliding away until he's gone from the the frame.

The Dallas Morning News blog tells us that Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation gave nearly $45,000 to our disgraced governor. The story? Tony Rezko spent the money on Blago, then the guv paid it back by giving the tainted funds to charity--mostly to Komen. Komen didn't want it and gave it back. Opines the DMN: And it's folks like Blagojevich that no doubt makes them Run from the Cur.

Cancer Bitch reported on this earlier, quoting Capitol Fax.

For a pic of our guv and Trickie Dickie, click here.

My Achilles' heel

Ladies, don't throw away the removable pocket of your mastectomy camisole! You can use it to cover your toes when you get your foot in a cast to heal your Achilles tendon! NB: When the temperature drops to the teens, you'll have to use a fuzzy sock instead.

Yes, I am casted in fiberglass. It looks like I broke my leg. The cast is there to keep me from moving my foot up and down so that my Achilles tendon can get some rest. It needs to rest because a couple of weeks before the cast, the back of my ankle hurt every time I walked. It is not ruptured, but it is inflamed.

When the cast is removed, on Dec. 22, I will need twice-weekly massage for I don't know how long. Three days later we are going to San Francisco, land of hills.

I'm driving everywhere instead of walking and clumping up and down the stairs and using elevators. I've been to two of my regular yoga classes and I was able to do some of the positions. But having your foot semi-permanently flexed does get in the way of many things, including downward-facing dog and child's pose.

Achilles' mother, you may recall, made him immortal by dunking him in the River Styx. Unfortunately, she held him by the heel and so that part of his body was vulnerable, mortal.

There are other stories about Achilles. They say that he tried to avoid his predicted death from battle by dressing as a woman. All the girls were offered presents. He outed himself by choosing a weapon instead of something girly.

But as we all know, in myths you can't outwit your fate. It comes and grabs you and shakes you and makes you weak.

His fatal flaws, besides his mortal heel, were pride and stubbornness. He died by an arrow shot into his heel. Which must have hurt way more than my tendonitis.

The cause of my pain is overuse or worn-out shoes or cortisone or antibiotics. Antibiotics? How does that make sense? We take one remedy for one problem then of course the side effects cause another problem, for which we have to have treatment. And so on and so on until we slip slide away.

My book cover

On the cover is a photo of a specially-made Cancer Bitch. I'm told it's small and somehow it's a whistle--I think if you take off the head. It was my friend S's idea to have the circle-slash over the left breast. Click here to read more about this book.


Today I was rushing to meet an editing client at 2pm when L called. He said, I have bad news. He told me that our good friends' son was killed in a car accident earlier today. At first I was in minor shock, just feeling shaky and unable to process it. I knew people died in car accidents, and I knew the son, but I couldn't connect the two. Later I found the news story on the web and just keep thinking about the times I've seen this kid (who was 28). The last time was a few years ago at his wedding.

People say that when you have cancer you start worshiping at the altar of carpe diem. It's one thing to think of yourself slowly fading away; it's quite another to find out that a healthy 28-year-old was thrown out of his car when a tire blew out while he was on the exit ramp.

I'm sure that his parents, our friends, will replay the "what ifs" forever and ever.


It's amazing that we drive these machines that are so deadly. Many of us can name people who were killed in car accidents. The mother of a friend of mine was killed on the road between Austin and Houston, in 1991. Her daughter, my friend's older sister, was in the car with her. My friend A's cousins lived with their grandparents because their parents had died young in a car crash. And then one of the cousins, in his late twenties or thirties, and married, died of lymphoma. If I'm not mistaken, there's a part of Milan Kundera's novel Immortality, which I read back in the 1990s, that discusses the strangeness of the very high rate of deaths caused by automobiles. Why do we accept it?

I read once in In These Times, I think, that in Germany (and this may have been back when there was an East and West, and this was in West), conscientious objectors who refuse to pick up guns are not allowed to drive cars, because they too, are fatal weapons. I couldn't confirm this, but the (Christian) Orthodox Peace Fellowship reports, "Thus there are Orthodox priests who do not drive a car because of the danger of inadvertently causing someone’s death."

It is dangerous to drive. It's even dangerous to be around cars. I know someone who was walking downtown and was struck by an out-of-control car that roared up on the curb. She is now quadriplegic.


This is a painting of Diana, goddess of the hunt, not quite an Amazon, but she could pass. According to legend the Amazons cut or burned off their right breasts so they could shoot arrows better. This is by Artemisia Gentileschi.

The reason I was looking for an Amazon is that now Cancer Bitch is on Amazon. With blurbs and everything--except not a cover image yet.

In Grant Park

It was nice, I tell people. Yes, it was nice.

That's not what they want to hear. They want to hear that the Obama rally in Grant Park on Tuesday was fantastic. Exhilarating. Incredible. Moving. They want to hear all that, but they'll have to hear it from someone else. I wish they could hear it from me. I wish I had burst into tears, like other people standing around me, like my husband. I wish that I'd felt a whoosh, a thrill, when I clapped along with everyone else when we heard that Iowa was going for Obama, and then Ohio. I wish that when I yelled in my green Obama t-shirt, among the tens of thousands in their t-shirts and caps and hijabs, holding their American flags aloft, wearing Obama pins, one girl with Vote Obama written on her face in blue, that I felt a thump in my chest, a heave in my heart. I wish that when I cheered along with everyone else when the CNN announcer on the JumboTron said, "It's looking exceedingly grim for John McCain," I felt gleeful. But I didn't.

CNN announced that Obama was the apparent winner. My friend Garnett, standing next to me said, "For the first time the country can actually get better." I agreed with her. A voice came over the loudspeaker: "Final sound check for the next president of the United States." Then I shouted along with everyone else, "Not for us!" when McCain said it was natural to feel some disappointment. I sang the chorus to "Sweet Home Chicago" along with the rest of the crowd. Then the president-elect came on stage (though I couldn't see him with my naked eye), but I didn't feel anything. I felt like the girl who sings "Nothing" in A Chorus Line. Except she became defiant about not feeling the way her acting teacher wanted her to, and I was disturbed.

What was wrong with me? This was historic, the first African-American president-elect. A brilliant man, a non-imperialist, a person we wouldn't have to disavow when traveling abroad. This was what I wanted--this is why I made phone calls to Iowa and rang doorbells in Indiana and Wisconsin, and organized a fundraiser in Chicago. This was the result I had hoped for, when I argued with Hillary supporters early on. In the park I listened to Obama, his stirring words about unity and inclusion and sacrifice, I listened to him say everything I would want a president to say--and still...

Wednesday I felt--or didn't feel--the same way. I kept trying to figure out what was going on. I kept thinking of syllogisms. Like: This country is conservative. Obama is progressive and I agree with him. But the country elected him. Therefore, Obama can't be progressive.

Maybe, I thought, I never supported a winning candidate before. That's partly true, except I voted for both Obama and Durbin for the Senate. How did I feel when Obama won his Senate seat? I don't remember. I did a tiny bit of work for that campaign. I campaigned for Harold Washington's second term. I was out of state for his first win. But he was hamstrung by a racist bloc of aldermen--at least at the beginning. I worked for an aldermanic candidate who lost twice. I voted for Carter and Clinton--but I didn't support either of them in the primaries.

Most of my adult life I've been politically marginal. My friends ran for state office on the Iowa Socialist Party ticket, and I voted for them. That was the choice: you vote for your beliefs or you vote for the compromisers. You vote your dreams or you sigh and vote for the possible. This is so ingrained in me that when I finally support a candidate who wins, with whom I agree, with whom I share a world view--my brain short-circuits and threatens to explode. How could suddenly a nation that I don’t quite feel a part of, embrace the same candidate that I embrace? How did that happen? Am I in shock?

Or am I depressed?


