I was corresponding back and forth in the comments section of the Elizabeth Edwards post about selfishness, having children, not having children, going to enormous effort to have them. You could call me selfish for not having children. I was always afraid they'd have asthma, I was afraid I'd run out on them in a panic, that I would be selfish and not want to pay attention to them. I realized that I think strangers who've tried very hard (hormones, in vitro, etc.) are spoiled, but when my friends and family have taken this route, I'm very sympathetic. What does this mean except that I'm judgmental? Or maybe that I'm envious of celebrities who have been able to stop the clock, the way they've been successful in doing so much else. Both Wendy Wasserstein and Elizabeth Edwards had children late and both died of cancer. Connection? I don't know. I do know that both ovarian and breast cancer have been known as "the nun's disease." My sister has three children and has never had even a cancer scare. I don't have the BRCA gene, and I would bet neither does she. My mother has never had breast or ovarian cancer. She had two children and no more. Is there a part of me that wishes that I could have gone through all the body mechanics to have a child late in life? The truth is that I like options. I always want to feel that I could take up anything, marathon-running, or art or a new language, with my middle-aged chemo-addled brain and body. And you can always find role models. Take Grandma Moses, for example. I've always wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth. When I come across an ad for a surrogate, I read it, and it takes me a second or two to realize that yes, though I am healthy (if you ignore the breast and blood cancer and asthma), I am not 35 years old any more.

Attention, bloggers

More media queries, for current and former bloggers:
If you live and work in the Chicago area and used to blog,
but don't anymore, and want to be interviewed, please contact
Lisa Bertagnoli (
Media Outlet:
Deadline: 05:00 PM EST - 30 December
African-American Bloggers: How Did You Begin Blogging? is looking for African-American bloggers to
share their stories of how they started blogging. How did you
begin blogging? Who (or what) influenced or inspired you? What
has blogging brought to your life? We want to know! All stories
will be fully attributed to you with links to your blog as well.
Photos are a plus.
Maurice Cherry (Black Weblog Awards)
Deadline: 11:00 PM EST - 31 December

Do you have Stage 4 breast cancer?

If so, and you're willing to talk to a New York Times reporter, read on:

Roni Rabin (New York Times)

Deadline: 07:00 AM EST - 10 December


I want to interview women living with Stage 4 breast cancer to
talk about their experiences, quality of life, hopes and fears. I
would prefer women willing to use their real names.

Elizabeth Edwards

What to say about Elizabeth Edwards? She tried to help others with cancer, and to raise funds for research. While her husband was running as John Kerry's running mate in 2004, she though she might have cancer, but didn't tell her husband John. She was diagnosed after the election, with stage 3. In 2007, it became stage 4, which means it appeared in other parts of her body, specifically, in her bones.
She died today at home, surrounded by family, including her ex-husband.
When she announced that her cancer had metastasized, I was annoyed with her for not speaking out about links between manmade chemicals and cancer. In fact, I wrote that I hated her. I conceded that I might have displaced my feelings about cancer itself onto her. I do wish she hadn't died and that she'd caught the tumor earlier. She reminds us that cancer is a serious, deadly disease. And that people find inspiration in those who try to do something about it.

The Adventures of Snow Bitch

I made my second snow person ever today. I'll post a better picture tomorrow but for now, here she is.

The second day of Chanukah

For those of you who are still eating Thanksgiving leftovers, it may come to you as a shock that Chanukah started last night. It's early this year. But as the joke goes (a weak joke), it's the same time every year on the Hebrew calendar, which is lunar, it's always the night of the 24th of Kislev. In some households, family members give eight gifts, one for each night of the holiday.
Wondering what to get your true love, especially if she's cancerous? And if your true love is an Ashkenazi Jew, as are 90 percent of the Jews in the US, she has a greater chance of being breast-cancerous than the non-Ashkenazim. I stole this idea from The Cancer Culture Chronicles. Go there to find other tacky items, listed under Pink Boob Award Nominees. Here is the Natural Contours Petite Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Ribbon Vibrator. Why do all these pink tchotchkes have long names, like M-&-M'S(R) Brand Milk Chocolate Candies Help Fight Breast Cancer?

A blog, a blog, why a blog?

[Venus with a Mirror by Titian]

I just looked at this blog with my picture on it and thought, What in the world am I doing? Am I still running for junior high student council? (Alas, that was a sad story. My friend A helped me for about eight hours paint a very sophisticated campaign banner on brown paper, consisting of Doonesbury characters speaking favorably about my candidacy. We put it up on the cafeteria wall and then then someone tore it down. Who knows why? I think I ran because K was running and told me I should. I ran again in high school and won. And why did I do that? I had no big desire to change X or Y about the school.)

Last year my acquaintance S said, as I suppose many commentators have, that nowadays everyone is a hero to his own group of friends. We're all famous and important or want to be. Every single thing we do is important, especially the unimportant things, which we record on Facebook and Twitter. Why? Because we don't want to be insignificant. And we can't stand the idea that we're going to die. And be gone gone gone. And because it's so easy to write, I'm cleaning off my desk. I'm waiting in line. I'm inhaling. Exhaling.

On that note, I'm offering more of myself. Today I did a phone interview with KMSU in Mankato, Minnesota. To hear it, click here.

Cancers R Us

In the Nov. 8 New Yorker Steven Shapin has an interesting review of “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Among other things, Shapin notes: In chemotherapy, too, the lines between cruelty and cure have not always been obvious, nor have consciences always been untroubled.
Shapin also notes: The book also has little to say about prevention, aside from the campaign against tobacco, comparing the book to Robert Proctor’s “Cancer Wars” (1995)epidemiologist Devra Davis' in “The Secret History of the War on Cancer” (2007).


