The Bitch Ponders

Part I.
I am going to a conference and I am pretty sure I will run into The One Who Does Not Want to Friend Me, On Facebook or Otherwise, and I find myself obsessing about this every so often. We were best friends the first quarter of freshman year of college and I came across a very lovely card she sent me over Thanksgiving that year, about how she felt so different from high school friends she talked to, because they were not feminist or interested in careers and she was. She was so very interested in careers. We were both in journalism but she had done more Out in the World than I had. As a high schooler, she'd interned at a real daily newspaper, while I had worked at an amusement park for two summers. I had worked on the newsletter for employees of the park. She had also won or placed in a national creative writing contest sponsored by Seventeen Magazine. (Maybe international, if you count Canada.) I had sent in to a Seventeen contest, but I was so ignorant I didn't know I was supposed to send a copy of a high school newspaper article I'd written, I mean I sent a clean, typed copy of the article, and *not* a photocopy of the newspaper that contained the article. I try to remember that, when students ask me questions that seem to show they have not one iota of common sense. I wouldn't say that I competed with The One; it was a given that she had achieved more; I may have considered her to be in a quite separate realm.

I remember I was an Honorable Mention in a contest, but I don't remember for what. And I had two trophies--one from a citywide journalism contest and the other from a Jewish organization that sponsored a writing award. I remember it as the Seymour Cussworm Award, but that sounds like a made-up name. In many ways I peaked in high school. In college and graduate school I was average or below. I would like to think that I am still on my way to my peak. As Nora Ephron wrote once, in the essay "On Having Never Been a Prom Queen": I am, in fact, at this very moment gaining my looks.

I just googled again and found the Sidney G. Kusworm award, but it is for community service. He was head of Americanization for the B'nai B'rith and served on Truman's civil rights commission. All of this giving Seymour an intractable inferiority complex, of course.

I ask you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, was it my fault that I broke up with my boyfriend freshman year, and then got back together with him a few weeks or month later? It may have been sophomore year. I assume that was my transgression, according to The One Who Will Not... because she went out with him after we broke up, and I guess he broke up with her in order to get back together with me. But shouldn't she blame him and not me? And shouldn't I have forgotten this in the decades since?

I do emphasize the negative; I think of The One... instead of A, whom I have not seen in about 20 years, and with whom I will have lunch a week from Monday. A is a lovely and intense person, with blond hair, blue eyes, a cherubic face and soft voice, who brought down a corrupt mayor with her reporting. You may remember Coleman Young and the krugerrands. (Which was not a singing group.) I will also see D, who was my boss and taught me the little bit I learned early on about structuring a longer piece of writing.

It could be, of course, that along the way, The One decided she did not like me. How could that be? I ask L. How could someone not like me? We are both baffled.
[Artist credit: Henry Wallis]

Can we quote you on that?

Passing along an email from Maureen Alter Tiedeman:
I am the founder of Wings for Injured Athletes Inc. We are putting together a 365 daily calendar for 2012 called "Caring For Cancer one day At a time" with inspiring quotes from cancer patients and survivors.

I would like to recognize those individuals who have overcome adversity.

Would you know any individuals that would like to submit a quote?

I came up with the idea this November when my mother in law was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and was told she only had 2 months to live unless she started chemo right away. So far she is having chemo in Fargo ND, being positive and is scheduled to go the Mayo Clinic in MN, February 9, 2011 to get a bone marrow transplant.
This is my way of giving back. A percentage of the proceeds will go towards cancer research.

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you

Wings for Injured Athletes is a 501 c3 organization.

To contribute a quote, go to
and click on "Cancer Care."

"Because Life's Too Short Not To Enjoy The Things You Love"

The problem that won't go away

The New York Times today focuses on the difference between Stage 4 and other breast cancers, under an unfortunate headline: "A Pink-Ribbon Race, Years Long." Note to all: Editors, not reporters write the headlines.

The lead is about a woman with metastasis who went to a support group meeting and didn't have the heart to tell the rest of the women, who had stages 1-3, about herself. I was what scared them, the woman, Suzanne Hebert, said.

Let's look at the numbers: some 40,000 people in the US die of breast cancer a year. About a quarter of us who are first diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer end up with metastasis. About 150,000 are living with Stage 4.

The story quotes Dr. Eric P. Winer, director of the breast oncology center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston: All too often, when people think about breast cancer, they think about it as a problem, it’s solved, and you lead a long and normal life.