Friday afternoon I was walking to the main library downtown and thought about the time, years ago, I was in the library and this guy came up to the counter asked the librarian if she had any books by Studs Terkel, if she'd heard of Studs Terkel. It was Studs, in his characteristic red-checkered shirt. I don't think she had. I should have said, Yes, I've heard of you, I've read your work--but I didn't.

See, it's all about me. A great wonderful person dies and I think of myself. I feel sorry for myself, I feel regret: I met Studs a few times, talked to him, but I wasn't friends with him. I knew people who were friends with him. At a party a few weeks ago I talked to T, who was telling me about visiting Studs, who was not doing well. He may have been bed-ridden. T told me that Studs told him that he'd wanted to stay alive to see the Cubs go the World Series, and now he wanted to hold on until the election. (His absentee ballot arrived at his house the day he died.) I thought later that I wanted to ask T if I could go with him next time he went to see Studs. Would that even have been appropriate? I'm sure Studs wouldn't have remembered meeting me. My friend S came to Chicago several years ago to read from her book of oral histories. She visited Studs. She visited Carlos Cortez. She could do that because she was from out of town. Now both of these grand old men are dead.

I still haven't read the obit. I couldn't figure out my resistance to it, and then I thought: It's because I'm jealous. I wish I'd written it. I wish I'd known him the way Rick Kogan, who wrote the obit, knew him. What is wrong with me? I just heard on the radio Studs recalling the day that Rick was born; he was friends with his father, the editor Herman Kogan. (I met the elder Kogan once. So what?)

I wanted Studs to read at the fundraiser for Obama. I asked a friend of his, twice, if he would ask Studs for me, and both times he said: Studs is ill.

On the radio now are people I know talking about Studs. One of them is another grand not-as-old man, Quentin Young. I know him through his daughter. I wrote about his wife's funeral. (Studs was there, looking frail.) I admire him and want to spend time with him. How can we do that? We can call to ask him to dinner. Would he want to come to dinner with us? Would he want to be with us?

And I wondered, did Studs die the moment I happened to think about him?

Why does it matter, Cancer Bitch?

I want to be like him, but he didn't get to be who he was by wanting to be like someone else.

Town Hall

Fancy Hospital had its annual Town Hall meeting last week on breast cancer. Meaning, anyone could come and ask questions of a panel of experts: my erstwhile oncologist, my current oncologist, my erstwhile and very nice radiologist, a patient advocate (who lives in Des Moines) and a oncologist-plastic surgeon. I learned a few things, some of them unsettling. That estrogen-positive cancer (such as mine) is easier to treat than other kinds, but it also has a greater chance than other cancers of coming back after five years. How did I miss hearing that before? That triple-negative breast cancer is more common in African-American women than in women of other races, and that it's more aggressive and more likely to recur than many other other kinds of breast cancers. That according to one trial, five years of tamoxifen is better than 10 because breast cancer cells can learn to grow with the tamoxifen.

A man asked about Dr. Susan Love's new research effort. My old onco pooh-poohed Love, calling her an "entrepreneur," and said he was "not sure what she's doing." My current onco said that Love was encouraging patients to get in clinical trials to help the next generation. "What she's doing is great," she said. My onco also said that bone scans and CT scans and tumor markers aren't helpful in finding metastasis. It makes no difference, she said, whether you find out now or three to six months from now that the cancer has spread.

One woman was dressed in orange and spoke with an accent, maybe Eastern European. She had sleek short hair that may have been, now that I think about it, a wig. She asked about extra testing when a person is in remission. Her mammograms didn't show anything but "now I find out ... I don't have much time."

But the most shocking thing I heard was this, at the beginning: My former oncologist said that he'd gotten e-mails from some patients, asking him if there was going to be anything new at the Town Hall this year. What? He gave his e-mail address to patients? And he answered them? Unbelievable.

Stop the Presses!!

Today the Tribune informed us (this being Holy Holy Pink Breast Cancer Month) that black women in Chicago die more often of breast cancer than white women do. And that the reason is--get this!--that black women are more likely to live in poverty and therefore to have less access to good health care.

This is news?

To whom might this be a surprise? Perhaps people who thought there might be parity in health care in the US, for some reason. Or people who thought Chicago was like New York City, which has clinics scattered more evenly around the city. The Trib tells us: "The racial gap in Chicago was twice that of the United States and sevenfold that of New York City." This would not be a surprise to anyone who read Shane Tritsch's fine piece a year ago in Chicago magazine on the "Deadly Difference."

I think the best way to improve health care in the US as well as education is: make everyone rich. Then everything else will follow. We could start be spreading the wealth of this bailout. And throw in the money that the Iraq war is costing every day, in people and materiel and after-effects.

Dreaming of Cancer

The woman asked if I dreamed about cancer. She does. She is four years younger than I am, was diagnosed with the same stage (2A--the A makes it seem so tender, like the AA in one's first bra size) about a year behind me. She had chemo only four times instead of eight, and she had reconstructive surgery that started when the mastectomy was done. She had short curly hair and said she had terrible night sweats. And she dreamt a lot about cancer.

I never have. I have recurring dreams about failing to reach someone on a telephone. There are troubles with the buttons, I can never get the right numbers punched in. I have dreamed for years about having to put something large and opaque on my eye--like a leaf or a rock. I think this comes from my unconscious being freaked out by the thought of putting contacts on my eyeballs lo these many years. I dream about France and Houston and Eastern Europe. But I never dream about cancer.

Whenever someone says they've dreamed about me, I always ask: What was I wearing? In John Sayles' movie Passion Fish, the main character, who is paraplegic after an accident, dreams of being able to use her legs. I've never asked B, who has MS, if he dreams of walking and running. He probably does. There's an anecdote in Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search For Meaning. He tells of being in Auschwitz and hearing another prisoner cry out in his sleep. He wonders which would be more painful: to let the man continue his nightmare, or to wake the man up so that he could return to reality, in an extermination camp.

I wrote down my dreams for decades. When I was packing up this summer before moving, I threw files of them away. They were boring. I didn't want to re-read them. I didn't want to re-create those images in my head, those pieces of not-reality that would crowd out memories of things I really experienced. I know that Freud called dreams the royal road to the unconscious. I know that I threw out a written record of my unconscious. But I'm tired of analyzing. I've analyzed myself to the tune of $40 and $50 and $80 an hour while sitting on couch after couch with boxes of Kleenex close at hand. Once I even got health insurance to reimburse me for an hour of re-birthing. I have many faults and most of them are the same ones I've always had. I'm lazy and undisciplined and insecure and defensive and self-conscious. Prozac and its brethren got rid of the persistent lump in my throat. And for that I am grateful. Those pills have have also scraped away at my memory and my word-retrieval functions, but that is another story.

Les Sourcils

One thing--really, two things--that have not come back all the way since chemo are my eyebrows. They had been thinning out as I'd gotten older, but they grew very very thin and weaselly during chemo and are still not as robust as I'd like. Pre-emptively, I bought an eyebrow stencil from Chemochicks, but I never had to use it because my eyebrows didn't completely disappear. I finally sent the stencil to L the chemo nurse and hope she passed it along to someone who needed it. At the time, I didn't think about how she could gracefully hand it to someone: Uh, I noticed you've lost your eyebrows, and you might want to take this stencil home with you and use it, so that you don't look like a possum....

I've noticed lately that when I see someone who is nice-looking, that person usually has dark eyebrows. I look at pictures of my younger self and I see I had dark eyebrows. Sometimes I pencil in darker brows. Yesterday and today I laid the pencil on thick. I thought I looked remarkably different--more vibrant, more ethnic, younger.

Of course, no one said a thing.
I suppose if I were really concerned, I could order eyebrow wigs--made of French lace and human hair. All of which begs: Why French lace? Are the eyebrows made up of spare strands of eyebrow or do they come from hair from people's heads? How do you donate hair for eyebrow wigs and how much does it pay?