Tonight at rowing practice (indoors) we were to row hard for one minute, then not as hard for one minute, for a total of 40 minutes. After 20 minutes I got a hot flash and felt enervated, which does happen after I've exercised a while. Then I get my energy back. This time it didn't come back and I felt light-headed and so I stopped, still sitting there on the erg (rowing machine) and moving my feet a little. I was sweating and weeping, weeping because that's what I do when I'm in physical distress. I was shaking and my heart seemed to be beating fast but when I timed it, it was slow. I couldn't get control of my breath. I wondered if I was having a heart attack, but thought probably not. Everyone else kept rowing and I wondered what would have happened if it really were a heart attack or if I had a stroke. Eventually, would they just step over me? The person next to me asked if I was OK and I shook my head. She asked if I wanted to lie down and I said no. Eventually the coaches noticed and got me some food. I had just eaten some bread and cheese at a cocktail party, so I don't think that lack of nourishment was the problem. And I hadn't had any alcohol. I was shaken up and people asked if I was OK and I would continue to shake my head. I was too upset to really talk. J is a nurse and said that the blood hadn't gone to my limbs. Or maybe she said the opposite, I don't know. The numbness in the hands seemed to be part of the whole about-to-faint scenario. S, one of the coaches, gave herself food-poisoning on Saturday and said she almost fainted Saturday night, and felt the same way. I've never fainted, though I wanted to for years and years because my sister R did.

I got a ride home with the lovely and kind S, and I decided to cancel a video taping tonight. It was at DePaul, for an anthology of nature poetry and essays. I don't know who was doing the taping. My essay is about being afraid of open spaces; fear of the nature is my theme and that essay has been my calling card in a couple of anthologies so far. I'm the anti-nature writer. I called G to get a phone number for C, the guy who was organizing the book and the taping. I left him a message and emailed him and then, unusual for me, didn't worry about it any more. It took me at least an hour to start breathing normally. I think my heart is still beating too deeply. If that can be said about a heart-beat.

I always weep when I scare myself with my physical state. Last week I was talking to a nurse at my phototherapy place (where I am zapped in order to alleviate the itching caused by polycythemia vera) who'd been gone on maternity leave. She said that she'd been in labor 29 hours and had to have a C section, but there wasn't enough time to put her under with general anesthesia, so she'd had local only, and could feel the pressure (and pain) of the doctors cutting her open, and could also feel them taking out her uterus and bladder. I almost cried, she said.

Almost??? If that didn't make her cry, what would?


[Hitchens photo from Vanity Fair, by Jonas Fredwell Karlsson]

My friend S sent me the link to this post from D.G. Meyers, author of The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880, and a person with stage four prostate cancer. He gives advice about what to say to someone with stage four, adding that saying anything is better than being out of touch. He writes: Then there were those who never even contacted me, including my own sister. Nothing quite makes you more aware of the nothingness that awaits you on the other side of Stage Four cancer.
His post begins, in turn, with quotes from Christopher Hitchens' piece in Vanity Fair about cancer etiquette. Here's the link to Miss Manners and the Big C by Hitchens.

Should we have names?

I'm at a nonfiction writers' conference and all the buzz today was about a panel with David Shields that focused on his book, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, which is a mixed tape of sorts between covers, made up of 618 pieces--about literature, memory, narrative, collage, conventional fiction, forgeries, plagiarism and originality, the flatness of novels, essays--more than half of them written by others than Shields. I'm on page 144 now, and here's part 435, where he's saying that he told his college girlfriend that he wanted a form with only epiphanies. And lo and behold, he's doing it now! I looked in the back and sure enough, the paragraph (#435) was not attributed, so that means it was thought up by Shields and he was the guy in college with the girlfriend. He was on two panels today and i went to the first one, along with about 150 other people who took up almost every seat in the house. It was a panel basically about his book,though there were four other people up there. Two of them read from his book. That seemed like the right idea, to bring out the thoughts and ideas and let them float about the room. The moderator said listening to the duo was exasperating, much like the feeling of reading the book. He wanted narrative. Shields says narrative is a forced form. The world doesn't make sense, so why do we fashion stories that are neat and tidy and full of sense? It's fake, he says. But the whole untidiness of life, I think, makes us yearn for an art that ties things up. At the same time, I don't like writing a regular, straight, linear story. It's not natural for me. And yet am I a hypocrite because I can keep track of a piece of writing better when it has a beginning, middle and end? In the summer after second grade I had the mumps and I read a joke book cover to cover. That is one epiphany after the other, if you can consider a punch line an epiphany.

People were up in arms about originality and attribution because in the galleys (which go to reviewers) the book had no attributions at all. Shield didn't want them, but his publisher's lawyers said he had to have them. The quotes are all Google-able, he said. And besides, his act of curating was an original, idiosyncratic act, and so he is the author. This was a question he'd been asked before. If there's a tyranny of the individual as he says, and we are too entrenched in the idea of the Author, then should he carry his argument further and say that no one's name should be attached to any creation? I asked this question, and I said that he is a revolutionary against capitalistic culture because we are so wedded to the idea of individuality. I imagined our libraries having card catalogs that list books by subject and title only, though of course there aren't physical card catalog drawers and cards any more, everything's on line. In recent Peanuts comic strips (or reprints that have appeared recently in the Tribune), there are a couple of new kids who don't have names but instead have numbers. I forgot the reason. In junior high health class, the teacher asked what we would do to make a stranger remember our names, and a girl named Kristy said she didn't care if someone remembered her name, and that was a revolutionary thought. She just wanted the person to remember her as a person.

Our names don't actually exist, do they? They are a construct. Just like a number is an abstract thing, a collection of sounds and a written symbol to stand for quantity.

I went to dinner with three very smart people, who I will panel with (a verb?) on Saturday and one of them, T, said, We are at the end of the age of reading.
T wrote a very smart review of Reality Hunger in Agni online, which you can read here.

I had volunteered to blog about the conference at and tonight I spent about three hours on three paragraphs. It is as if different URLs are different rooms. I didn't know who I was in the TQO "room." I can be myself in my Cancer Bitch room. But both places are really no where. Just inside the computer, the way the tiny musicians would play songs from inside the radio, that summer when I had the mumps.

We are here at this conference in Iowa City because we are writers and we all want to make a name for ourselves. We want to be remembered. It is threatening, it is the abyss, it is chaos, to think of not attaching our names to our work. Our work being that which comes from our brains and is then shaped. Or we can sigh and let go and say, we will be immortal because we are made up of atoms, which are immortal, and our atoms keep joining the atmosphere so that we are part of everything on earth, so we can never really die, and all the work we create goes from us to the universe, and stays always hanging around the universe, going in and out of other people's brains, and that it is folly to attach a name to the thoughts that flow like that.

