I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pink breast cancer nonsense time again: but a challenge for you here.

Yes, folks, it's October again; the joyous time of year when "awareness" of breast cancer is being sold, world-wide, to consumers of anything from hair-dryers to teddybears, water to yoghurt. I've written elsewhere (a long time ago) about the insidious association of shopping with medical research and the much-vaunted "awareness" of the disease (anything with "Shop for the Cure" associated with it is deeply problematic, in my view); and others have written eloquently and knowledgeably about the irony of the miniscule donations made to breast cancer research from companies whose products may well contain carcinogens, to say nothing of the dreadful infantilisation, eroticisation and sexualisation of women and the breast ("saving second base!") that characterises many of these campaigns. If you're interested in reading more in this vein, check out Breast Cancer Action or Twisty's recent post, with its excoriating critique of the recent Facebook "it" campaign. There is also this celebrated essay by Barbara Ehrenreich.

But this post is for my new friend: let us call her Hypatia. I met her earlier this year, and while we got on very well, we have become much closer since she was diagnosed with breast cancer, very recently. It's an email correspondence, as she lives in a far northern country. We have much in common. We both love our academic work; and both reeled to see how a diagnosis like this cut such a swathe through our sense of self as thinking, writing women. Her progress through treatment is going to be rather longer than mine, I'm sorry to say, as she is starting with chemotherapy, then moving on to surgery, radiotherapy and hormonal therapy; so she is looking at about a year of being — if not sick all the time — then acutely under the care of the medical profession. She has had her first two doses of chemotherapy: her hair is falling out; her brain has gone mushy, she says; and she had a violent anaphylatic reaction to the first dose. She has a bruised hand from the second; and her ankles and toes are painful. Other side-effects, too. But she doesn't want to join a support group and "have her colours done."

Like me, Hypatia was also diagnosed around October; and has been somewhat spooked, I think, by the horror stories you hear around this time. For me, it was poor Belinda Emmett, who died the week I was having my surgery, the night Kylie Minogue made her first return to the stage after a year away. (This means, yes, I am a week away from my fourth-year mammogram and ultrasound next week: fingers crossed...) There is also the gruesomely normative femininity that is so often the only one available on so many commercial "awareness" sites. We're "aware", already, alright? And some of us are smart and clever, and miss our work and our colleagues when we are sick.

I feel very far away from my friend. And I know you would like her, and wish her well. So this is my October gesture. I'm inviting you to send a message of support to Hypatia in my comments box. Or to suggest something she might like to read or listen to (because there will be days when she won't be able to read a sentence). Or your favourite thinking woman's blog (don't worry if you can't make the link work). Let's put together a collection of things a sick and smart woman (truly, when I met her, she was blazing with intelligence and smartness) might like to read. I don't mean necessarily hi-falutin', either: someone loaned her a boxed set of Little House on the Prairie, and it seems to have gone down a treat, though I bet she just dipped in and out of it, because that's all you can do. But there'll be times over the next year or so when she'll be feeling stronger. And perhaps the list we make might be something you can send to your friends should they ever be in similar straits. This seems to me a good thing to do in breast cancer October.



Anonymous said...

When I was too ill to read I really liked listening to Elizabeth Jane Howard's novels as audiobooks. All were in my local library, but also available from amazon if a far nothern land's libraries aren't as richly resourced.
Mind you, now I can't listen to an audiobook without feeling ill again but they were immensely soothing as long as you share my passion for middlebrow fiction (almost wrote muddlebrow).


Mindy said...

Dear Hypatia

If you haven't already read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall I would strongly recommend it. I also enjoyed the Time Travellers Wife - although I would save this for when you are feeling strong as it can get a bit teary, Terry Pratchett's I shall wear Midnight is also wonderful. I finished it the day I purchased it. I think I may read it again very soon. If you like something a little unusual Jasper Fforde writes interesting books - I suggest starting with the Thursday Next series. Crime - Stieg Larsson, Dorothy Sayers (old but good), Margaret Yorke, Ruth Rendell (the list really could go on). If you like chick lit and vampires the early ones of the Mary-Janice Davidson "Undead and ..." series are light and fluffy. I wish you many days when you can read and rest and get well again.


Elisabeth said...

I broke my leg recently. It seems nothing compared to the experience you and Hypatia have endured and now endure.

Our bodies betray us, but worse still the need to 'hip hip hooray' the whole horrible experience and be grateful to boot. It's ghastly.

Tonight, six weeks after breaking my leg I tried to describe the time I sloshed my bed pan all over my bed the night I broke my leg. Thee nurse was annoyed, having to clean it up. The indignity of it all.