There are people who have no hope of ever growing eyebrows of their own, and so these eyebrow wigs must be a godsend. As a society we're so intolerant of any difference or "defect," so that everyone who is missing something must take pains to get one or two of whatever-it-is right away.
My eyelashes, luckily, never completely went away, and I think they've restored themselves. Which reminds me--my eyes used to tear up easily when I went outside. Now they don't. I assumed that was a side effect of chemo and I think it was.

Half Full

I organized a successful fundraiser last night but I keep looking at the dark side: OK, we raised about $7,000 or more, but my friend Maddy raised $30,000 in Northampton. We had a great mix of readers and readings, but it went on too long and we missed the first few minutes of the debate. We had a somewhat chaotic silent auction for books and cartoons and we (the fund raising we) have a box of books leftover in our already-messy office. Not to mention some cartoons, too. (I'm offering all for sale on line. Contact me if you want the list of offerings. Deadline for bidding is 11:59 p.m. Friday.) We raised $6,500 for Obama for America, but I should have designated the money collected at the door last night ($1,500) for the buses to take canvassers to Iowa. That would have doubled the amount I did turn in to finance the buses, from sales of buttons, stickers, books and cartoons. We have wine and soft drinks left over. Do I feel bad about that too? I don't think so.
Everyone told me how great it was. My main fear had been that the set-up for watching the debate wouldn't work, but Chopin Theatre co-owner Zygmunt Dyrkac, who doesn't own a TV himself, had a flat-screen TV for us. I asked him how he did it. Magic, he said. On stage, he said, we kill people, we have people fall in love who hate each other. Creating a TV was easy.

Praise the Lord & Pass the Ammunition

Now seems like a good time to quote from Mark Twain's War Prayer, published posthumously:

"'O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -– be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it –- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.'"

Cancer Bitch to emcee at Obama FUNdraiser

Cancer Bitch aka S.L. Wisenberg will MC at a literary fundraiser for Barack Obama, Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago.

5:30 pm- Reception and silent auction of signed books (by the readers, as well as Reg Gibbons, Rick Perlstein, Ayun Halliday & Paula Kamen)

6:30 pm- A flock of local writers will read work that is very fun, very interesting, very political (in the broadest sense) and very very brief: Sara Paretsky, Stuart Dybek, Haki Madhubuti, Rosellen Brown, James McManus, Jonathan Messinger, Roger Bonair-Agard, Kevin Coval, Michelle Goldberg, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Kristiana Rae Colón, Tom Geoghegan, Marcus Sakey, Libby Hellman, Carlos Cumpian & Cris Mazza, and non-silent auction of political cartoons by Nicole Hollander, Jennifer Berman, Tom Bachtell, Pat Byrnes & Tim Jackson.

8 pm- Viewing of the final Obama-McCain debate

Cost is $60/person at the door, $50 in advance, on line. People under 25 can pay their ages.

To buy your ticket, go to and hit “Donate” on the thermometer. Cartoonists and authors who'd like to donate their work to the auction: please e-mail

The Cab Driver/The Persistence of Cancer

I went to T's house to watch the veep debates. This was my first visit to her house, the first time I'd done anything social with her. She's in my yoga class and we've talked politics before. Beforehand I went downtown to hear Bernard Henri-Levy, but I got the time wrong and missed the event.

What can I say about the debates that you haven't heard already? I thought Palin's sentences didn't track. She comes from the Daley school of diction. We showed the white flag of surrender at Iraq: I hope that absurd phrase will dog her for the next month.

I took a cab home. It was driven by a white-haired man with black eyebrows and an accent. He thought the US should adopt the British system whereby the leader could be made to step down after a no-confidence vote, instead of being allowed to serve for four years automatically. He asked where my family was from. I said my grandparents were from Eastern Europe. He asked where. I told him: Lithuania, Moldova and Russia. Oh, he said, Aren't you Jewish? I said yes. He said, Why aren't you observing Rosh Hashanah? I told him that the holiday ended last night. I felt then I had the right to ask him where he was from. He said his father was Irish, his mother was Chinese-Jewish and he was Turkish. Was he kidding? He said the average American doesn't care about anything except getting a drink and finding a loose woman. He also said some poll showed that 62 percent of Americans are involved in homosexuality and alcoholism. I think that's what he said. He kept talking and was parked on my street and I saw the meter go up 10 cents, 15 cents, 25, 50. Enough was enough and I got out of the cab.

I've always thought that the people with the most developed senses of Jew-dar are Jews and anti-Semites. I wonder which he was.

A woman at T's asked how we knew each other or got to talking about politics at yoga. I couldn't remember. T said we started talking about the war when I had my head shaved with US out of Iraq. I explained to the other woman that I had been bald because of chemo. Of course that brings us to breast cancer and hair growing back. She was quite excited about my hair and said it was great and looked so healthy. The hair always seems to be the bellwether, because it's so THERE. Maybe it does reflect inner health. For me and my sister, our thick curly hair has always been indicative of our genetic makeup: We come from a family with thick curly hair. Then a man who was there asked what I was working on. What should I say? I wondered. Should I mention my book? I'm through working on it, except for proof sheets that will be coming my way next month, and my marketing report, that I have to finish. I told him I was writing a review-essay about cancer books and humor. Can't get away from that Cancer. It's here. It's there. It's everywhere. It came to rest and was removed but still hovers.

Tashlich, Casting Sins

Above: Tashlich in Poughkeepsie. Click to enlarge.

Yesterday after services we went to the lake to symbolically cast our sins into the water. It's an old tradition, supposedly begun to give children something to do outside, and it's become popular of late. Traditionally you scour your pockets for crumbs to throw out, but you can also use stones. I started using stones after someone said that tossing bread can disrupt the ecosystem. Though stones disappoint the seagulls. I decided to choose just a few sins so I'd remember them: Ego. Lack of Discipline. Impulsiveness. Then I shortened them to: Ego. Indolence. Though those two don't cover the waterfront. I kept saying them to myself as I gathered more rocks and threw them into the water. Trying not to hit the birds. Trying to make the stones not look like food. The birds gather and wheel. One had orange on the top part of its wing. I thought it had gotten into some paint. Someone else thought that it was tagged. It seemed an odd way to tag a bird, though I have to admit that the orange paint made the bird easy to spot. I wonder if the other birds notice.

I used to think, as the bard put it, that I was more sinned against than sinning, or that my greatest sin was not appreciating myself, but I realize now that I was mistaken.

Above: King Lear, who was not Jewish

The New Year

This is the Gaon (Genius) of Vilna, allegedly my ancestor

It is the new year for us Hebrews (as we were called at Ellis Island) or Israelites (as we're called in France, because Juifs is too reminiscent of the Nazi occupation). My father used to say he was a WASH--a white Anglo-Saxon Hebrew. He wasn't Anglo-Saxon except in language. And much culture. I always think of my father during services, because he was known for whispering bons mots and sharing sugarless chewing gum. There's a prayer called the Aleynu, during which, according to tradition, Jews would kneel. That was discontinued because it was too much like Christianity, the rabbi said today. Generally, we bow our heads at one point in the prayer. The next sentence of the prayer begins with: Lifneymelech. See, it sounds like Lift, my father used to always say. Today some of us did kneel, because it is a high holiday. A big deal. Christians have Christmas and Easter, and we have Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ten days apart. During which we are under judgment: Shall we be written in the book of life? Should we be allowed to live? Should we die? All this is metaphorical, at least to me. We twist the tradition this way and that in order to make it relevant. Or I do. When you look at the prayers, you can't *not* think about the Holocaust. If you're me. You can't *not* think about the professions of faith you're chanting, the images of divine light and protection you're conjuring. They believed all this (some of them), they believed they were protected, and they were torn from civilization and murdered.