There was CJ, who was married to my old friend A. She was diagnosed in 2001, six years before I was, with about the same stage. She had a mastectomy, no need for chemo, her doctors said, and the family traveled and she continued working in an underfunded public school library on the East Coast, coaching the Reading Olympics team. Five years later the cancer came back. When I saw her a few years ago, she was getting treatment for cancer that had moved to her spine and brain. In spring 2009, she was losing her sight but still took the Reading Olympics kids to a competition. I didn't see her on a visit around then; I saw A when he drove me to the airport. One weekend in May 2009 she accused him of not turning on the lights. She went to school on Monday and realized that she really could not see and she quit. She died at home in August 2009.

I went to a funeral yesterday of an adult student who died suddenly at 46. She was an accomplished actor, playwright and teacher, and was in our MFA program to learn more about nonfiction writing. Last week she went home after our evening class, and she and her husband had some wine and were watching some trashy TV to relax. He got up to get more wine, and when he came back, his wife wasn't breathing. Her heart stopped before the paramedics got there. A lingering illness, he said, that would have been preferable. I think both are bad, I said. My friend S, who was close to the couple, said that at least with a lingering illness you can say goodbye, you can ask for advice. I don't know what A would say about that. Both ways have their down sides. I've long been against Death, but Death doesn't seem to care.
Image above is Pandora [Jane Morris] by Rossetti, which doesn't really fit, except in mood

Debbie Friedman/Arizona

I've been listening to right-wing talk shows in order to see what the hosts and listeners are thinking about the Arizona murders. There was Savage Nation and a sub for Hugh Hewitt and then Michael Gallagher. L was listening with me last night and hooting because he said they sounded desperate. I don't think so. I heard:
-liberals want the race of a suspect made public only if it's a white male; they didn't want it known that the Fort Hood suspect was a Muslim
-liberals are trying to make a case that the suspect (my word: they assume he's guilty, as did NPR in a broadcast yesterday that assumed he was the killer; I mean we know he was but he's innocent before proven guilty) was influenced by the right, especially Palin, and all the political vitriol, and this was clearly a crazy man acting alone

The worst thing about these people is that they keep calling certain people leftists and Communists who I think are centrist. Their listeners will start to believe it.

In the middle of all this came Debbie Friedman's sudden death on Sunday. She was a Jewish folk singer but that's like saying that Bob Dylan was an American folk singer. She was more. She composed a healing prayer, Mi Shebeirach, which is quite lovely and I've enjoyed (if I can say that) singing it with others in mind at services, and knowing that people sang it for me when I had breast cancer. Friedman arranged the song and composed the music and I keep wanting to say revolutionized prayer but I'm sure that's an overstatement, and I'm not one to comment since I'm not a frequent attender. She was quoted in interviews as saying that services were so boring when she was growing up and she wanted to make prayer user friendly. She added grace, beauty and meaning. The cause of death is complications from pneumonia. It took a couple of days to establish her age at 59.
When I was studying in rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the late ’90s, it was not a very spiritual place, Rabbi Jason Miller of Michigan told the Jerusalem Post. He said that Friedman came to the Conservative (the centrist branch of Judaism) seminary in New York to lead a healing service at the end of a day-long conference.

Her energy electrified the Seminary’s synagogue where students, faculty and guests were singing and dancing – I remember thinking that if I could bottle up her ruah [spiritual energy] and sell it to congregations, I’d be a billionaire, Miller added.
Friedman’s music, Miller said, adds so much life and feeling to our liturgy.

Mi Shebeirach was performed Sunday at a healing service at Congregation Chaverim in Tucson, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is a member. More than 200 people packed the sanctuary.

Anxious? Depressed? Eat some fish.

Why is this fish smiling?

As I've reported here* before, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac are now in our waterways and therefore in fish. A new report looks at brook trout in municipal wastewaters and finds that, lo and behold, the trout contained six antidepressants in their livers, brains and muscles.

There are no studies that I know of that tell you how much medicine you ingest when you eat the trout. Such things are hard to measure.

*I thought I had reported this before but I couldn't find any mention of it in this blog. The info is definitely in the book, though. One more reason to buy The Adventures of Cancer Bitch. Look in the end notes section.

A special thanks to D for telling me about these studies.


