The time is here to say goodbye to ‘Cancer Bitch’ as we round up her book. Her story, of course, continues on at her blog Cancer Bitch. At the end of this week’s discussion we will also begin pondering the discussion questions for our August selection “The Spirit Within”. You might note that I have been working on the “Cancer Blog Links” page, providing organization and cutting down on scrolling time. The list is currently approaching nearly 500 cancer blogs.
“The Adventures of Cancer Bitch” took an atypical route for cancer memoirs. The tone is very straighforward, cynical at times, whimsical at others. It is largely an unsentimental telling. The author does not appeal so directly to our emotions. Nor does the success of the book depend upon humor. Indeed the prominent ‘genres’ found in books about cancer experiences can be said to fall into either the “cancer profoundly changed my life for the better” camp or the “I had to laugh so I wouldn’t cry” school. This is not a criticism of Sandi’s book or of the sentimental or the humorous approaches.
Everyone deals with cancer in their own way. The way we respond to the experience of cancer is very much mediated by our character, personality, upbringing, and other important life experiences. The author has found an original voice to tell her tale, a voice, I suspect, that is her own. The author’s persona is exemplified by the section near the end of the book titled “An Accounting”. Many cancer accounts include a “what I have learned” section and “Cancer Bitch” is no exception here. But even here she avoids sentimentality, hilarity, and “tired inspirational quotes”. There is real, honest, hard-earned advice here.
“Some people don’t know how to react to a cancer diagnosis and will disappear” Many fellow travelers have confirmed this to me. “Don’t think about people who died (of cancer)” Your friends will advoid this topic like the plague, and instead will only remind you of all the people who did well. “That you can switch oncologists” is advice that some of us could have, should have taken but for our fear.
“That the person with whom you were friendly, who was there when you received the cancer phone call, will be decidedly unempathetic and in the course of a year, will nevere ask how you are doing.” This may sound cynical, even anger, but honest it is. To often perhaps we do not talk about the anger we are feeling because of the cancer.
When I asked her about her “Cancer Bitch” tag, the author told me in an email “it has allowed me to be more arch and sarcastic in my writing, while at the same time being self-critical. This is especially so when I write about Cancer Bitch in the third person.” And I think this comes through in this section.
“That you prefer medical care by women.” is a theme that we will find in our next book. I have a female dermatologist that I enjoy. It is certainly easy to imagine that, especially for breast, gynecological, and even prostate cancers, the sex of the practitioner might be relevant in how comfortable we feel.
Though Wisenberg does not try to make humor a theme in her writing, she doesn’t lack a sense of irony. “That in hospitals they still wake you up to see how you are doing.” “That you sister will call you afer every chemo” suggest both irony and understated gratitude.
The author ends the book with an account of participating in a cancer march. She suggest that the sponsoring institution might well have a double agenda – not only to honor the survivors but also to advertise its role in combating cancer. Is this cynical? Maybe, but having been on the corporate aide of healthcare, I can attest that visibility at such public events is essential to the public relations concerns of healthcare systems.
In the last paragraph Wisenberg, again in the third person, refers to herself as “a cynical Cancer Bitch.” She resents the fact that no one at her treating hospital “had done anything to commenmorate my last round of chemo.” But then she imagines that at next year’s march, she might bring all her “chemo escorts” to march beside her. “It might be meaningful. It might be festive.” Sandi has made it through. And she, though subtly, does want to celebrate. I think this month we have celebrated with her.
Next Week’s Reading Assignment: “The Light Within: the Extraordinary Friendship of a Doctor and Patient Brought Together by Cancer” by Lois M. Ramondetta, MD & Deborah Rose Sills (2008). Please read the first three chapters, pages 1 – 58.
Discussion Questions: Focus on the relationship between oncologist and patient. How was your own experience? how trusting, how intimate, how empathetic? Did you ever wish your own doctor was different? Does the gender of the physician make a difference? Do either of these two people seem extraordinary in their own right?