My friend K says it is a law in Iowa that parents can wait a whole year after a child's birth to give it a name.

Personal tragedy pay$

I am often critical of Komen and once again I offer an apologia when I mention something good about it. The organization has a scholarship for young people who have suffered. If you meet these criteria you can apply for a $10,000/year scholarship to a state school. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria to be eligible for this scholarship:

* Must have lost a parent/guardian to breast cancer or be a breast cancer survivor diagnosed at 25 years or younger
* Must be a high school senior, college freshman, sophomore or junior
* Must plan to attend a state-supported college or university in the state where they permanently reside (students in Washington DC can attend state-supported schools in Maryland and Virginia)
* Must have a high school and/or college GPA of 2.8 on a 4.0 scale
* Must be no older than 25 years old by May 2011
* Must be a U.S. citizen, or documented permanent resident of the U.S. (or US Territory)
* Never at any time have been subject to any disciplinary action by any institution or entity, including, but not limited to, any educational or law enforcement agency
More info here. Deadline is Jan. 11.

50 million

I just found out about this site. Some of us are lucky enough to be insured. According to a recent U.S. Census report, more than 50 million or 16.7 percentof our fellow residents are not. They might not be able to afford insurance, but hey, they can always buy the wristband, for $3.99. How can we call ourselves a civilized country and not have public health care for all?

Cancer Bitch in the news

It's hard to complain about Pinktober (well--I want to complain about that neologism) when I'm one of the beneficiaries. The Trib picked five breast cancer memoirs to describe and listed The Adventures of Cancer Bitch first. So, get out there and buy cancer memoirs. If you don't, the [fill in the blank] will have won.

For people with Stage 4

If you have Stage 4, consider taking part in this study.
The Cancer Support Community is conducting research to learn more about life after the Stage 4 diagnosis. TheCSC says: Your responses will lead to better programs and services to help you and women like you along the way. Please learn more and get involved. With one more, we know more. To start, click here.

Metastatic awareness day

[Info on image here

It's official. Today's the federally-designated day to be aware of breast cancer metastasis. You could argue that there are two kinds of cancer, the oh-it's-gone/it's-gonna-be-gone, and oh-it's-never-gonna-be-gone. Metastasis, of course, is the latter. Stage 4, out of four stages (not out of 10, as Brian Fies writes in the graphic memoir Mom's [Lung] Cancer. That's why Mom wasn't upset--at first--to hear that she was at Stage 4.)
For people with Stage 4, cancer is not a wake-up call that you can hang up on. It's a constant companion, the stalker that you can't keep out with an order of protection. It doesn't wake you up. It puts you to sleep, forever.

Stage 4 is what we all fear, and perhaps that nervousness feeds into the frantic pom-pon pinkness of breast cancer awareness and all the pink swag that's available.
"We are definitely out of the pink spotlight," Ellen Moskowitz, president of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, told Elaine Schattner of the Huff Post. "All the stories are about survivors, 'rah, rah,' who everyone applauds."

“I always wanted you to admire my fasting,” said the hunger artist [in Kafka's eponymous story]. “But we do admire it,” said the supervisor obligingly. “But you shouldn’t admire it,” said the hunger artist. “Well then, we don’t admire it,” said the supervisor, “but why shouldn’t we admire it?” “Because I had to fast. I can’t do anything else,” said the hunger artist. The analogy between those with "mets" and the hunger artist breaks down, so I won't pursue it further. But I think that we admire Stage 4s who get up and go, though it takes them, say, three hours to get out of bed and prepare for the day, which is filled with bone and other pain. But they do it because they can't do anything else. Except give up.

Eat your vegetables

A new study shows that African-American women who ate more vegetables--especially broccoli, mustard and collard greens and cabbage--were less likely to develop double-negative breast cancer than African-American women who ate fewer vegetables. Carrots, too, were helpful.

African American women are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with estrogen receptor-negative tumors, which have a poorer prognosis than estrogen receptor-positive tumors, according to Science Daily.

The study was based on the Black Women's Health Study, which followed 59,000 African-American women, starting in 1985. Investigators from the Boston University School of Medicine reported: The incidence of ER-/PR- [estrogen-negative/progesterone-negative]breast cancer was 43 percent lower among women consuming at least two vegetables per day compared with women who ate fewer than four vegetables per week

Seen any good scars lately?

[Catherine Money's photo of her mother, "Survivor," "One in Eight: Pasadena (CA) Portraits"]

Devon Williams had a mastectomy to remove her stage 2 breast cancer in 2006, and afterward noticed that she never saw images in the media of scars from breast-cancer surgery. "I had no images available to me," she told the San Gabriel Valley (Ca.) Tribune. "I had nothing on the Internet that gave me any comfort or inspiration. They were all frightening images, displays of diseased breasts."
She found women to photograph, found a photographer, and organized an exhibit of the photos, called "One in Eight," which is the chance that an American woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. The photos went on display in September in Pasadena, Ca. Williams hopes the exhibit will travel around the country.

Rowing on the radio

[Rowing on the lovely Chicago River. WBEZ photo by Kyle Weaver]

Our Recovery on Water rowing team was featured on Chicago Public Radio today. Listen here.

The Trib wrote about us earlier this week.

[Tribune photo by Terrence James]