Today I was waiting for the elevator to take me up to the 21st floor at Fancy Hospital. That's the you're-in-big-trouble floor, where people in wheelchairs and wigs wait for their oncologists and hematologists. I had my tri-annual appointment with my hematologist to check on my polycythemia vera. I noted L waiting too. Her hair was about an inch long, if that. She said hi then asked me for my first name. Then asked me for my last name. Then said she had chemo brain and didn't remember how we knew each other. I told her I had chemo brain too and I explained. She'd just had a cataract removed yesterday and was going to another floor to check in with her eye doctor. Both of her eyes already looked fine. She said she had breast cancer that metastasized to her liver and that she gets chemo for. She said it had been 11 years, which I took to mean since the metastasis. And she's still going. She's a little foggy, yes, but looks pretty good for an 80-something-year-old with metastatic cancer.

On my floor there was an airline hostess going around picking up abandoned newspapers and magazines and asking people if they wanted coffee, tea or water. She had a badge on but I couldn't read it so I don't know if she was a volunteer or if this was her job, to placate people while they waited for doctors who allowed themselves to be overbooked. Everyone was pretty calm, though there were a lot of us there, maybe two dozen or more, sitting around.

My blood counts were pretty stable, so the hematologist wasn't too concerned. At one point she had talked to me about Interferon, which I definitely don't want to take. She reminded me that that was when the itching wasn't under control. But it is and I am so happy that it is. It's always the same old story, isn't it? The rancher who wore boots that hurt his feet and his friend asks him why he wears them then and the answer is that it feels so good when he takes them off. I get upset even talking about how awful the itching/burning was and I am so grateful and relieved that I don't have it anymore because of the phototherapy. Now I'm going to be going only twice a week. When I was a kid I could never imagine myself older than 30 or so, and I certainly didn't ever imagine that some day I would be 55 and standing on a towel to keep my feet from picking up psoriasis skin-crumbs, naked and inside a tank while purple light and heat surrounds me for five minutes and oh yes, I'm wearing an empty pillow case on my head so that the rays won't make my face red and freckly. No, while I was painting freckles on my face with an eyeliner brush I certainly did not imagine that. O brave new world.

Blood test for cancer?

There's a new test that is so sensitive it can find one cancer cell in a billion. Veridex and Johnson & Johnson's Ortho Biotech Oncology unit will work on making the test more inexpensive. They'll start a research center at Massachusetts General Hospital. That hospital as well as Sloan-Kettering, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston will start using the test this year. If you could find out quickly, "this drug is working, stay on it," or "this drug is not working, try something else," that would be huge, Dr. Daniel Haber, chief of Mass General's cancer center and one of the test's inventors, told the Associated Press. It will take five years of testing before the procedure will be on the market.

It will be able to detect one cancer cell that's broken off from a tumor and wending its way through your bloodstream. And then what will it do?

Happy new year! Where's my brain?

Happy new year to everyone. May this be a year of joy and health, meaning good health. Everyone has some kind of health, I guess, as long as you're alive. Which leads me to a couple of pieces that I've gotten in the mail and have been thinking about. First, a fund-raising letter from the Authors Guild. The Guild wants me remember it in my will. Enticements: There are some estate and income tax benefits, too, not to mention invitations to special events and special seating.... The great thing about this is, you don't have to pay until after you die.

I suppose the special seating is for before I die, not after, but you never know, since I'll be paying when I'm gone. The Guild intends for me to be a very active corpse.

But I won't be a corpse. I'm donating my organs, and the largest organ is skin, so I plan to be parceled out. If there are no uses for my bones, I may hang together as a skeleton.

Second piece in the mail: brochure from Rush University Medical Center, telling me that even if I do crossword puzzles or play chess in order to keep my brain sharp, I could still be screwed--and worse--in the end. A report in the journal Neurology indicates that if you have lesions from dementia, you can delay symptoms by stimulating your brain, but eventually, once you develop dementia, you're going to go downhill fast. [T]he benefit of delaying the initial signs of cognitive decline may come at a cost, study author Robert Wilson said in Discover Rush. On the other hand, he said, By compressing the course of dementia, mental activities could reduce the overall amount of time that a person may suffer from the condition. And that's a good thing. You'll be older and more decrepit, and closer to death.

If, like me, you're always worried about your brain, about seeing the word you need just up the road but not being able to reach it, about using the wrong word that sounds like the right one, about being disorganized and forgetful and always looking for the place your trains of thought went, and wondering what part of this is chemo brain and what is middle-age and what is menopause (brought on by chemo with enhanced symptoms thanks to Tamoxifen)--here's the Mini-Mental State Exam used to get a handle on a person's cognitive decline.

It was a relief to see that you don't have to count all the way backwards by sevens from 100 to 2, just to 65.

Top image from here