This is the first week of discussion of our July selection. “Cancer Bitch” is obviously a different book from “The Last Lecture“, different in tone, different in style, different in purpose. But the two make an interesting juxaposition, illustrating that cancer happens differently to different people. A person’s response to cancer reflects that person’s personality, their upbringing, and their culture as well as their biology. These differences are what we find interesting about their stories although it may be the universality of the cancer experience that we hope to discover and, in doing so, find affirmation of our own.
~ Sandi Wisenberg is a professional writer. How did you react to the writing style of the book? I will confess to being an English major and enjoyed the author’s free-wheeling, stream-of-consciousness style. The June selection read like a series of lectures. “Cancer Bitch” reads like someone who has thrown herself open to the experience, emotionally and intellectually buffeted by the currents, as recording everything just as it washes over her.
~ In the February 7 post “Telling” she describes her experience of telling various others about her diagnosis. How was your own experience of having to tell the significant and not-so-significant others in your life about your diagnosis? If you have read those sections of my journal, you will know that I avoided telling my wife about my escalating symptoms and test results while she was away vacationing with her parents. This has been a source of discussion for us ever since. I didn’t want to spoil her vacation when I didn’t know anything for sure. And once I picked her up from the airport, I didn’t quite know how to go about telling her so I procrastinated another hour. She took the news more calmly than I expected and instantly became my partner in illness. I left it for her to tell the boys and the rest of my family.
~ In the February 19 entry, Sandi talks about having her somewhat elderly mother taking care of her again. What kinds of experiences and reactions did you have when others suddenly were taking care of you? When I was diagnosed and read my prognosis of 8 or so months, my grandmother was living with us and in relative good health for 104 years old. She had already seen my father die three years earlier. It was odd feeling that both she and my mother might outlive me. And when I thought about how it might feel to outlive any of my kids, it helped me to understand how it must be for them. The initial weeks of treatment were so difficult for me, with wild extended bouts of chills and rigors, feeling totally drained six days out of seven, that letting myself be cared for came easy.
~ Did you have any celebratory parties at the beginning of your treatment like the one the author describes in the February 24 entry? Being a nurse I had seen plenty of hair come out – blotchy scalps and unsightly clumps of hair on pillows and linens. We decided to have a hair cutting party, plenty of beer and wine for everyone as my fellow nurses took turns with the electric razor. Great photo opps!
~ What do you think about Sandi’s conflicting reactions to organizations like the Susan Komen Foundation? The author’s political background allows her to question the purity of motive of big corporations acting as sponsors for cancer fundraising events, the well-publicized, media-blanketed events that allow everyone to feel good about the ’cause’. Where do the dollars go? research into more effective drugs with ever-higher profit margins? or prevention and early detection efforts? or solving the even more politically treacherous questions about what factors of modern life (shampoos, deoderants, food additives) contribute to cancer risk in the first place. Still…they are raising money to combat the cancer lurking so threateningly in her body.
~ Next Reading Assignment: pages 40 – 81 (April 24th entry) “The Adventures of Cancer Bitch” – see Book Club page for ordering information.
~ Some Discussion Questions: the author’s writing style is permeated with a sense of humor and irony. Did you find that such an attitude helped you at times while going through diagnosis and treatment? Sandi describes her mastectomy, her followup care, and her experience with drainage tubes and post-surgery camisole. What were some of your reactions to surgical procedures? to adoption of this new patient culture with special clothes, prostheses, and rituals? The author explains her choice of the title “Cancer Bitch” in a little “forward’ . When the term ‘Cancer Bitch” is first used in the journal, did it seem to fit the author’s personality? When was the first time you used “the cancer card”? (March 12 entry) Many of us lost hair to chemo. Even though the author does not seem a vain person, the issue of hair is given a lot of space. What are some of your own issues with alopecia? (you all know what that word means)