Cancer Bitch – week 3 discussion

Cancer Bitch

Cancer Bitch

It was a lovely day yesterday.  I finished the “Cancer Bitch” book while smoking a cigar (I didn’t inhale) sitting on the patio.  After spending last weekend in Chicago, reading the book seems a bit more personal to me.  The influence of Chicago, or at least of urban-ness, seems apparent in her writing.  I just realized that August is approaching and I need to select another book.  That means a trip to the library this week.  My daughter-in-law, Dorothy, finished nursing school classes Friday, so the girls will not be here during the week. What will I ever do with the time!

Have any of you used your bald head for henna designs? I wish I had thought of it.  I think I would have gone with Maori warrior designs.  If I ever went bald, I want tatoos like that.  But I have been reluctant about tatoos because of infection potential and my skin GVHD.

More thoughts on the nickname, Cancer Bitch – do you suppose the persona is a reaction to or a defense against her cancer experience? I continue to feel like I want to hear more about the “Cancer Bitch” tag.  In a way it fits the author’s attitude about her cancer experience, how a determination not to let it affect her life.  On the other hand, despite the bravado, she seems to show vulnerability in the face of her struggle.  I think the tag might be both a reaction to and a defense against the onslaught of cancer.

The author’s Jewish background pervades her life and writing as well as giving some context to her experience as a cancer victimIn what ways might your own cultural background have affected your experience?  and in what ways has your background and upbringing been helpful? (we saw this theme in our last book also) One of the most fascinating aspects of culture is that is can be so invisible to the wearer, especially if you are a member of the predominant culture.  My most identifiable subculture is one I can by late in life, cancer victim.  But no doubt my maleness affected how I responded.  The fact that I did creative writing early in life gave me a skill set that I used to express my reaction to leukemia.  It gave me an outlet.  My long career as a nurse colored the whole gamut of reactions to my diagnosis and treatment.  For a long time my identity as an oncology nurse traveled in parallel with my unwelcome role as oncology patient.  As I have written before, that medical identity both made it easier and harder to go thru the cancer experience.  I had seen it all, cancer and vistory, cancer and death, and I could well imagine it all, and more.

Sandi writes “I fell I should be suffering more, that I’m faking it….That I feel guilty because I fell good even though I am supposed to be dying.” (p.93)  Does this feel familiar for any of you? Aside from actual survivor guilt, I think there can be a kind of suffer’s guilt.  My rare leukemia was life-threatening and in the beginning had substantial and dramatic side effects.  But I have had no surgeries and disfigurement.  I had numerous infections but none were life-threatening.  Though I was bald during transplant, I did not lose my hair during my treatments for T-PLL (whose treatment was a biotherapy and not traditional chemotherapy).  Baldness can be a badge of sorts, an outward statement of inner suffering, a proof as to agressive nature of your illness.  How often have we felt embarassed when told we are looking well when we feel so wretched and threatened inside?  We want to protest aloud “Yes, I look well but I may be dying inside!”  Randy Pausch said the same thing.

She describes bone pain (p.95 & 98)  Share your own reaction to chemo side effects. “It’s the subtlety of it, as cruel as a mean girl’s gossip, almost not there but there.”  I think I want to just quote the author here (for it is some of her best writing) and listen to your reactions.  My own worst side effect was bone-rattling, bed shaking chills and rigors during my first dozen treatments with Campath.  “The topic for today is pain and pain – pain that causes weeping and pain that comes from weeping, and how difficult it is to tell the difference between the two.”  And the pain of depression, “soul corroding depression.  The kind of depression where the world seems like a vast desert and there nothing to connect to, to hold onto, that every human in the universe is just a little desparate bucket of misery just going after distraction.  And you carry on a conversation in the midst of this depression, but the conversation is going on in a parallel, pretend world, what’s real is the dfeeling underneath you can’t shake, that nothing matters.  And you can’t stand it.

On page 100 she very eloquently compares suffering to depression.  Did this ring true for you? I think that these two paragraphs are very effective.  The scene is set with waiting unexpectedly long at the drug store for medications you desperately need for pain control.  Anxiety sets in motion a confluence of both suffering and depression.  “Underneath the suffering was psychic pain, which is an entity, but I can deal with an entity, it is better than the erosion created by depression, which is more absent than absence, depression is the oxygen-gulping aridness of the worldSo there is no part of you left that can slither its way around and get its interest quickened by an idea or person or mind or glazed ble Moroccan tiles.  There is no room for beauty … There is only the ash that’s left after a fire, after a long, long rain.”

Next Reading Assignment: Finish the book, pages 120 – 164.

Discussion Questions: Your reaction to the importance of gender in relations? (pages 125-6)  The sympathetic reaction you may have had seeing a stranger who seems to be a fellow traveler undergoing treatment (p. 129)  Playing the old cancer card again “Library Cancer Card” p. 133)  And finally your reaction to “An Accountingin which the author lists things she has learned from her experienceIt is not your traditional uplifting, spiritually satisfying “how cancer changed my life” epistles.  Is she being cynical, a bitch, or just emotiuonally and intellectually true?


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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