Seven hours in the cinema

What question, Tony used to ask, is this the answer to?
I guess you're thinking, O, that's what they do on Jeopardy. But Tony was Anton Kaes, a Germanist at Berkeley, and this was a seminar for professors, and he would ask this about a film from the Weimar period, or advice in a German women's magazine, and we would turn our brains around to conjecture.
Today I went to the Siskel Film Center at 2:15 and left for home at nearly 11pm, with an hour break for dinner. I sat through the four parts of Hitler: A Film From Germany, and it appears that you can watch it for free here. Tony has written about the film, but I haven't read all of his interpretation and analysis. I don't know everything that I think about it. It will take time to absorb. But it seems that the question the movie is the answer to is: How do you explain what Hitler means to Germans in a way that doesn't use the expected tools: heavy voiceover, Treaty of Versailles, runaway inflation, salutes and soldiers, tanks, extermination camp images, etc.? How do you rouse the viewers out of the torpor of their expectation of the expected? By creating new images: by a young girl in a black cloak made shiny with film loops laid on it, and she is instructing an inert puppet or doll of King Ludwig. By elaborate, theatrical sets that look like they're made up of what was in the back rooms of an antique store. By repeating the speeches of Hitler and his henchmen, and repeating that we are Hitler and Hitler is Germany. By the image of a Hamlet holding a skull marked Jude. The film is a pastiche of radio broadcasts and surreal monologues by the Nazi puppets, by an actor speaking the memories of Hitler's valet as he walks in front of zoomed photos of Hitler's offices. His "project," as the academics would say, was to find Hitler's meaning in a soul-deep way, by using music and shadow and making stage-pictures to affix themselves in your brain. The movie came out in 1977 and I wonder if it would have changed me, how it would have changed me, if I'd seen it then. I spent my junior year abroad in Paris 1976-77, and I wonder if the film was showing in Paris while I was there, or if it was released later. (See video essay on the film here.) It was shown in the US, in Chicago. If I'd seen it new, would I have dismissed it, baffled and scornful, or would I have embraced it? Would it have broke open my deep melancholia, which was a result, first of all, of my temperament, and second, of my severe doubt that I would ever be able to have the life of a writer? Would it have wakened me to the possibilities of creating a personal interpretation of art and politics? Would it have shown me that I could do what I taught myself to do later--dig into the past and shape what I found there until it became one collage-story told in my voice? Would I have made a turn and sought out my destiny in political performance art? Would it, I'm wondering, have changed my life?

Using the cancer card

I was riding my bike to the Belmont L and had stopped at the light at Belmont and Sheffield. I felt someone bump against my basket. Some guy who was maybe in his 40s with blondish hair and a t-shirt wearing a belligerent attitude. You're in the crosswalk, he said, rather heatedly. I was. I hadn't meant to be. And I hadn't expected people to walk across the street without looking. He was irate. I said, Peace on earth. He was already at the curb. What did you say? What did you say? Peace on earth, I said. Peace on earth? He walked back toward me. I've got plenty of peace. You shouldn't be stopped between these lines. See this line? You're stupid. Stupid! I thought he was going to slug me. I thought I was going to slug him. He went back to the curb. Peace on earth, I said. The light changed.

I was upset. I was mad. I thought later I should have used the cancer card: You rammed into my bike and I have blood cancer! But that seemed a stretch. That night I went to my desk at Smart U, a communal desk that I'd been squatting in for about three years, and the drawers were locked. There was a vase of flowers (kind of droopy but still bright pink) and a welcome note to someone other than Cancer Bitch, who was now occupying this space. Where was all my stuff? My assiduously collected pile of scratch paper, a few books I'd meant to bring home, originals for course packets. Beyond that, I felt displaced. Because--I had been displaced. Without a note or warning.

Later I went upstairs to the office of Smart U's magazine and there was the box of my precious stuff: a cloth bag, the papers, the hot pot I never use. Some ginseng tea. At least They hadn't thrown everything away.

Today I was on my way to Smart U and thinking about what I would say to the Paper-and-Stuff-Removal Guy: I've been around here instead of the other office for the last few months because I'm getting treatment around the corner three times a week for symptoms caused by blood cancer. Of incurable blood cancer! And why didn't you email me about moving me stuff? I have incurable blood cancer! Give me back my drawer!

I was getting so worked up about the incurable part. I had never put it that way before. I do have incurable blood cancer. Polycythemia is chronic. There's no cure. Therefore, not curable. I kept getting sadder and sadder. People have leukemia and they get over it. They're cured. They're in remission. It's gone. PV is never gone. There's the joke (dead serious) about advice to med students: Become an allergist. They never get better and they never die. Except people with PV die, die early, though lately the word is that we could have a near-normal life span. Just gotta watch out for clots. That move up from your legs into your lung or brain and then--

out like a candle.

For info on ordering an actual cancer charge card (pictured at top), click here.

Mysterious Blue Lights

[Andrew Nelles photo}

Lately I noticed that some buildings in the Loop had blue lights on top and I couldn't figure out why. It couldn't be for Halloween, and I don't associate Columbus Day (Indigenous Peoples Day in Berkeley) with any color at all except maybe those of the Italian flag. Which aren't blue. After ROW practice on Monday, as we sat on the outside patio of the nearby Gem Bar (No Sam Adams, no Goose Island, we're not the North Side--said nicely) someone mentioned that the blue lights were actually were teal, for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which is September. Then today's Trib had a piece on it. There's a fundraiser Friday night. Some of our rowers have ovarian, uterine and other cancers. Some have what's called "mets," which means their cancer has metastasized. And some still row. And some don't.

For those who need nipples...

[reconstructed breasts, no nipples yet, photo from]

Serena Lander reports that she will be back in Chicago Oct. 15 to work on tattooing nipples for women who have had breast reconstruction. She's also available for consultation.

Christopher Hitchens, still God-free

[Christopher Hitchens, AP photo]
I'm dying, and so are you, Hitchens told his audience in Alabama. His esophageal cancer has metastasized, but still an atheist, and doesn't mind if people pray for him to get better. If it makes them feel better, it's fine with him. Read more here.

I would say just about the same things, except no one's asking me. I am sorry that he has cancer.

apres Yom Kippur

So it is the next day, four hours after the nine-year-old at our break-fast blew the shofar to signal the end of the fast. I suppose we are all written in the book of life, since we (me, L, the people who were at the break-fast) haven't keeled over yet. How comforting it must be to really believe that whew, I get to live for sure for another year. No hits by lightning, no car crashes, no flower pots falling from window sills. (The college friend of my high school friend P lost a sister to a falling flower pot. A terrible and ridiculous way to die.) Who by fire... Etc. etc. And after you clean up after a party, it's like the end of The Cat in the Hat. There was once chaos and now it's all tidied up. That in itself is a miracle. All of us here in this room are going to die, said E, who I just met. I told her I didn't think about the people who used to live here. I don't think about their ghosts or what they went through in this house. Why not? Because I can't begin to imagine them. I don't even know their names. I would need something to go on.

