Time on Fire – week two

HandlerSorry to be so slow in my own reading.  My eyesight has been giving me trouble lately and I quickly experience eye fatigue when reading.  I think this has also prevented me from moving more swiftly with developing my knowledge of computer technology relating to improving aspects of this blog.  In any case I am gratified by the response to this month’s selection.  As noted a few posts ago, I received an unsolicited response from the book’s author, Evan Handler.

As funny as this book can be at times, it is not afraid to tackle some of the more delicate and sensitive aspects of hids battle with leukemia.  As I have written before, my experience as a cancer nurse allowed me to see behind the noble veil of suffering patients and families go through.  Life does continue on, throughout and after the medical battle.  Relationship issues, family issues, parenting issues, financial issues all continue to vex and complicate life until some resolution is reached.  A bout with cancer does tend to act as an extra force, cajoling and pushing static and active personal problems to either get worse or to seek a faster resolution.  The pressures of life are too often compounded.

And so it is with Evan.  In family therapy sessions he confronts dysfunctional family demons, tossing skeltetons out of the family memory and forcing each family member to step out from behind defenses and delusions.  This chapter, “Family Affairs”, is enlightening in its frankness and so personal and private, in that famiy sense, that the reader feels almost embarassed to be listening in.

As a nurse I felt particular enjoyment in Handler’s decription of the rituals and patient experience surrounding the practice of peripheral IVs and phlebotomy procedures.  Handler’s perception of the different levels of IV and blood-letting skills among hospital staff are hilarious.  And I suspect that anyone who has gone through chemotherapy can relate.  That you must endure three unsuccessful “stick” before another practitioner is summoned.  That in every facility there exist “magicians” who can locate the invisible vein and insert an IV catheter with hardly any pain.  That persistent “digging” for an uncooperative vein is a legalized form of torture.  And that the patient can sense insecurity and lack of confidence in the phlebotomist’s eyes.

The “R & R” chapter about his week-long retreat at the Simonton center in California is complex and comical st the same time.  He describes his natural New Yorker’s skepticism at everything, not to mention New Age philosophies.  Even though most of the people in his class successful walk over a bed of hot coals on the last night, Evan cannot rid himself of his fear and skepticism.

It is also during this time that he realizes that he can no longer ignore the rifts and changes in his relationship with Jackie, his girlfriend.  Although he clearly admires and loves her for her courage and fortitude in learning to be his primary supporter and caregiver, the stresses that this illness has caused to their relationship can no longer remain in the background.

This becomes paritularly critical critical as Evan is struck by some profoundly simple advice of one of the coutrse instructors.  “Always ask for what you want one hundred percent of the time.  Be willing to hear no.  Be willing to negotiate.”

What is interesting to me about this cancer book club is how often the reader lloks to compare his or her cancer experiences with the author’s. And again, with this book I found that I identified with that heady, out-of-the-world experience after finding out that you are in remission.  The world seems different.  Your own life seems special.  And you relationships with friends seems touched.  You are regarded as a hero, someone of courage for simply having survived.  All you can seem to talk about is your illness.  “It was as if my life was empty of any experience that I could relate oher than my recent struggle to survive.  Not only was I completely bankrupt of my ability to enage in any kind of small talk, but I was keeping close tabs on a nagging aggravation I was feeling about all of theirs.”

Handler’s long and seemingly generous consultation with the Johns Hopkins bone marrow transplant doctor mirrored by own experience. The transplant world seems to be slower and less hurried than that of the general oncologist’s office.  A smaller number of patients in for a longer and more grevious treatment.  His decision process was similar to my own – enjoy the fullness of my remission or submit to a promising but risky procedure with no guarantee of success.

We see Evan and Jackie’s relationship sever, then reunite but in a version less intense and yet more dependent than the original.  And then we witness the inevitable, the relapse of his leukemia.

Reading Assignment: Chapters “Crying Job’s Tears,” and “Beyond the Hype.” approx 52 pages.


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.


Time on Fire – week two — 1 Comment

  1. I had a difficult time with ‘small talk.’ At an event last holiday season, I flat out told a woman I had nothing to say. She tried to encourage me but I felt ‘over it.’ Though I can’t totally relate to feeling ‘special’ or that I would call it special. I would call my life improved though I would never say any of this suffering has been a gift because that’s cheesy. When people ask about cancer being a gift, I *really* have no small talk for them. I would say that I keep tabs on nagging aggravation on how I feel about others, their complaints about health, and life and how difficult things seem. Sometimes they will catch themselves midphrase and apologize but most of the time I figure their suffering seems as great to them as mine has to me.

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