Medical interventions oftentimes ignore the sheer humiliation of it all, infantilised and reduced to helplessness and fear. My heart goes out to Hypatia.

Dr. Virago said...

Hypatia (and Stephanie) I have a friend who survived breast cancer and also hates the whole pink/awareness campaign. She also happens to be a smart, funny, and amazingly adventurous person with a gift for writing about her adventures. Right now she's working at McMurdo Station in Antarctica (as one of the camp's bakers -- she's a Culinary Institute of America-trained pastry chef!) and blogging about it at Stories That Are True: http://storiesthataretrue.wordpress.com/

You can go back further in the blog and read about her adventures in New Zealand, too.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

A book of strength, of weakness, of a world that is unfair and yet beautiful: 'Unaccustomed Earth,' by Jhumpa Lahiri. It's a collection of short stories, so easy to pick up, put down, come back to. Recommended to me by the strongest woman I know, and now my favorite book this year.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Alexander McCall Smith audiobooks are on my list for if I ever get too ill to read, especially the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. The best website I've encountered lately is this one, which just keeps on giving.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks, everyone, these are great! Keep 'em coming...

Elisabeth: commiserations. Hope the leg is soon strong again; and that you have recovered all your dignity now!

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

(As an aside, I am shocked, Elisabeth -- and I am not easily shocked -- that that nurse should have been annoyed with you, or at least have let her annoyance show. That is totally unprofessional. So much so, in fact, that if I were you I would think about making a complaint to the hospital. They need to know that allowing patients to be treated like that is not okay, and that if health professionals can't take a little bodily overflow in their stride then they shouldn't be allowed near a hospital.)

Peggy said...

Dear Hypatia,

Just last month I passed my 5-year all-clear exam after treatment for a stage one breast cancer, much less serious than yours, if I understand correctly. I hope for you the strange euphoria of a similar check, though it is still far away, and in the meantime, I send fervent best wishes for your treatment and recovery. I know you only through Stephanie's post, of course, but still feel connected, and in a bodily way, that is both odd and oddly familiar.
Anyway--if you'd like a reading recommendation, I am a great fan of China MiƩville, especially his recent The City and the City, which is brilliantly strange, and Yann Martel's Beatrice and Vergil was--for me--hauntingly beautiful.
very very best wishes.

Alison said...

I'm sorry to hear about Hypatia's ill-health, and hope her recovery is speedy and with as little stress as is possible.

I enjoy reading the Needled blog (http://www.needled.wordpress.com/). Kate is a crafty academic (I started reading her blog for the knitting!) who, earlier this year, had a stroke at a (relatively) young age. I think her blog is intelligent, thoughtful and entertaining, and, as someone who's had to learn to walk again myself inspiring.

ana said...

Would second Elizabeth Jane Howard's work, especially her wartime quartet. A family saga beginning with The Light Years.

And Hypatia might enjoy being transported to Venice by Donna Leon. They are crime novels but the very best character for me is the detective's wife who lectures in English lit.

Hope she will soon be able to browse among some of the marvellous suggestions already offered.

Nicole said...

When I was sick, I also read Elizabeth Jane Howard and Anita Brookner who has a really shimmery painterly style that seemed apt.
But the best find was Dorothy L Sayers' Peter Wimsey novels which are available as audio books.
nici xx

Alison said...

Dear Hypatia

I'm sorry to hear of your illness and i send all my wishes for your speedy recovery. Here are some of the things that I've read or re-read during periods of recent illness (last year I had whooping cough whch lasted 3 months, and later pneumonia, which lasted 2 months). I loved the novels of Robert Harris - they are the best kind of 'holiday' reading, written by an historian who became a political correspondent (Imperium and Lustrum are about the life of Cicero; Pompeii is set in the 4 days leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius).
I like re-reading when I'm ill, and AS Byatt's Possession is a favourite (though I sometimes skip through the poems, I must admit). I also re-read endlessly the novels of Jane Smiley (especially Moo and Horse Heaven). And last year, while ill, I re-read all 7 Harry Potter novels, and that was great. I'm told there are good audiobook recordings of those too.

If you feel like watching DVDs, when I was ill I found The West Wing very comforting. The dialogue was a bit too fast to follow sometimes, but the overall ethos of the show seemed to fit what I needed. I stayed away from cop shows and medical shows. Some historical drama might fit the bill better - something like Rome or The Tudors perhaps?

I wish you all the best, and hope that friendship, literature, music and television can provide support...