“The Other Shoe” – book discussion

We got home from Boston about 2 PM yesterday.  Unfortunately I didn’t find the time or energy to write the Monday book discussion post.  Hopefully I’ll get back on my regular writing schedule this week.  New projects keep popping up in my mind.  I got a new book on my blogging software, WordPress 2.7 Cookbook. So I plan to make some physical and content additions and changes to the site.

This week’s reading assignment was from our book Lisa’s Story by cartoonist Tom Batiuk.  The second half of the book, subtitled “The Other Shoe” deals predictably enough with Lisa’s relapse of her breast cancer.  I continued to find the comic-strip format easy to relate to.  Through the little daily graphic bits of storyline, Les and Lisa became famiiar friends.  Lisa’s relapse experience is unfortunately too familiar to many of us.  Les: “I don’t get it…You’ve been cancer-free for almost seven years.  Your cancer shouldn’t be coming back now.”  Lisa replies ironically “Apparently the cancer had other ideas.”

Because of this unique format, Batiuk, as he has done in the course of writing “Funky Winkerbean”, is able to portray sensitive subjects effectively and with minimal discomfort to the reader.  Sex and cancer are given a knowing nod.  One quiet evening, their daughter asleep for the night, Lisa seductively suggests a romantic liason, then adds the zinger “Once the chemo starts…this playground will be closed for repairs.”

Later Lisa has trouble finding her car in the parking garage due to chemo brain.  I can relate.  A great example of this genre’s capacity to concentrate a point into a few frames occurs in the two bottom frames on page 108.  Loading up their car, a friend asks Les “How are you doing?”  He answers “I’m okay…But cancer changes everything.  Everytime I hug Lisa…it’s like trying to hold onto our dreams.”

The fit Lisa changes before our eyes into the bald, then slowly emaciated and weak Lisa.  No narration is necessary to point this change out.  Medical error finds its way into Lisa’s story.  Early news that Lisa has achieved a second remission – and the joy of this news providing source material for a week’s worth of strips – tragically gives way to the discovery that scan results had been mistakenly switched with another patient.  She is actually not in remission.  But the good news is, if you can view as that, that she is eligible for an experiemental protocol.

But the clinical trial is difficult to endure and is showing no sign of improvement.  The issue of quality of life is eloquently handled.  Lisa says she wants to stop treatment.  “But you’ve always been a fighter,” Les protests.  “This is a new fight,” Lisa replies, “I want to live the time I have left…not just be alive.”  Realization becomes clear.  He asks “Are you sure you know what you want?”  “Yes…I know exactly what I want.  I want to see the leaves turn one m ore time.”  Who of us has not had thoughts such as this?

The unique strength of this visual format shows itself in the bottom two frames on page 204.  Lying in the dark in bed, Les tells Lisa that it’s okay for her to “go”.  The impact of the final frame in which they hug each other in the dark is nearly impossible to duplicate in words.

Even after she is enrolled in hospice, Lisa is still able to exhibit lightness and humor in the face of foreshortened future.  She jokes about her everchanging “new normal” and about the possibility of Les remarrying after her death “as long as you give it a reasonable amount of time…say twenty or thirty years.”

Batiuk is able to emply a recurring visual device.  The park bench under a particular tree in a nearby park, a favorite place for the couple to sit.  We see seasons change.  Sometimes Lisa looks well, other times she is bald and wearing a baseball cap.  Sometimes the bench is empty.  Les buries her ashes there in the pouring rain.  Later he takes his young daughter to the park and it becomes a favorite place for them to sit.  Ten years later Les are his daughter, now a young woman, sit on the bench awaiting the start of the “Lisa’s Legacy – Making Strides Against Cancer” walk.  They get up to begin the memorial walk.  We see a brass plaque on the bench “For Lisa”.

From the author, Tom Batiuk: I appreciate you selection of Lisa’s Story for your book club. I’ll watch what’s being said and will be more than happy to respond to any comments or questions. I can also be quite and listen.
Your choice is interesting because I just yesterday took part in the inaugural Lisa’s Legacy Run in Cleveland. In response to Lisa’s Story, University Hospitals in Cleveland and the Ireland Cancer Center established The Lisa’s Legacy Fund for Cancer Research. All the proceeds from the run go to the fund, so, Lisa, a comic strip character, indeed has a real life legacy.


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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