The services I went to for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are informal, where you can wear whatever you want, and there were all kinds of combinations of white and white, because that's the color you're supposed to wear for the holidays. Last night I wondered hwo I would have reacted if there had been services like this when I was growing up. Would I have embraced the synagogue because everything was fun? Because I liked to dance and sing and play drums? Probably. But there was nothing like this in Houston. I learned Friday night that Yom Kippur is one fo the two most joyous days of the year. It is not supposed to be somber. It was a holiday of drifting. You'd drift in and out of the sanctuary, the room behind the sanctuary which was no longer separated by an accordian partition, glide into the bathroom, go back out to sit in chairs in the hallway to complain about being hungry, slip back into the sanctuary to whisper during the service. The place was too damned big to feel like your voice mattered during the songs. So now I go to the small place, and what if over time it becomes large, so large that it starts to feel institutional and impersonal? Then someone will branch off and start a new group and it will grow and so on and so forth.

Plant a garlic clove, said the rabbi Friday night. Plant a lot of them and in the spring you'll have garlic. Plant your soul and you will reap later. Or something along those lines.

[garlic plant]

Woman with stage 4 breast cancer says landlord unfair

[Mary Ellen Hintz, photo by Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune]

The Trib has shrunk physically--the pages became narrower some years ago--and it's much less hefty--what's so ingloriously called the news hole has shrunk down down down--but it is delivering cancer news two days in a row. Front page: A woman with stage 4 breast cancer was told she couldn't sign her lease herself. She had to have a co-signer or give her son power of attorney and let him do it. Or she could rent month to month. Her landlord said that there were staff reports she wasn't lucid, and he had a copy of a note from her doctor to her attorney saying she couldn't drive to contest a DUI charge because she's on narcotics. The DUI, she says, came from driving while using sleeping pills. Her landlord concluded that she couldn't understand the terms of the lease because of her medications.

The woman also admits that she pays the rent on the third week of the month, as per an agreement; two summer rent checks bounced but she now pays by mail order. Oh yeah, she also complained when her air conditioning broke down during the 90-plus degree days we had here.

The landlord raised her rent by more than $62.

What would you say? Was the landlord within his rights? Was he discriminating against her because she was obviously undergoing chemo and in late-stage cancer? Was he scared of having a cancer patient on his property? Was he, deep down, beyond monetary concerns, terrified she would die in her apartment? And if you're afraid, can you act accordingly? What were her legal rights?

The Tribune got the woman and landlord together and they agreed to a one-year lease with a rent hike of $62, which was smaller than his earlier stated hike. We're not told how much smaller. She signed in the presence of a witness who said she was of sound mind.

In this case, the newspaper came to the rescue. For everyone else, there's a national organization that provides legal help for people with cancer who have problems with insurance, jobs and housing. It's the Cancer Legal Resource Center, 866-THE-CIRC or 866-843-2572.

In today's Trib

1. Mammograms may not reveal tumors in women under 50 because the tumors and dense breast tissue show up as the same color. Read Trib story here. Here is the study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

2. A federal appeals court in St. Louis reinstated a lawsuit that accuses Costco, Safeway, Target, WalMart, WildOats and Aurora of claiming their milk was organic when it was not. For those of us who had estrogen-positive tumors, this matters, because bovine growth hormone can possibly feed new tumors. However, there's no test to determine if milk contains BGH. So you can put your trust in a label that declares there's no BGH. Or you can opt for organic milk, which means the cows have been grazing naturally and haven't had antibiotics (unless they were sick) or hormones. More here.

3. Hospice patients have a better quality of life than those who die at the hospital. That ain't news. What's somewhat interesting is that caregivers of patients who die in an ICU are at heightened risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. More here, where there's a link to the Dana-Farber study.

What is "the suburbs"?

What is Detroit? sparked some comment on Facebook. Where did my vision of Detroit come from? Why do I get to have it and spread it?
The question, Whose Detroit is it? is also asking, Who gets to define anything? Who's in control of our myth-making?
To paraphrase A. J. Liebling, freedom of the press belongs to anyone who has a blogging account. In the last century, he couldn't imagine the multiplicity of voices. And if everybody is somebody, then nobody is anybody.
Which sort of brings us to one of the best short stories about the suburbs, which is really about class and generation. It's The Man Who Loved Levittown, the title story in W. D. Weatherall's collection. The narrator is reasonable, irrational, unreflective, angry and compelling, and you can understand why he does what he does.
O, and if you're looking for cancer? Scroll a little bit down.

Lke me, like me, like me

O what is wrong with me? I heard that a longtime friend's daughter had moved to town and I want to invite her to come over to break the Yom Kippur fast and I keep thinking how I have to prove to her that we are cool, we are interesting, we are people worth knowing, even though we are her parents' ages. Even though kids today supposedly like to hang out with their Baby Boomer parents. I try to think about how I would have responded to such an invitation from an *old old stranger* when I was 24 or 25. I did have such an invitation when I was 29, from an old old family friend who was only about five years older, and she did seem older, more settled, with husband and house and kids and friends with same, though she was so very sweet and fun and irreverent. Such prejudices we have. Or maybe it's only me with such prejudices. And again I think of my cousin B, who died at 97, and gave me the pick of her jewelry (the only older relative with pierced ears!) and books, and who would go for walks with her neighbor who was in her 20s and from the Philippines, and would visit back and forth with her nieces and nephews. My 10-year-old step-step grandchild called on Sunday and said Happy Birthday, then, I mean Happy Grandparents' Day, and neither L nor I had had any idea that it was any such day. O, I say to myself, she just likes using her new cell phone.

What is Detroit?

[Fisher Body Plant No. 21, Detroit, Sean Hemmerle, Time]

Yesterday's Trib had an op-ed by a mayoral wannabe from 1971. He began: Chicago is on the brink of becoming another Detroit. When I think of Detroit, I think of a dead, burnt city, burned by the riots so many years ago, dead from the near-end of car-manufacturing, and abandoned by whites of all classes and the black middle-class. Detroit is a spectre. Detroit is where you would not go for vacation. Detroit is where the empty lots are becoming gardens, though people are wary about poisons the factories might have leached into the ground. Mayor Daley I saved Chicago for the middle class, even though he rammed a highway through an Italian neighborhood and created a university, and did very little to spread the wealth or city services to people of color, unless they were part of the patronage system. His son made Chicago a jewel, a capital city on the New York and European model: shining for the tourists, shifting the underclass further and further away from the main drags. This mayor Daley pushed gun control, but he was not able to control gang violence. In the meantime, like other Rustbelt cities, Chicago lost manufacturing; thus the rise of the residential loft, where residents now sit on their living room sofas in buildings that once were home to factories and warehouses. The U.S. is a service-sector economy, much of its manufacturing (and customer service, as anyone who's called a computer helpline or finds out) sent overseas, where poor people are grateful to work for less money, under worse conditions, and seldom is heard the word union.

