Blog Discoveries – Cancer and Sex

IMG_20130215_170943This week I’ve been wandering through the web looking at cancer stories. I read plenty of other things too. I am not a cancer junkie.

In fact, I’m in the midst of The Last Lion which is a brilliant biography of Churchill in the war years.

Here are a few cancer articles, though, that caught my attention.

I identified strongly with the hospital ordeals so luridly described in A Season in Hell.

I knew exactly what the author, Mark Dery, meant when he stated:

Recovering from major surgery, we’re helpless as newborns or nonagenarians, moved to tears by the kindness of strangers—or their casual cruelties. Some nurses are candidates for canonization; some missed their calling at Guantanamo.

I will never forget how much I need the kindness of a nurse who helped me as I shuffled out from radiation treatment one grim day. I was at such a low point in my treatment ordeal and her small kindness was somehow one of the grandest acts of compassion I’ve ever experienced.

I so desperately needed emotional and physical help and she provided it just when I was at my limit. Her hands under my arm, steadying my gait, gave so much comfort and assurance it would “all be ok”.

It is an indelible memory of the power of kindness.

I found a link to Mark’s article in the Cheeky Librarian’s blog which is worth a visit.

You will also find a reference in Dery’s post to the brilliant Topic of Cancer article Christopher Hitchens contributed to Vanity Fair. Sadly it no longer seems available, but the power of his writing was so strong

The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement. I could faintly hear myself breathe but could not manage to inflate my lungs. My heart was beating either much too much or much too little. Any movement, however slight, required forethought and planning. It took strenuous effort for me to cross the room of my New York hotel and summon the emergency services. They arrived with great dispatch and behaved with immense courtesy and professionalism. I had the time to wonder why they needed so many boots and helmets and so much heavy backup equipment, but now that I view the scene in retrospect I see it as a very gentle and firm deportation, taking me from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.

Within a few hours, having had to do quite a lot of emergency work on my heart and my lungs, the physicians at this sad border post had shown me a few other postcards from the interior and told me that my immediate next stop would have to be with an oncologist. Some kind of shadow was throwing itself across the negatives.

Sadly, as you are probably aware, Christopher Hitchens died in December 2011. R.I.P.

Bruised and Battered

Anyone who has been through cancer treatment of surgery, chemo or radiation knows it takes a toll. Some get the package deal, while others mix and match. Regardless we all end up a bit bruised and battered.

For those lucky amongst us, those dents fade as the body slowly repairs itself. I was one of the lucky ones.

My long-term effects are tolerable, but I could not help being touched by the stories of others who have permanent damaging effects;

The ordeal of being a breast feeding mother with no nipples.

Or, losing the ability to speak or swallow.

My heart goes out in sympathy to both women. It must be hard and I do wish them well.

Sexuality and Cancer

One of the shortcomings of the medical profession is the tendency to treat the illness instead of the whole person. Generally, the tumour is attacked in isolation. Sure there may be some basic regard for nutrition or rehabilitation, but such concerns may often be more of an ad-on.

Life, Interrupted recently highlighted a much neglected area of human health: the sexuality of a cancer patient. In her, Life Interrupted: Crazy, Unsexy Cancer Tips, you can feel the awkwardness and pain in her writing.

Writing about cancer is always a challenge for me because it hits so close to home. And this topic felt even more difficult. After my diagnosis at age 22 with leukemia, the second piece of news I learned was that I would likely be infertile as a result of chemotherapy. It was a one-two punch that was my first indication that issues of cancer and sexual health are inextricably tied.

But to my surprise, sex is not at the center of the conversation in the oncology unit — far from it. No one has ever broached the topic of sex and cancer during my diagnosis and treatment. Not doctors, not nurses. On the rare occasions I initiated the conversation myself, talking about sex and cancer felt like a shameful secret.

That should not be so. Sex is an important part of our health and well-being. It is time we all got a bit more candid and mature in our approach.

Celebrities Diagnosed

Celebrities diagnosed with cancer are an interesting insight into society. Of course, they are just another individual trying to hold onto life despite grim circumstances. I am no fan of the celebrity fad. Still, the medical woes of a person with  fame or popularity does mean their struggle has an added dimension. Hopefully, it increase awareness and does some good. Here are two recent instances.

Tig Notaro stunned her audience when she announced “I have cancer” at the start of a live show.

The diagnosis ordeal of a TV weatherman for Fox 6 has been followed by his audience.


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