This is Happily Married, (c) by the artist, Margo Rivera-Weiss, and is rendered in India ink and multiple layers of watercolor.

Good News/Not Me; The Other Guy

The good news is that a solvent-free, less toxic chemo drug can add seven months to the lives of women with metastatic breast cancer, compared to another drug that's more toxic and is solvent-based. A recent study shows that Abraxane is better than Taxotere. According to the press release, The study was supported by Abraxis BioScience, which manufactures Abraxane. [The lead researcher] is a member of the advisory boards for Abraxis and sanofi-aventis U.S., which manufactures Taxotere. He has received grant support from Abraxis and sanofi-aventis.

Which is a neat solution to the problem of researcher bias/payola. Get money from both pharmaceutical companies, so then no one can accuse you of selling influence. All things are equal here...except the study was supported by Abraxis, whose product came out ahead in the research. Caesar's wife and all that.

An independent radiology company helped assess the results.

A recent study of oncologists showed that the doctors said they themselves weren't influenced by gifts from pharmaceutical companies, but they thought that others might be.

Mortality Pokes Its Nose in Our Lives Yet Again

On left: X-ray showing a pacemaker

L had to wear a Holter monitor for a full day last week to test for arrhythmia. The cardiologist told him yesterday that he needs to get a pacemaker and defibrillator. The implant would be the size of a wallet, he said, in front of his shoulder, and after he's used to it, he can do anything he normally does, like play basketball (and ride the train, on which he's left his wallet; too bad that can't be implanted).

If he doesn't do this, he could drop dead at any time, and not necessarily when he's exercising. The monitor showed an "event" around bedtime, when he wasn't exerting himself. At his basketball game tonight a 43-year-old guy clutched his chest and slumped down. The guys called 911 and the ambulance came in a couple of minutes and took him away. That's the second heart attack they've had lately. A couple of years ago one guy left early, saying he didn't feel well, then went home and then to the hospital. My father used to say that he didn't play tennis any more because when his friends played, they dropped dead.

The good news is that this time L got hypoallergenic adhesive for the wires, so that he didn't have physical reminders of the test for weeks and weeks.

He's going for a second opinion in June, the same date that I might be having a fibroid sliced and diced out of my womb. The doctor is waiting for the delivery of a special slice-and-dicer that makes things easier because she can remove the fibroid in pieces. Which means I can't make it into a cufflink, a la Meyer Wolfsheim.

(Wolfsheim's on Myspace!.)

Don't throw that old bra away!

Above is a fabric piece, In Memory of My Breasts, by Marcia Ginsberg, using old bras. It is part of an exhibit, The Healing Power of Art, opening on Thursday in Highland Park, Illinois, at The Art Center. If you're the practical type, you could use your old bras to make a plethora of useful things: yarmulkes, knee pads (especially for gardening so you can pose for photos of the Survivor Who Is Happy and Cured and Gardening Just to Prove It), face masks to protect against the flu formerly known as Swine, ear warmers (best to use the bras that attach in the front), bookends (stiffen with starch or glue), cat toy, dog toy, dog shoes. And if you're inspired you might want to sew up a toy out of underpants:

Tell Cancer Bitch your ideas for new life for old bras in the comments section.

Walk this way

Our podiatrist has drilled it into us that walking barefoot is Bad, and so we hardly ever do (except in sand, that's OK). So I have been feeling wicked ever since Sunday, when I heard the benefits of walking and running barefoot and tried both. It started with a Bob Edwards interview with this guy Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. The secret is to walk (or run) on the ball of your foot THEN the heel. I decided to try it. My left heel is a little sore, we both have orthotics for plantar fasciitis and I'm mostly over my Achilles tendonitis. I'm supposed to wear shoes w/ at least an inch-and-a-half heel because of these afflictions. Today I wore Birkenstocks (gasp) and walked ball-heel, which feels sort of funny, like mincing. Normally my heels would have hurt after wearing flat shoes--but not today. I feel guilty and amazed. You can, too. Read about barefoot running here.
Will this change my life?