There is a portion of the Yom Kippur service that recognizes martyrs through time. You are not encouraged to be a martyr, but I suppose the architects of the religion have thought that it's important to stay aware of the historical defenders of the faith. As a community we mourn them. Do we pay tribute? Perhaps. We make them (some of them) the stuff of legend. Role models in extremis.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg tells us: When the righteous Rabbi Akiva was flayed alive by the Romans for daring to rebel, we are told that the angels shrieked in horror. "It is my decree," was God's inscrutable answer. Or as Stanley Elkin once put it in his novel "The Living End" (this is paraphrase:) God is asked why he created so much havoc and suffering on earth. He answers: It made a better story.

As always, our martyrs are better than their martyrs. Our guerrillas are freedom fighters, theirs are terrorists. God's on our side.

Update: the Search for Organic Whey Powder

Bovine growth hormones: Does she or doesn't she?

I wrote quite a while back about my search for protein powder without soy or rBGH--recombinant bovine growth hormone. I finally found Jay Robb Unflavored Whey Protein Isolate from non-hormone-ated cows and sent off for it. Then I got Whole Foods to order it for me. I recommend it. If anyone knows of a better whey, let me know. It would be "purer" if Jay Robb could assure us that the cows were fed grains and grasses that were not treated with pesticides. There's protein powder from hemp, but I can't stomach the color, green. I just found on line organic brown rice protein powder. I haven't tried it.

A note about soy: It's a great bean, but since it acts like a weak estrogen, we Cancer Bitches with estrogen-sensitive tumors try to avoid it. Therefore, it's annoying to go to a coffee place and ask if they have organic milk, and they say, Yes, we have organic soy. That's why I usually bring my own organic milk in those little boxes. For a while Starbucks had organic (whole) milk, but because of low demand, stopped offering it. In my general environs, you can find organic milk at Dollop and Julius Meinl.

Back in the Saddle

Ceci n'est pas une Cancer Bitch.

Friday I was riding my bike to French yoga at the Alliance Francaise. (It's yoga with instructions in French.) At the stoplight at Fullerton and Lincoln I heard my name. It was M, whom I hadn't seen since BC (before cancer). She was in her car next to me and said I looked great. (You could see my curls sticking out from under the helmet). I had some fliers with me for a fundraiser, Writers & Cartoonists for Obama. I gave her one.

That's not much for a lot of people, but it was more than I'd gone for two years. I felt I presented the picture of Absolute Recovery: on a bike, going to yoga, handing out a flier for something not having to do with cancer. I ended up riding my bike about 11 miles on Friday.

The next day we rode downtown to Obama headquarters to drop off more fliers. The place was mobbed. I got tired but I rallied. And every time I ride my bike in the city I feel I'm taking my life in my hands and imagine the irony, that people will tsk tsk and say: O, she had recovered from breast cancer and she was riding her bike, she was healthy and then boom! she was run over by a car.

For the Girl Who Has Everything...


I found these (above link) while I was looking for something else. A Chicago Daily News columnist, Sidney J. Harris, used to write occasionally about things he found out while looking up something else. So here's to Sidney Harris, who died in 1986, and to the Chicago Daily News, which died in 1978.

So. If you go to Choose Hope, you can find silicone bracelets in an array of colors. For example, a teal/pink/blue combo is for thyroid cancer, white is for lung cancer, yellow is for bladder cancer (that one makes sense), yellow is also for sarcoma/bone cancer. Other colors also do double duty: periwinkle blue is for esophageal as well as stomach cancer. I guess the less popular cancers have to share. Pink, of course, is for breast cancer. You can also buy a lavender and white band that says, Cancer Sucks. Each band is just $2. If you have brain cancer, you'll have to wait. That wristband, which is gray (as in gray matter), is on back order.

You can also order a Cancer Sucks car magnet with a bluish ribbon. So many choices.

How long have these been available? I'm the last to know about these things. I just found out today, for instance, that there's a Breast Cancer Awareness Barbie, not a parody bald Breast Cancer Barbie, but a real one made for retail sale by Mattel. (Why? When we played Barbies, she just went on dates. She never got sick, never even had a cold. But wait, this Barbie is aware of breast cancer; she doesn't have it herself.) Elsewhere, you can buy a book by Ruth Handler, Barbie's "mother" and creator, who had breast cancer and founded a prosthetic breast company. Click here to see Prostate Cancer Ken, which is not offered by the Matell company. At least not yet.

Wind and Water

It rained here in Chicago for almost two days straight, flooding some neighborhoods and suburbs and I kept thinking that this is what it's like in Houston, though I knew it wasn't. In Houston it had stopped raining and there was flooding but mostly devastating wind damage and widespread power outages. My sister got out Friday and drove to Austin. Like me, she has asthma and needs air conditioning to filter the air. This morning she was planning to go to Dallas to stay with our cousins. My mother, on the other hand, is staying on the 14th floor of her condo. She wouldn't go to Austin with my sister. She's just finished clearing out her freezer and she's ready to leave. She's planning to fly to Dallas on Tuesday. She's betting that the airports will be open then.

My mother called last night at 8:30. right before I got home. Her message said that she was going to bed because it was dark. She didn't have power or a land line that worked, and she had to watch her cell phone use because her charger relies on electricity. Her building allegedly has a generator, which was supposed to keep the elevators running. They weren't until today. And her land line just came on today.

She made kugel before the hurricane, because it was something you could eat hot or cold. She cooked a chicken and put it in the freezer. She filled the bathtub with water. We all remembered Hurricane Carla in 1961. I remember sitting huddled over the transistor radio and hearing a report that the roof of a gas station had blown off. My sister's house is untouched, but the garden was shredded. Her husband was grilling the meat from the freezer.

So far, Ike has caused 30 deaths in the US and 80 in the Caribbean and untold damage. In Galveston two legendary hotels are gone, and it seems most everything else is, too.

Some offices in downtown Houston had power yesterday, and the Texas Medical Center was open, according to NPR. I remember reading a science fiction story years and years ago about life where humans had total control. Each day's weather was decided by vote. That was an aside, not the main part of the story. I wonder, after days and days of beautiful clear weather, would a hurricane faction emerge? Would people form a Wind and Rain Party and urge fellow citizens to vote for destruction and death, because bad weather is more interesting?

At least there would be someone to blame.

This is not a picture of Ikea.

Everyone thinks that Dante said the lowest rung in hell is reserved for the neutrals. Actually, he said something much subtler than that. But we will continue with this idea. I am trying to figure out why Ikea is so awful, both going to, being there, and going from. I am trying to blame it on its Swedishness, and therefore its neutrality, but my theory doesn't quite work. I tried to blame it on the Swedes' propensity for suicide, but Kazakhstan and Belarus each has an incidence that's more than double the Swedish rate, but they at least had the sense (or lack of resources) not to go and spread their disassembled wares upon the globe.

Earlier this summer we made the mistake of going to Ikea. We went only because we were trying to find some cabinets to match the ones in the kitchen of the new house. The sellers of the house had committed the original sin of ordering from Ikea. On a Saturday we agreed to go on a Tuesday night, but then on Sunday L was gung-ho to make the trek. That in itself put me in a bad mood, but I was trying to be easy to get along with for a change, so I assented. After all, L insisted, there would be much less traffic on a Sunday afternoon.

He was wrong. Of course. There was mucho mucho traffic and in-car I-told-you-so tension all the way there. And inside there was just the Ikea maze. It's like the Guggenheim Museum, you go around and around, except there are beds and bedclothes and sofas and chairs and cabinets and tables instead of major works of art, and there are detailed confusing forms to fill out, like they used to give you at sushi restaurants--just like that, if the restaurants served you separate clumps of rice and fish and little eggs and pickled vegetables and nori (seaweed) with some confusing instructions in small type about how to assemble your sushi.

We found out that planned obsolescence had done in the cabinets so our trip was for naught. I made L promise that he would never ever ever make me go there again.

