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.


The Fifty Foot Blogger said...

I have to agree with you on Armstrong. I always thought he looked like he was extruded rather than born.

Cancer Bitch said...

My husband was sure I would find Armstrong familiar, but I didn't. Should I have asked him about what he thinks about the link between steroids and cancer?
C. Bitch

Jonah said...

Often I think that the biggest problem with medical research is its focus on cures, medication, and medical technology. This makes sense because it is funded by curebie and pharmaceutical organizations.
But if the research was funded by the medicalized people themselves, maybe we could learn more about what happens with what we've already got. You know- what sort of course does chemo brain take? How likely are you to get scars if you used various sorts of syringes at various frequencies over various time periods? Do you scar more with one cannula left in for five days, or fifteen injections of fifteen seconds each? Does the scarring rate have to do with what sort of thing is injected? Does lubrication on the needle make a difference? Would moving from a place where a disease is common to a place where it's rare change the course of said disease?
Those are the things I want to know.

Bradley said...

Excellent post. I get kinda tired of the violent, "we're going to take cancer into the backroom, tie it to a chair, and then pummel the unholy hell out of it" rhetoric myself. Of course, I love the idea of raising money to try to find a cure, but I'd also like to see more attention paid to eliminating the environmental causes (as you point out) and, for that matter, doing more to help patients and their families during times of illness and impending death. When I had my bone marrow transplant, my mom had to stay in a hotel near the cancer center for a month; it was okay for her (the hotel bill, not my illness), because my family's pretty comfortable financially, but I don't really know how other, less well-off families do it (presumably, there are some organizations and charities to help them, but they don't seem to get as much attention as the "let's beat this thing" crowd tends to get).

Now I'm afraid I sound like I'm the cancer patient who is against a cure (that would be mighty punk rock of me, wouldn't it?). I'm not, really-- if my cancer ever comes back, I would love to be able to take a pill and make it go away. For that matter, I'd be quite content to never get sick or die. But if becoming immortal is impossible, I'd like to see a better system set up to make the entire illness experience easier for me, and my wife, and my parents to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Interesting account. But knowing you to be a seasoned public transit user and the easy accessibility of "New Comiskey" to the train, I find it astonishing that you drove to the game.

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Cancer Bitch said...

You know what--I didn't realize a game was going on, and I was running late. It was stupid to take the car.