All this is evident. To me, to many people. Apparently not to Richard E. Friedman, who wrote the op-ed, and ran as a Republican against Mayor Daley II in 1971, and has never ceased licking his wounds.

Is this racial politics? I asked L when I read the piece. Is he trying to warn the aging white readers of the Tribune that they need to support a Republican or else our fair city will turn into a Detroit--an impoverished city, a city that does not work, a black city?

Mebbe, said L, who hadn't gone beyond the first sentence of the piece because, he said, someone had taken the section for herself.

Steppenwolf Theatre has been thinking about Detroit, and apparently to Steppenwolf, Detroit means an inner-ring suburb of any medium-sized city, a suburb created by white flight (though that's not mentioned), where houses are starting to fall apart, along with the American Dream. I saw the very first preview of the premiere of the show Detroit, written by Lisa D'Amour. Steppenwolf commissioned the play. In the program, which I've uncharacteristically already recycled, we're told that the highways mentioned are just outside Detroit, but the back yards we see meticulously recreated, the white suburban angst we see so absolutely well-performed, could really be anywhere.

If so, then why call it Detroit? I want to condemn the playwright and Steppenwolf for making Detroit a metaphor because it is a not a metaphor. It is a place of suffering and hope and chronic unemployment. It is a black city. It is not a white suburb. Am I being unfair to the playwright and the theater, because my Detroit is not their Detroit?

[Laurie Metcalf in Steppenwolf's Detroit, where everything is personal, even fire-setting]

And there are other Detroits:

[The Heidelberg Project, using art to revitalize the city]


I was in the elevator at the Fancy Hospital Medical Building after my phototherapy session, which has really helped alleviate the itching/burning of my skin caused by my polycythemia vera. A guy, sort of pale, dark hair I think pulled back, maybe 30s, hunched over a little, black t-shirt, was talking to a woman about how he had to quit skating because of blood clots. He got off at the second floor. He didn't look tough enough and scarred enough for hockey. I asked her if he had polycythemia vera, and she said it sounded like that, but not quite, and I guessed, Essential thrombocythemia? and she said yes, that he'd had his spleen removed a few months ago, and that he had been a professional skateboarder. My hematologist pats down my spleen at every office visit, because it can become enlarged, but it's always OK. I had essential thrombocythemia first, and it does often lead to PV. ET didn't seem like anything. I just had too many platelets, and eventually got some prophylactic phlebotomies for it (or was it for PV only? I don't remember), and my skin itched after taking a shower. It seemed like a sleeper disease, a disease that isn't there. I know a kid (30s) who has it who doesn't want anyone to know and I was was astounded to learn that he wanted to keep it quiet. I know that when I'm on a plane I'm supposed to do isometrics so the blood won't pool into clots, and the hematologist and her assistant have schooled me in the symptoms of a blood clot (a piece of pain starting in the legs; but the sudden appearance of two identical bumps on each ankle, for example, has nothing to do with blood clots; that's something I knew but it panicked me anyway the day that they appeared and I called the physician's assistant who of course said it must be mosquito bites, but they weren't bites, I knew that), but I think I'm self-aggrandizing when I call my disorder cancer, even though it is cancer. To get info on it from the government you go to the National Cancer Institute, but the Mayo brothers think of it more of a disorder than a cancer.

Along the same train of thought though it seems not to be: I had to start up with the periodontists again because I had a tooth implant that failed. It was loose in my mouth. It's a father-son business, and the son had done the work. When I went back I asked to confer with the father to see if he could supply a reason for the implant failure. He looked at my chart and asked me if I still had cancer, and I said, Not breast cancer, but I have blood cancer and take oral chemo. He asked what I had and then told me that it wasn't cancer. I felt devalued, as if he were saying that I was faking it. I was emailing someone who also has it and was telling her that I want it to be considered cancer, and she asked me why it mattered. I don't know exactly. It has something to do with the shiny burden that cancer is. Cancer is deadly, cancer is scary, cancer is what everything can give you, cancer is the end of times, it's dramatic, and if you have cancer then you are special. I have beat/beat/beat/drumroll, c-a-n-c-e-r. Conversation stopping, jaw-dropping, cabosh-putting-on, oh-my-god-how-wonderful-you-are-to-go-on (I can't go on, I must go on, I go on) cancer. The domestic and industrial beast. The dragon. The disease that makes you a martyr.

To continue with the digression on the pere-iodontist, or periodondist pere: He looked at my list of medicines and said, O of course your chemo lowered your resistance and you had bacteria so that's why the implant failed. Couldn't be because of some failure by periodondist fils. I happened to go to the hematologist a few days later, who showed me my white cell and neutrafill counts, which were clearly inside of normal, because it's chemo but not that kind of chemo, so where's the excuse now, pere doctor?

I was thinking of turning this blog into the laments of the continuous patient, but I don't want to be that person, it's just that I'm going to the doctor or medical building all the time, for medical and quasi-medical appointments, that I'm presenting my case to alleged healers and those who administer healing, so it does seem to be a focus but it can't be the main focus, unless it's interesting enough to write another book about. Which it doesn't seem to be.

Have you made a big change?

O, how they want us to have had epiphanies, shifts, turnabouts, makeovers, changeovers and on and on. If you happen to be one of the people who have (has? I never remember) made a big change because of breast cancer, and you'd like to be interviewed, read on:

Breast Cancer survivors

Category: General


Media Outlet: Book

Deadline: 07:00 PM EST - 24 August


I am a cookbook author and nationally-published essayist writing
a novel centered on themes of rebuilding life after breast
cancer, I am interested interviewing breast-cancer survivors who
were inspired to make a major life change (new career, move,
etc.) because of beating their disease. Would be most interested
in speaking with people of South Asian descent. Acknowledgment
given to interviewees in published book.