Packs and groups and moots

Saturday we went to a memorial luncheon for a friend of L from work. She was amazingly competent, sharply witty, knowledgeable and patient, everybody said. She knew the answers to everyone's questions and where all the refills for everything were stored. She had ovarian cancer and worked almost up until the end. Her brother said that we would learn about all the different facets of L (the woman who died) as different people from different parts of her life told their stories.

And it was so.

Family members spoke. Colleagues spoke. And there was another community--her online community, said her husband (I think, not the brother), who was MC.

She wrote fanfic about characters in Lord of the Rings, and she shared these stories with others (all or mostly women) from around the world, who were similarly engaged. They met twice at conventions. Maybe that's when they held their moots.

I started thinking about these communities and how they must have become part of other eulogies and obituaries--the memorial for L can't be the only one that gave homage to the virtual group the deceased was once part of. A person dies and will not appear on the site again, whether, let's say, he signed on as himself or had pretended to be a 13-year-old girl. Or was sometimes an adolescent girl and other times an Argentinian cowboy. I have never been on Second Life, which is a pretend world on line where you get another chance to become the person you wanted to be, living where you always thought you should and wearing and driving and working what and where you really belong. I don't know the particulars, but I suppose it's a way of re-living your life, as Lou Lipsitz wrote:

Now for the other life. The one
without mistakes.

I know this quote because Rayond Carver used it as an epigraph for his poem The Other Life. I don't know if this is all of the Lipsitz poem or only part; there are limits to what you can find out online.

(Some people do get to return to the past. See my friend Robin's new book.)
If you're reading this, you probably have a presence of some kind on the web. And like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, you could probably surmise what the virtual world would be like without you. Just Google yourself and imagine that all that you find is erased.

Some people become more of a web presence when they die. Newspapers display obits on line and provide a "guest book" where people can write their comments, and I'm sure some of the deceased had never been at a keyboard.

When I was first diagnosed, I read Miriam Engelberg's memoir in comics, Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person. I went to my computer to look up her email so I could tell her how much I liked the book, and there in cyberspace I found out that she had died. I don't think that site is still around, but there is a weird site called Respectance that hosts free memorial pages. It's quite odd that two of the commenters said the exact same thing about her. I have a feeling someone's trying to make a profit here.

Cyberspace is so much like the kingdom of death, I think. When people die we can conjure them up in our minds but can't bring them back as three-dimensional, living, talking beings. We use many sites and pieces of sites as aide-memoires. What you see/experience on line is not the same as what's going on right in front of you. In a broad way, the virtual only exists because the tangible exists. The computer screen as Plato's cave?

Pen pals could become extremely close back in the old days, and nowadays everyone is everyone's pen pal and we forge connections through Facebook that may be real or not. And then we sever the tie, through death or attrition or inattention, leaving a trace--at least for a little while.


And now a moment for another disease...

This week happens to be National Neuropathy Week. I have a friend who has multifocal motor neuropathy, and is raising money for the Neuropathy Association by selling handmade jewelry
You can find out more about these diseases by clicking here.

It is/It isn't about the Hair

This is my second post about Farrah Fawcett. Who woulda thunk it? I was struck by recent reports about her hair. People magazine tells us: A particularly cruel aspect of the disease is that Fawcett has now lost her iconic golden tresses. "The hair is gone," says [Ryan] O'Neal. "Her famous hair. I have it at home." This was the headline in Friday's Mirror (UK): Farrah Fawcett has lost all her hair as docs stop cancer treatment . Today's Toronto Globe & Mail tells us that one of the many Fawcett items on the market included a hairstyle-practice doll. The G & M's Lynn Crosbie writes that O'Neal is hanging on to her bag of hair. I don't know whether this is meant metaphorically.

Crosbie also reports that O'Neil said that Fawcett's curls spell out sex in the red bathing suit poster. I don't see it, though this sounds oddly familiar. This must be a common claim, not quite as cute as Al Hirschfeld's ('03-'03) practice of tucking in the name of his daughter, Nina, into every caricature.