Yesterday we rode our bikes to Affordable Portables, which is very small and cramped but very friendly and relaxed and all on one floor. No elevators. No big parking lot. No Swedish meatballs. Lots of glass jars of candy (Tootsie Rolls, Laffy Taffy, Reeses, and more). We chose a sofa that's incidentally a futon, meaning that we found a Mission-style frame that we liked for itself, and decided on a mattress that was comfortable for sitting on, and we chose a cover, plus we got a holder for our stereo (audio center, people call it). Then we went to Cost Plus World Market and I goaded L into deciding to get a bench with three storage baskets underneath it, and a decorative trunk that we'll use to decoratively hold blankets under a window in our bedroom. We'd looked at the mud bench (it's called) and the trunk before. I am fast fast fast on big decisions (house and furniture) and slow slow slow on small decisions. I think that's true. We also need to get some more bookshelves so we can put up our encyclopedias. I also want to hang our pictures. L wants to wait. To see if we'll find furniture we like better, to see where we want the pictures to be. To mull over. I am a faster shopper. I want to do it now.

Then I mull it over afterward, after the damage has been done.

Or I feel relieved that decisions were good ones. Now I like our house and our furniture and L.

This Mortal Coil

So I'm filling out the marketing questionnaire for The Adventures of Cancer Bitch. This means I'm listing possible reviewers and interviewers who might be interested in me and the book. So I'm looking at the press list from my last book, looking up reviewers. There's Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor. Hmm, I guess I'll look her up. She didn't review Holocaust Girls, but maybe she'd be interested...

Oops. She died in 2006. Age 57. Of cancer. The LA Times reported in December 2006:
Merle Rubin, a book critic who was a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times as well as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and Christian Science Monitor, has died. She was 57.
It is rare for a book critic to support herself as a freelancer. The profession is notorious for long hours and low pay, but it seemed to agree with Rubin.
“It is a way of making a literary life,” Times Book Editor David Ulin said of Rubin’s career. “The intellectual benefits are there.”
Nick Owchar, Times deputy book editor added that Rubin "thought of the reader" and "she wanted to be sure they had an experience of the book by reading her review, whether they read the book or not."

Her husband is also a reviewer.

How long will people be able to support themselves reviewing books? What will the literary landscape look like in 10 years?

I need to figure out what it means that more and more people are writing (blogs, emails, text messages, online reviews of everything from post offices to appliances) and fewer people are reading. Books, at least.

Here is a link to one of Rubin's reviews. Brought to you by the wonders of the online world.

Songs of the 60s

I listened to the conventions. I didn't watch much of the Dems on TV, except for one night at an Obama party. I've been listening to the Republicans on the radio. As part of the film about McCain's life, the sonorous narrator tells us that he survived a fire and explosion that rippled through on an aircraft carrier; 134 soldiers died in the accident. "Perhaps he had more to do," the narrator intones. The only implication I can come up with is that God decided he needed more time. Isn't that the inference?

When the planes hit the Twin Towers, I called B and he hadn't heard yet. When I told him what had happened, he started singing, With God on Our Side.

As Dylan sang: "For you don't count the dead/ When God's on your side."

McCain says war is terrible. So why is so gung-ho to bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran?(To the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann.")

I don't love the ayatollahs. But I'm hoping that eventually the people will get rid of them. How can that be done without violence, Cancer Bitch? Most people don't voluntarily hand over power. Especially those with God on their side.

America should apologize for the coup against the democratically-elected Mosaddegh in 1953. Many of Iran's current woes flowed from that.

If McCain wins, the conflagration will start in the Middle East and won't stop.

Things happen/Origin of the specious

Heather Bruce, Sarah Palin's older sister, with whom Bristol Palin lived last spring, said that Bristol is "just a sweet girl and things happen in a family."

Apparently that is the family motto, on some things. Pregnancy happens. (When you don't educate kids about contraception and make it available.) Global warming happens, is not caused by humans. Sarah Palin is quoted as saying that the warming has affected Alaska, but "I'm not one though who would attribute it to being man-made."

I guess God willed it. Why? Who are we to judge or second-guess His ways? Maybe (this is Cancer Bitch speculating, not Palin) He's warning us about the fires of hell--therefore global warming is a kind of pre-emptive strike.

But the beginning of the world didn't just happen. Palin believes in creationism and thinks it should be taught in school, but pledged after her election as governor not to push it. "I believe we have a creator," she said, according to the AP. The story continues: "But she has not made clear whether her belief also allowed her to accept the theory of evolution as fact."

"I'm not going to pretend I know how all this came to be," she has been quoted as saying.

Ever cracked open The Origin of Species?

Our fellow Americans are even scarier. According to a 2004 CBS poll, only 13 percent of our citizens believe that God had nothing to do with evolution. A whopping 65 percent believed that creationism should be taught alongside evolution.

A Harris poll last year found: "Large majorities of the public believe in miracles (79%), heaven (75%), angels (74%), that Jesus is God or the son of God (72%), the resurrection of Jesus (70%), the survival of the soul after death (69%), hell (62%), the devil (62%), and the virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary) (60%)."

So why wouldn't they believe that Republicans have the answers?

The main problem, as I see it, is that it's very very very difficult for U.S. citizens to move permanently to Canada.

New Idea for Prosthetic Breast/Sarah Palin

No, the fish isn't the new prosthetic breast. The fish has to do with the next paragraph.
As Cancer Bitch, I feel obliged to bring you the news of breakthroughs in breast replacements. Here's one I hadn't thought of: A cross-dressing thief was using a water-filled condom as a breast. The problem was he left it behind. The moral is: If you're going to commit a crime, make sure that all your parts are securely attached.

In serious news (though I'm sure the theft was serious to those involved), I feel I should say something about Sarah Palin but others have had very smart things to say. I refer you to Sam Harris in the LA Times--Palin: Average isn't good enough and Ruth Pennebaker, The Power of Abstinence. Now see also Palin's Speech to Nowhere, from the Philly Daily News.

War Against the Squirrels

When I first came to the Midwest (never having heard the term "Midwest" and thinking that Chicago was the East, near New York, but that's another story) to go to Well-Regarded University, I fell in love with the squirrels on campus. They had no predators and were relatively tame. I would feed them and I still bear a slight slight scar on my right hand from the time a squirrel came up close to me after I'd run out of nuts. The squirrel started scratching at me, thinking I was hiding more in my fist. I went to student health, and found myself saying the same thing a friend of mine had said when he was scratched by a squirrel: No, I don't know which squirrel it was.

After all, birds are banded, and I'm just reading about the Body Farm in Tennessee, where in one experiment, scientists have dabbed orange paint on flies to mark them, but the squirrels at WRU were free and anonymous. And after the squirrel wounded me, I still fed him, or his brethren.

So I like squirrels.

Except when they dig up the geraniums and begonias in the flower boxes on the deck. Which they've been doing every day since we planted them. Today I found some of the plants all dug up and lying on their sides. I went on line and found one suggestion that seemed sensible: to get rocks and spray them with a vinegar and cayenne solution.

I did this. And set the rocks between the flowers. Supposedly squirrels don't like pepper. At the condo, we planted bulbs and in one flower bed sprinkled red pepper flakes to keep out the squirrels. We used moth balls on the other half, and in the spring we had about the same amount of crocuses and tulips on each side. Which proves that both were equally good--or equally bad--deterrents.


I dreamed last night I told Mayor Daley that I would pay more property taxes in order to provide hot water and shelter for everyone. (In the dream, the amount I paid was about half what it is in reality.)

I am a homeowner. I have a stake in the city. In the neighborhood. We have boxes on the front porch awaiting pick up by strangers who are moving. (One of the wonders of Craig's List.) The next-door neighbors are selling their house. I told them the boxes would be gone soon, that I didn't want to lower their property value. When I was in junior high, our principal said that if girls wore pants it would lower the property values. In eighth grade there was a protest. I didn't take part. I was too chicken. But a girl named W wore jeans, and in Mrs. F's math class she put her feet on the empty seat in front of her. Mrs. F jumped on it immediately: When girls wear pants they put their feet on the furniture. In school, the desks were always called furniture.