The Big C How Pretty Cancer Is

God help us! I just watched Showtime's The Big C online while sitting in my bed and breakfast room on State Street in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. It's funny. It's ironic. It's sardonic. It's clever. It's cute.

It's unrealistic. It's demeaning. It delivers a very very odd message about race.

It begins with a black guy from the swimming pool company talking to the blonde (Laura Linney) about how unrealistic a pool is for her yard. We are in Minneapolis but we could be anywhere where there are driveways and shrubs and lawns and single-family dwellings that one can afford to expand. He says instead she should "bump out the deck," put in a hot tub and and barbecue pit. To get it done faster, she offers to pay him double. OK, I'll start tomorrow, he says. (Later she decides she does want the pool no matter what, and he says he'll get a digger tomorrow. "The bigger the digger the better," she quips. Ugh. Insert joke here about black men and their big diggers.)

It ends with Linney talking to someone who's off-camera: therapist? husband? No, ha ha. It's a dog. I think it's the neighbor's basset hound. And it's unclear whether he's listening. Then as the camera goes further and further away, we see them on the couch together, isolated as if in a boat, and then the FUCKING CIVIL RIGHTS ANTHEM, "This Little Light of Mine" plays.

What is going on here?

Race relations are un-problematized. Cancer is de-clawed. She might as well start singing, I Feel Pretty. She sure looks pretty. Healthy.

But Cancer Bitch, didn't you say you feel fine till the treatment starts?

In between we have Linney telling her handsome young Indian-looking doc (he's 31, she's his first terminal patient, lotta yucks about being the first) all about her swimming games as a kid while she's in the exam room, and then they meet for a meal. Maybe this is how they do medicine in Minnesota, but ain't never seen nothin' like that in Chicago, and, like Linney's character, I too have health insurance.

This seems to be a fantasy about what happens when you say what you've been swallowing all this time. She tells her fat, mouthy black student: "You can't be fat and mean." Linney tells the girl that the other kids laugh at her cruel jokes, but nobody's asking her to the prom. And at their next encounter, Linney offers the girl $100 for every pound she loses as long as she quits smoking. Seems like we're getting pretty close to the territory of Blame the Victim for Her Cancer--she was repressed, so see what happened!

She finds out her neighbor has complained about the backyard construction so walks straight into the old biddy's house and accuses, "You have never smiled even a little bit." And the old lady's house and lawn are a mess, too.

Of course, because this is TV-land, next time we see them the neighbor has upswept her hair, cross the street to shake hands, and smiles and asks to borrow the lawnmower.

And because this is TV, and because everything is so funny haha, her husband hears her doctor's compassionate message on the phone and assumes she's having an affair. She doesn't tell anyone--her son, her husband, her save-the-world goofy brother--that she's got metastatic cancer.

"It makes me feel better to think we're all dying," she says (to the dog). Profound. Never thought of that before. I'm here all year, she says. Performing at stage four. (That was a clever line. Really.) "The laughter might turn into a sob in a second." And it does.

So next episode, we'll be wondering, Will she tell or won't she? Will she mention money? Will cancer be anything more than a giant wake-up call? And at the end, will she be able to best Oscar Wilde's final line: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go"?

And what is it about Hollywood and house expansion? That disappointing movie with Meryl Streep in it centered around the Steve Martin architect character who came into her life to expand her house. After her second and last kid left for college. Isn't that a sign that it's time to downsize?

Note to Hollywood: Can you spell F-o-r-e-c-l-o-s-u-r-e?

Hey, kids, here's someone who died from breast cancer, as well as other stuff!

One-Breasted Tour Through Dixie

I am so sad because I'm leaving the South on Tuesday. I'm in Selma tonight, having spent the afternoon in the Reform temple with a very nice and spry president of the congregation who is 85. He is 10 percent of the congregation, and ten years younger than the oldest member. He put captions on two recent pictures. On the group standing together: The last of the Mohicans. On a photo of the members sitting around on the pews in the nearly-empty sanctuary: Reserve seating at Mishkan Israel.

The synagogue was started by German Jews; my great-grandfather and his brothers-in-law were fresh-from-the-shtetl Eastern European Jews who were presumably members of the Orthodox synagogue, which no longer has members or a building. It's now the site of the post office. Most of the documents and photos at Mishkan Israel pertain to that synagogue, but I saw a copy of minutes from 1912 from B'nai Abraham, the Orthodox shul. It was in Yiddish, which I should know how to read after ten years of study, but I know I'll have to get it translated.

What I know: My great-grandfather Zendel aka Sidney was born in Plungian, Lithuania, in 1874. He arrived in the U.S. in 1901. His wife Sarah, who was four years older (they allegedly told the census enumerator Miss Lula Hamilton, who got some names wrong; maybe she was better with figures), arrived in 1906 with five kids. This was typical for immigrants, of course. Imagine coming over on the boat with children aged four, five, seven and nine (the latter, my grandmother, Bessie aka Bayle Maryassa) Mindel. Imagine living in the shtetl Pusvatyn (better or worse than Plungian?), your husband has left for America, he says he'll send for you but you never know, you've heard of women who go overseas and they find their husbands are living with a real American woman who speaks English, the men abandon their faithful wives and don't release them with a religious divorce and they are isolated and floating and alone, with their children and Yiddish and nothing else in the new country. He goes and you're pregnant and have the fourth baby, which he doesn't see grow into a toddler and then a little girl. But he does send money for passage and you come, five years later, to 517 Washington Street in Selma. And two years later, an American baby is born. And 103 years later, Bessie's granddaughter aka Cancer Bitch makes a visit and there's a gas station where one house was, and probably an empty lot where the other was, and anyone can see them from their computer, thanks to the Google satellite system, the big eye that sees and records everything.

Why Selma? Why Alabama? It's always the same reason: someone else was already there. In this case, Sarah's brothers Louis, Joe and Samuel Rosenburg nee Pruchna. Samuel came to the U.S. in 1892. Today I put stones on the graves of Louis and Joe and Louis's wife Mattie Smith. The graves were in a row and there was space for another head stone, for Joe's wife, but she wasn't buried there. I don't know where Samuel and his wife Jennie are. I do know that they married in 1910, when he was 38, five-foot-six and 200 pounds, and she was 28, the same height and weighed 150, and had been in this country five years.