But as I said a while back, we do measure the health of someone with cancer (or who recently had cancer) by the shape of her hair. First of all, is it there? And second of all, is it lustrous? Once the hair grows back, we assume unconsciously that the person is back on the road to health. Which may be true. But it may not. My hair is now made up of thick five-inch long curls. Which I like, and which L thinks is too much. But he doesn't understand that just a year and a half ago a friend referred to my hairstyle as resembling Gertrude Stein's. (See below.) That was during the painfully slow re-growth peach-fuzz stage, which lasted about four months.

And so we see hair as amulet--as long as my hair's shiny, the cancer won't come back; it's easy to forget that my hair was perfectly fine and full on the day the biopsy confirmed I had stage 2a cancer.

Early Detection = Pound of Cure?

I was in the Ford dealership waiting room in Iowa City and came upon Wired magazine from January. The cover story showed a new way of getting at cancer--what used to be called in the last century "a paradigm shift." Since cancers caught early can usually be treated, why not put more effort into detecting cancer when they're just starting out?

Makes sense. But in the meantime... in the meantime, we should be looking for a cure on the one hand, and ways to prevent the disease on the other hand. A Slate writer read the article and opined: But the piece (by Thomas Goetz) also manifested, I thought, a slightly breathless embrace of science that still seems to be iffy.

So the jury is out. People are getting diagnosed all the time. People have cancer growing in them and are unaware. The world keeps spinning and we crave for everything to make sense.

The Cancer No One Talks About

It used to be no one dared speak its name--it was maybe, in an act of boldness, referred to the Big C. And to mention breast cancer--well, that necessitated saying the word "breast." The chatty Alice Roosevelt Longworth was silent about her radical mastectomy in 1956. But in the sixties the public loosened up and learned to say Breast and Cancer together, so when Longworth was diagnosed with cancer in the remaining breast in 1970, she went public. I am American's only topless octogenarian, she said.

This is a long way around to get to the topic of anal cancer. I didn't know you could get anal cancer until today, when I read about Farrah Fawcett's imminent decline. The first article I read said she had had cancer, was in remission for two years, then had metastasis in her liver. Did she have breast cancer? I wondered. I roamed around the internet and found that it was something else entirely. Now every article I'm finding on the internet mentions the anal cancer. So I'm starting to doubt myself about the first story. Anyway, she is fragile, sleeping most of the day and fed by IVs. To her credit, she became a spokeswoman for early detection for colorectal cancer.

Some people have the symptoms (pain and bleeding) of the cancer and assume they're caused by hemorrhoids. The cancer is linked to HPV, the human papilloma virus that is better known for bringing us cervical cancer. The biggest risk factor for acquiring HPV is anal intercourse with a person infected with the virus, a media doctor tells us, and it doesn't help if you smoke, have HIV or a compromised immune system. The way to diagnose it is by a rectal exam. Colonoscopies don't always reveal the cancer. A good article about all this is here.

When I was in Pennsylvania I met with a journal-writing group in a Gilda's Club. One woman there said she went to her doctor for a routine physical and he told her: You're 59, you've never had a colonoscopy; go get one.

And so she did. And found out she had colon cancer and had to have surgery.

Fawcett's cancer initially was referred to as "below the colon," according to the Denver Post. The unsavory word "anal" wasn't used. ... Fawcett's publicist, Michael Pingel, said Fawcett would not have revealed what type of cancer she had. She was "outed." An upcoming NBC special documentary, Farrah's Story, begins not when she finds out she has cancer, but when the doctor tells her that it's in her liver.

The cancer is so rare and unloved that it doesn't even have a ribbon. (You can check this site yourself, which sells all sorts of cause ribbons and wrist bands, such as periwinkle blue ribbon pins that stand for a number of conditions, including acid reflux and anorexia nervosa.) But look on the bright side: rates are going up, so we may soon be able to buy ribbons and bands and hats and other tchotchkes for anal cancer soon.

The Bitch on 'BEZ

An interview with me is supposed to be on Chicago Public Radio, WBEZ-FM, on Wed. morning, starting at about 9:30.