By high school we were wearing cut-off jeans and halter tops, though that principal put a stop to flip flops, then known as shower sandals. It was a safety issue. The principal liked to defy the school district and had a flowery sign over his office that said Love Room. Or something like that. There was a smoking area outside, which was considered progressive. No one brought up the health issue.

I remember a discussion about having police in the school. I don't know why it came up; maybe because drugs were found in lockers. I was on the student council and that was probably where we discussed it. Some of us objected (did I? I don't remember) and the counter argument was, If you're doing nothing wrong, why would it matter? And: If you're driving and you see a cop, what's your reaction? My reaction is I'd rather not see them. I tense up. I check my speed. And is that good or bad?

Now we have cameras at intersections to record erring drivers. When I lived in Miami, I remember there were police cameras on South Beach because there were so many muggings. This was when it was populated by frail, retired needle-trade workers with Yiddish accents. What does the city owe us and what do we owe the city? Chicago is like a nation-state. It could be very democratic, with 50 representatives on the city council. But I think a majority of them were appointed by the mayor. Meanwhile, I have not protested enough that yoga classes were discontinued a year ago at the park district when the teacher retired, and the district still hasn't found a new teacher. The park district is a public body that is supposed to be responsive to citizens. But the citizens needs to make themselves heard.

But what is property? Architects see buildings as containers for shapes. I don't believe exactly that property is theft, but most property in the US was originally ill-gotten. We feel that we don't deserve this big house. We also feel a responsibility to keep it up. It's about 110 years old and historic in a general way. We don't know its history. The headquarters at school is a mansion that came with a scrapbook about its history. It was built for the publisher of a long-dead newspaper and Will Rogers came there once to a party. When I went to the Millay Colony for the Arts, I saw that each person who stayed in a room wrote her or his name on the jamb. At another artists colony, Ragdale, the residents write notes in a notebook in each room. We have our say. We note where we were. What we did. I walk down the streets of Chicago thinking about what it looked like 50 years ago, a century ago. Some people go back further, and see prairie grasses and swamp where skyscrapers are now. (In French, gratte-ciel, sky scratcher--aggressive in both languages.) And part of everything growing around us, the trees and fertilized grasses and flowers, are tiny fragments of people who used to live around here. I assume someone somewhere has hypothesized about the process, about how long it takes for a body to decay in the ground, then become part of the atmosphere and material world. We bring dead flowers to decorate graves (we in general, not Jews) and then some caretaker takes them away. Jews leave stones, and eventually the stones become part of the earth and so on.

The Question of Subject

If this is a cancer blog, and moreover, a breast cancer blog, then it should be about breast cancer, should it not? But if it is a blog that reflects what it's like to have (and have had) breast cancer, and when your treatment boils down to taking a pill every night, and when you're not thinking about breast cancer 100 percent of your waking and dreaming hours, then does your blog need to be 100 percent about breast cancer? (It's not, has never been.) Do people come to a breast cancer blog expecting to read about Life With Cancer, and grow disappointed learning about Life With a New/Old House? Or is that the message itself: That after breast cancer, there's room for everything else in your life?

But you never forget it entirely. There's that missing breast on the left, for one, and the hair that's shorter than it was two years ago, and there are people who ask, How are you? and then, How ARE you? with that emphasis, that heaviness, as if trying to pry out a secret.

In the news conference I went to for Stand Up 2 Cancer, Elizabeth Edwards said that she felt something in common with anyone who's had cancer. And that's true. I feel the same--that we've gone to that place that used to mean (and still might mean) Death. And we've gone through the same baffling, often impersonal procedures at hospitals. (By talking to one another, we're reasserting our individualities.) Before I had breast cancer, I felt that everyone who had it was going to die before her time. Though rationally, I knew that wasn't necessarily so. I remember hearing about someone who had breast cancer and then seeing her, healthy-seeming, and wondering why there was no sign. Thinking she was faking it--it being her health.

I Have Been Breathing Tile

So now we are living in this old house that is older than many things in this world, a house that was standing probably looking much like it looks now (without the vinyl siding) when my grandparents were back in the shtetls of Slutsk and Pusvatyn and the other place that was a satellite of Kishinev. The famous and terrible Kishinev pogrom of 1903 had not yet taken place when this house was built. And supposedly, according to M the duct cleaner, no one has ever cleaned the ducts in all that time. I lived in the condo, also old, for almost 10 years and never got the ducts cleaned, though I thought about it, and my neighbors had it done. Last night I noticed that if you take off the grille (which is quaint and decorated and rusted) over the vent in the office, there's a breach in the duct, pocket of metal, with bits of tile and tile dust and gray grains of schmutz. And I had been breathing that??? I've been on prednisone and antibiotic since Saturday because I had a sore throat that turned into bronchitis.

Then I got the air duct cleaner guys to come over and they sucked out the particles opened all the vents and cleaned them. M the duct cleaner said that the pieces of tile came from the bathroom (the next room over) when the people before us replaced the tile with slate. Pieces of tile had come through the bathroom duct and were wedged in a little pocket that had formed in the seam of the metal duct. He got metal tape and sealed it so no more pieces of former floor could rise up. I felt so vulnerable, that dirt could fly right into the air here and I could breathe it and get worse and worse. And then I felt stupid because I'd known the ducts needed cleaning but I hadn't visualized what it really meant, that the air circulating around here was dirty, and it seemed so invisible and uncontrollable and impossible. I think they are clean now but the grilles are rusted and imperfect and I became afraid we had bought wrong, that we should have figured this all out beforehand. And then I went to yoga and while I was riding my bike east I thought, Why did we move three blocks west? It really is cooler by the lake and so here we are in the wrong house in the wrong place.

In the Obits

The Tribune's top obit today is of a woman born in 1914 in Chicago of Czechoslovakian immigrants. She had a lifetime of social work, both in the US and abroad, working with refugees. She graduated from Northwestern in sociology in 1935. (She graduated from high school at 16, but her father thought she was too young for college. I'm impressed that it sounds like he assumed she would go to college. So she and her mother traveled in Europe.) Just after the war ended, she went to Europe and worked with displaced persons in Germany, where she met and married an interpreter she worked with. He was a former member of the Polish Army who had been a prisoner of war. Her name was Helen Zilka Jaworski and she died at 93 of "natural causes," which sounds peaceful and is a euphemism for "the wearing out of parts due to old age." But don't we all die of natural causes, unless we're the victims of homicide, suicide or
accident? Isn't cancer a "natural cause," albeit one we would very happily call unnatural and say To hell with?

And if humans are naturally aggressive, isn't war a "natural cause"?

The other obit of note was for Leroy Sievers, who was born the year I was. He was an NPR commentator who had a series on "Morning Edition" and on-line about his colon cancer that returned as a brain tumor and lung cancer. We're told that he "covered more than a dozen wars" and that Ted Koppel wrote that Sievers' "battle with cancer... [was] the most important story of his life."

I wonder if Sievers would agree. Is it better to cover wars or your own body's deterioration? Which is more helpful to the world at large?

I knew about Seivers' blog and national commentaries and was envious.

The in-text links aren't working right. You can find the obits here:,0,225735.story

and here:,0,6433352.story

Link to Sievers' work on NPR:

--posted by Cancer Bitch

No, YOU move beyond cancer

Nota bene: a brief article in the New York Times Science section, "Having Cancer, and Finding a Personality," by Ruth Pennebaker. Her description of post-cancer malaise is right on.

"The last time I visited my oncologist after my treatments were over, I felt lost. The image that kept recurring in my mind was that someone with a gigantic pair of tweezers had picked me up, shaken me and tossed me back down. Now what?"


I had my own rimshot moments during treatment. Satire can be used to divert aggression; in my case, joking was more productive than punching a hole in the wall. During my last radiation appointment, the nurse gave me a going-away present: a videotape titled "Moving Beyond Cancer." I told her I'd really prefer it if she gave Cancer a videotape called "Moving Beyond Elisa."