What does this mean? Why is genealogy the alleged second-most popular hobby in the US?
The one-breasted researcher has thoughts on this, which she will relate later.,

Type 2014A...

in the folktale roster is the "That's good, that's bad" formula story. I found out that it did not originate with my cousin H, who used to tell these stories in the 60s. Or maybe it was just the one classic story about the man and his new wife.

Here goes my attempt, not adhering exactly to the formula:
I had breast cancer.
That's bad.
That's good, I don't have it any more.
That's good.
That's bad. I have another kind of cancer, polycythemia vera.
That's bad.
That's good, it's slow-growing and sort of under control.
That's good.
That's bad, it makes my skin very sensitive, and it itches a lot. But because of my breast cancer, I joined a rowing team for breast cancer survivors and pre-vivors.
That's good.
That's bad, I rubbed my leg against the gunwale and got "slide bite."
That's bad.
That's not bad, I put antibiotic ointment and a bandage on it.
That's good.
That's bad, I ran out of bandages when we were in Oregon.
That's bad.
That's good, L got me some more bandages at Walgreens.
That's good.
That's bad, I reacted to the bandages with huge red welts.
That's bad.
That's good, it didn't kill me.
That's good.
That's bad, we were in a tiny town and couldn't find calamine lotion, cortisone cream or antibiotic ointment.
That's bad.
That's good, we got Campho-Phenique and I read online that toothpaste helps the itching.
That's good.
That's bad, when I got home half the welts were still there, and red and puffy.
That's bad.
That's good, I went to the doctor.
That's good.
That's bad, he said it could be staph or MRSA.
That's bad.
That's good, he prescribed Mupirocin ointment and asked if I wanted an oral antibiotic or if I wanted to wait.
That's good.
That's bad, the bumps are still red.
That's bad.
That's good, they're smaller.
That's good.
That's bad, I'm leaving town and don't know if I should ask for the pills.
That's bad.
That's good. I have the option. I have health insurance. I'm actually healthy, overall. Despite all. Sorry this isn't very funny, though.
That's bad.

[Photos from Mayo Clinic; mine started out like the one on the left, but are not as bad as the one on the right.]

Leah Siegel

I usually don't have two deaths in a row, but this was just published today, and sent to me by a good friend of Leah's. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer right after she had her third child. This piece even cut into the stony old heart of Cancer Bitch.

But I date myself...

The clock radio went off this morning and soon a notice came on about an upcoming special on the life of Daniel Schorr, who died last week at 93. I'd promised myself I would write four pages when I got up so I rushed to my office across the hall, and used a staple-puller to open up a cassette tape. I was about to put it in the boom box to record the special when I realized: I can listen to this online later.

What century was I still living in?

My only excuse is that I'd just woken up.

I did get bits of the special, which is worth listening to. Find the link here to Dan Schorr Memorial Special. I would love to live as long and work as long and be as productive and honorable and wise as Schorr.

The drug you can never quit

My dear friend D read about my nausea when I ran out of Effexor, and sent me this helpful link to Crazy Meds. CM lists: Effexor's Cons: For many people Effexor XR has the absolute worst discontinuation syndrome of an antidepressant. Effexor (venlafaxine hydrochloride) is a medication people utterly loathe to have taken. It is not uncommon for someone to fire doctors during or immediately after they quit taking Effexor XR(venlafaxine hydrochloride).

I'm trying to remember why I switched from Cymbalta. Oh, well helpful Crazy Meds is reassuring on this point: It appears as if the discontinuation syndrome for Cymbalta (duloxetine hydrochloride) is just as harsh as that of Effexor (venlafaxine) for many people. In case you're wondering what Cymbalta is for, Crazy Meds tells you that, too, in technical language: Major Depressive Disorder (i.e. feeling or like Whale Shit at the Bottom of the Ocean) - approved 4 August, 2004.
Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathic Pain - approved 7 September 2004.

And if you happen to type the URL incorrectly, you get this very technical notice: The file you were looking for is just an illusion created by the devil.

As are most things.

Cooling from a meltdown

[or heating up together]

Meltdown is the topic of a blog carnival sponsored by Chronic Babe, so if you go there after July 27, you'll have access to lots of cooldown tips.

For Cancer Bitch, a meltdown means feeling hopeless and helpless, out of control. It's easy to feel out of control when your body has started acting badly, and when professionals are delineating the ways your body is doing that bad thing to you, using words you've never heard before, and offering treatment that might be painful, expensive, confusing, inconvenient, lonely, messy, experimental and/or detrimental to your health in the long run.

What I've found to work well: Cry. Talk. Write. Find something cool and soothing to eat, such as frozen yogurt. And yes, make sure that the milk used does not have bovine growth hormones. Cry a little more because: you live in a world where we give hormones to cows, you have to be vigilant in order to get dairy without the hormones, in Europe it's banned, and the hormones may be linked to estrogen-positive breast cancer, and extrapolating, what else in our food, water and air supply is detrimental to the health of the planet?

Then link up with an organization that works on these issues, because they don't feel hopeless. Acknowledge that that's hard, especially if you're feeling faint, are in pain, and have been handed a death sentence.

[What would Mother Jones do?]

Mother Jones (the person who inspired the founders of the magazine) was born Mary Harris in Ireland in 1837, and immigrated to Canada and then the US. In 1867 her husband and four children died of yellow fever in Memphis. She moved to Chicago, where her home and dressmaking shop burned in the Chicago Fire.

By her 50s she was a radical, working mostly with mineworkers. In 1903 she led a children's march fom Pennsylvania to New York to protest child labor. She helped found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, the "Wobblies").

She's buried in Downstate Illinois.

If you're able, after your meltdown, you might want to heat up, as the IWW says, and help fan the flames of discontent.
Check out the research/activist groups such as: Breast Cancer Action; Collaborative on Health and the Environment; Our Bodies, Our Blog; Organic Consumers Assn. Feel free to list your recommended organizations and meltdown tips in Comments.

[Order your IWW songbook for Labor Day. Disclaimer: Cancer Bitch does not endorse all stands/actions taken by IWW.]

Don't mourn...organize!--Joe Hill