Posted by The Fifty Foot Blogger

Hemmed In: a Note from Cancer Bitch

The Fifty Foot Blogger, you may have noticed, has been guest-blogging and has graciously assented to continue for a while. I will be poking my nose in during her guesting. Right now I am oppressed by my own lack of discrimination. We moved yesterday and I have an Office One and Office Two in our new place. Office One will be my quiet, non-machine office, with bookshelves (and a laptop, at times). Office Two will have printers and fax machine and phone, and right now has six four-drawer file cabinets and about 25 boxes of books, literary magazines, office supplies (including about 200 used file folders), old work (such as fiction written at grad school, 1981-83) and old notes and books from articles written (a box on sleep and sleep deprivation, from a piece I wrote a number of years ago). I cannot move around in this office because it is so full of boxes on top of boxes on top of file cabinets. I am hemmed in by my past and my inability to throw away, though I swear I have thrown out and given away many boxes and bags of stuff. I threw away my typed-up dreams from the 1980s, assuming they're too boring for even me to re-read. But do I throw away my first rejection letter from the New Yorker (with a hand-written note by Daniel Menaker)? I have my letters in files according to year. I received about 10 from Roger Angell before I received an acceptance, and then after that he sent me about 15 more rejections. Cancer Bitch is seeking permission from you, dear blog-reader, to throw out such letters. I asked a writer friend of mine for advice and she told me she and her husband keep all their letters, because they have a storage space. I refuse to get a storage space. I want to winnow and cut. I'm too old-fashioned to get a scanner and scan everything and put on disk. I want to be austere. But it is so difficult. When I got my port removed last year, I got to keep it and it's in a little plastic bottle. Do I throw that out? Much of my writing depends on the past, some of it on my personal past. I've written essays that quoted from notes I took while traveling, while listening to lectures and watching documentaries, so I'm loath to throw out my many notebooks. But at what point does keeping these notebooks become counter-productive because of their sheer number?

I will keep my copy of my bat mitzvah speech, of notes that I received from friends in junior high, of letters my father sent me. But my early drafts of stories that never turned out? Who needs them? Chapters that never worked from an unfinished novel that never worked? Who needs them? I just went to the old apartment to clear away some last detritus and found in the closet a birthday card I gave to L several years ago. I threw it out without much trouble. There will be other birthdays and other cards.

In a figure drawing class years ago our teacher had us sketch, then change seats. We each worked on someone else's drawing. How easy it was to erase and change someone else's work. It would have been easy to crumple up and throw away, too.

In the old days poets lamented that their names were "writ in water" (see Keats). Is our cyber-writing the equivalent, or does cyberspace make us immortal--but immortal among more cyberwords and cyber-writers than Keats ever dreamed of?

Breast Cancer Comics

The New York Times recently reviewed the graphic novel "The Bottomless Belly Button," by Dash Shaw. An astonishing 720 pages, the story follows an extended family as they react to the news that the grandparents are getting a divorce. There's a lot of buzz around "The Bottomless Belly Button;" New York magazine called it the "graphic novel of the year." And, there's just as much interest in the author and artist, 25 year-old Dash Shaw. For such youth, he's prolific, having already inked critically acclaimed "The Mother's Mouth," and several shorter works.

When I Googled him, I was surprised to see his name attached to a search result for "Breast Cancer Comics," from the web site Readers submit their stories, and Shaw (who looks about fourteen in his profile photo) interprets them in graphic form. Perhaps it was a good gig for a starving artist. I somehow have the feeling he's about to become too famous for this kind of work.

"A Week at the Beach, With a Divorce Imminent" Book of the Times. [Link]

Breast Cancer Comics [Link]

Dash Shaw's website [Link]

Posted by The Fifty Foot Blogger

Guest Blogger: The Fifty Foot Blogger

Greetings--I'll be guest-blogging here while Cancer Bitch moves to her new place. For the most part, these will be cross-posts in my own blog. However, if you find my meanderings amusing, you can read my earlier stuff at The Fifty Foot Blogger.

Last week, I had my first gynecological exam since I started cancer treatment. TMI, you say? None of you complained when I wrote about breasts.

I haven't had the best of luck with gynecologists. There was Dr. Shifty, at my old HMO, who constantly glanced around the room while I asked questions, as if seeking an escape route. Then, Dr. Gorgeous, who lectured me about birth control while he was down there. Uncomfortable. The last one, Dr. Soccermom, hurt me during the examination, and blamed me, saying I was "too tense." Pain does make me tense.

So, my expectations were low when I walked into yet another waiting room of OB/GYN practice; this time recommended by my internist. After filling out the new patient forms, I started to browse the magazine selection. They had a couple of obligatory copies of Parenting, but also a number of news magazines and, to my delight, the latest issue of ReadyMade. If you're not familiar with ReadyMade, it's the bible of hipster Do-It-Yourself-ers; sort of a combination Popular Mechanics/Good Housekeeping for Generation Y. It's a pretty unusual magazine to find in a doctor's office.

One of the big problems I've had with OB/GYNs in the past is the feeling that they're really OBs, and the GYN part is an afterthought. This was first time I didn't automatically feel like a second-class citizen for not being pregnant. Dr. Soccermom's waiting room was full of baby magazines, brochures about breast-feeding, and mini photo albums of infants she caught on their way out. I have nothing against babies; I actually was one, at one time. But how about a little photo album of women you've successfully guided through menopause--hmmm? We're probably not cute enough.

The new gynecologist, who I will now think of as Dr. ReadyMade, was wonderful! First, we met in his office to discuss any concerns, a pleasant alternative to having to ask questions while half-naked and on an exam table. During the examination, he told me what he was doing and took care to cause minimal discomfort. I don't say this about a lot of docs, but he's a keeper.

ReadyMade [Link]

"Gynecologists say the darndest things" Radar [Link]

Something to Look Forward To

L has said that if my cancer metastasizes--if I get "the mets"--we can get a dog. (He said this in response to a question, not as an offering. He claims we're both allergic to dogs.) And yesterday I heard on the radio about a woman with Stage 4 ovarian cancer who was helped in her end-of-life anxiety by psilocybin, which you may recognize as the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms"--which, by the way, the Future Farmers of America in my high school were said to have grown and harvested and ingested. I've never tried mushrooms and don't intend to.

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my last chemo treatment. I kept thinking yesterday that it was still the 29th, so that today would be the anniversary. So in a way I missed it.

Click here and scroll down for excellent photos of dachshund puppies. (Of course, all puppies are cute, even Rottweilers and pit bulls.) I am convinced I will be reincarnated as a brown (technically, "red") dachshund. (More on this here.)

To adopt a dachshund, check in with Almost Home.

For beautiful beagle puppies, click here. This is not an endorsement of the kennels.

Cancer in the News

Cancer has been big in the news in the last fortnight or so. There was the report about breast self-exams in Russia and China. Based on their study of two populations of factory workers, researchers found that self-exams didn't help women survive breast cancer. You can find a very good look at the study here. The message (or "take home message," as people are saying now) is that you shouldn't stop examining your breasts. As Socrates said, an unexamined breast is worth examining. Or something like that.

Then from the U of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute comes a warning about cell phones. Don't put 'em directly on your ear. Get a headset or go wireless. They could cause brain tumors. They might not, but you should play it safe.

And the New York Times told us about a kitchen with a radioactive counter. Granite. I feel vindicated. The realtor describe my condo as having a "1990s kitchen and bathrooms--need updating." Need updating? Not really, unless you're allergic to tile. And it seems lots of people are--they need kitchens and bathrooms with granite and slate and quartz. The sellers of our new house remodeled their kitchen and bathrooms before putting the house on the market. For some unknown reason, they put in dark, dark slate on the floors of the bathrooms and on the lower half of the bathroom walls. Why would someone do that? They put in stainless steel refrigerator, stove and dishwasher, and dark blue/black granite countertops. What if they're radioactive? What if they emit radon? Should we get a technician to come out with a Geiger counter?

What will be the next new thing that we need? And will it imperil us?

On the Bus...

...the woman said, Do you think Pastoral has gift certificates?

(Pastoral is a fancy cheese store in Lakeview and downtown. We're talking aged, aged gouda that's so hard it's crystalline. And sweet. And expensive.)

The man said, The Cook County jail at this point has gift certificates.

After a time, the woman said: And there's no expiration date.

Sis Boom Bah! Fighting Cancer Can Be Fun!

Cancer Bitch is trying to figure out what she thinks about a new initiative, Stand Up to Cancer, which has all the hallmarks of everything she's suspicious of in Cancerland: big names (Sarah Jessica Parker, Katie Couric, Lance Armstrong), big sports (major league baseball, making her think about "pink washing," the cleaning up of team/corporate images by association with breast cancer), a telethon (on all three networks at once! just like newscasts in totalitarian countries), a buffet of not-healthful food (hot dogs, white buns, roast beef, Caesar salad, potato chips) served on plastic (plates, with drinks from an open bar served in plastic cups). But she is getting ahead of herself. Just where were these free hot dogs and drinks, and how can I get some? you may be asking. Alas, you're too late. Cancer Bitch found herself yesterday in what is called in Houston a sky box and may be called that here, too--a restauranty room in U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox play, where muckety-mucks and their guests can sit in air-conditioned comfort or venture out to a patio and watch the game from chairs pretty close to the field. (Which part of the field was the box was closest to? The green part.)

Cancer Bitch was invited because she has this blog and apparently someone doing PR for Stand Up to Cancer put two and two together (or rather, cancer and Chicago and blog together in a Google search) and thought CB might like to be a "fly on the wall" before a taping of a TV segment (for the marathon) featuring Lance Armstrong. CB was inclined to pass on this but her husband said she should go, and she did, though not before getting caught in Sox traffic (She knew the event was taking place at the stadium, but thought it was going to be when there wasn't a game; maybe Armstrong was going to ride his bike around the field, a notion she got probably from having in the back of her mind the famous Velodome d'Hiver roundup on July 16, 1942, in which Jews were taken from their homes and stashed, in horrifying conditions, into the cycling stadium, then sent to concentration camps.). So she arrived late into this very large and very beige shopping-mall like stadium complex, very different from her neighborhood Wrigley Field. Cellular Field was sea after sea of parking lots (she paid $22 to park, O irony of ironies, she who has charged $20 and more to Cubs fans), and uniformed parking lot attendants with holstered guns and golf-carts, and families tail-gating--sitting in their fold-out chairs around little grills, or standing and playing corn-hole, and smoking cigarettes and drinking beer before the game. They had to provide their own, partly because there weren't a mass of bars all around the field, as in anarchic Wrigleyville. This was a Compound. With gates all around the lots, providing a barrier between the field and the nearby apartments.

CB arrived late and so was a fly on the patio looking down at the field pre-game as Armstrong and Elizabeth Edwards filmed (three times) their spiels, each shown on the big screen by the field, each taping accompanied by 20 seconds of fans' applause. Armstrong said the number of Americans dying of cancer equals the equivalent of the number killed on 9/11 every two days. Roughly one in two men and one in three women will get cancer some time, he said, statistics which Cancer Bitch doubted until she saw them verified later on the American Cancer Society web site. To illustrate the stats, he had every other fan stand up while the others sat down. Elizabeth Edwards was standing next to him, wearing a yellow t-shirt that said Survivor on it, under a bright blue (Cubs' blue) blazer. She said: People sitting to the left and to your right are your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your husband, your wife, your best friend or your child. She said this three times and still Cancer Bitch didn't fully discern her meaning; she guesses that Edwards was saying that even if you aren't struck by cancer, it will strike someone close to you.

One of the people out on the field was Randy Marzouk, 10, of Buffalo Grove, wearing an oversized Kenarko shirt. He was diagnosed with neuroblastoma when he was two-and-a-half. His father was with him and his mother Michelle was outside the fancy skybox. She and her husband work with Little Heroes, which raises money to treat neuroblastoma patients at Children's Memorial and Comer Children's hospitals. She said the Stand Up group was making people aware of all the cancers. Cancer Bitch asked her if she thought the effort would help her son and she said maybe, that she wants to find out more about the group but, It's probably a good group or it wouldn't hav epeople like Lance Armstrong or Elizabeth Edwards backing them. It's not like they have a lot of spare time. Randy underwent 20 rounds of chemo, three stem cell implants, three weeks of radiation and hundreds of blood and platelet transfusions.

Soon it was time for the press conference, with Armstrong, who did not look familiar to Cancer Bitch--he reminded her of a Ken doll with pale lips--, Elizabeth Edwards, telethon producer and survivor Laura Ziskin, and on either side, two cancer doctors. The three in the middle explained that Stand Up was funding research not just to the usual suspects, but to innovative scientists, and to researchers working in dream teams across disciplines to apply their research quickly to treatment. The American Association for Cancer Research will administer the funds. Amid all the softball questions, Cancer Bitch asked (moderately articulately, and feeling like a Trotskyite at a democratic left conference; the Trots are notorious for asking long questions that are really policy statements) about research on the environment and cancer, and what about the use of plastics in stadiums? Ziskin said that all baseball stadiums were going through a "greening process," working with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She said Stand Up chose Cellular for the taping of the opener of the telethon because Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was an early backer of the program and brought Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on board.

Cancer Bitch left before the seventh inning, during which another short program was planned, which would urge fans to text on the phones in order to donate $5 to Stand Up. (Do good without even moving from your seat! Hey vendor, another one with mustard!)

Stand Up has produced an oversized post card featuring a photo of a Cincinnati Reds star (Ken Griffey, Jr. Stands Up to Cancer. What does that mean?) and the words: We have the technology. The brilliance. What we need is you. As if the reader of the post card was water and technology and brilliance were the powder. Doesn't technology + brilliance imply that we have the cure? That it's around there somewhere, misplaced in a lab underneath a dusty beaker, hidden by government red-tape and obscured by turf battles--and all we need are citizens to roust it out? On the back of the post card: Cancer finds us in our neighborhoods and our cities. Our countrysides and our schools. But it's a disease we need to seek out and destroy. It doesn't take a Susan Sontag to see that Stand Up has taken up the language of anti-terrorism. Those with long memories may think, also, of McCarthyism, which warned us that Communism, in the form of teachers' unions, had infiltrated our schools, and in the form of liberals, poisoned our Congress and neighborhood associations. Stand Up to Cancer doesn't investigate which neighborhoods are more likely to harbor cancer, either due to neighborhood gullibility (This waste dump won't hurt you.) or environmental racism, or both, or which schools, due to lead chips or asbestos or other products of homo faber. But, to be fair, there's an op-ed on its site by Devra Davis, about cancer and toxins. Davis directs the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and author of the recent Secret History of the War on Cancer.

So, Cancer Bitch, what's wrong with cancer researchers getting money? Today she had a brief appointment with a physician's assistant at Fancy Hospital. He removed the drain sticking out of the lipoma incision and she asked if he'd heard of Stand Up. He said he'd seen something on TV about it. She said it was supposed to form the "dream teams" of researchers working together. As opposed to what? he asked.

Last night CB dreamed of her friend A, whom she hasn't seen in years. A had a sweet round face, blond hair and blue eyes, a soft voice, and investigative reporting that brought down a big-city mayor. Cancer Bitch dreamed that they were interviewing Elizabeth Edwards and that A asked her about her spinal fluid, and Edwards said that it helped when people rubbed it, and there was her spinal fluid in a plastic tub, and CB felt some empathy and got a lump in her throat. And then she woke up.