Tag Archives: cancer & the media

Pinktober, Take 2

I’ve not written here since beginning the Ph.D. this fall–unsurprising, I suppose, considering the how much else I’m supposed to be writing right now; but then, it is my mind’s constant confrontation with cancer that prevents me from getting things done. I’m not sure if this is biological–the destruction of my brain function from the chemo–or psychological, but either way, it is an omnipresent obstacle to my concentration, to my caring about anything. Always in the background of this program there is murmuring about the career trajectory–quals and prelims and dissertation and the academic job market six years from now. Six sick years.

It doesn’t help, of course, that it’s dreaded Pinktober–and though I’m not as angry as my first “survival” enounter with this media frenzy phenomenon, see rant c. 10/2009–I’m beset with inexpressible sadness and frustration every time I walk up to the library and have to step on pink ribbons rendered in sidewalk-chalk by cheerful sorority girls. The bitterness is there too, of course; I can’t help but half-imagine one of them getting breast cancer in her twenties, and see how many pink ribbons she’s graffiting campus with afterward.

Then you go into Borders just looking for a little Charlotte Bronte and see a display table packed with Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor’s Soul.

 I’ve become fascinated by the photographs in David Jay’s exhibition The Scar Project , portraits of post-mastectomy breast cancer patients–“survivors,” he says–between the ages of 18 and 35. On his website, Jay says:

  “For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride.”

I’m uncomfortable with this rhetoric of rescue via male-photographer-facilitated exhibition (“Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance”).What would Judith Butler have to say about the male gaze here, one wonders? However, I think Jay’s project is important in showing bodies. In them, I don’t necessarily see the fierce Amazonian warrior-woman society wants to see in the “survivor,” so that they can close themselves off to the implications of illness and intimations of death: a warm-and-fuzzy “pink” feeling–a modern manifestation, I think of, sentimentality’s commodity culture (I have been reading the incomporable Lauren Berlant of late)–that precludes any desire to participate in breast cancer politically, to any actual effect.

I regret having had reconstruction. But that is another post.

“Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon,” Jay asserts on the site. At least we’ve got that right here.

The question, though: is Jay’s photographic exhibition an act of exhibitionism?  Speaking of which, I came across this “Tattoos for the Maimed and Handicapped” post on the “Bizarre Stuff” blog; the first photo  is of two mastectomy tattoos. Mastectomy as “maiming”? Mastectomy as “handicap”? The blog enthusiastically invites the voyeuristic gaze of the freak show audience, wide eyed, rubbernecked, finger-pointing, delighted and appalled; I can practically hear it:

Cancer, cancer everywhere and not thing to think.

I have much more to say, but I think this post has reached an appropriate length. Keep posted, and I will post more.

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I call February! And introducing: Cancer Chicken.

This morning, this dumb girl we work with walks into the office and beams: “Guess what! I’m gonna get to be in a breast cancer calendar… with my boobies painted!”

A breast. Cancer? Calendar.

Can she please, please, please be in the “breast cancer calendar” bald, with her “boobies” lopped off?

Then tonight–to prove there is no end to the stupidity this world must suffer, or the corporate patronizing women must endure–this commercial during Jeopardy!:

Mmmmm, genetically modified meat! Chicken Breast. Breast Cancer. It’s all coming together now.  I can’t think of a better way to raise awareness for one of the greatest women’s health issues of our century.

I’m writing to KFC with hopes of seeing the Legalized Abortion Bucket and the Original Recipe Cervical Smear.

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As Seen on TV!

As an aside, they sell this in Blockbuster. And every time I see it, I want to laugh, cry, and burn the place to the ground. Not necessarily in that order.

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still looks like cancer: or, reality bites

A confession:

I really love this movie.

I used to so adore and identify with Lelaina (Winona Ryder) and her angsty smart girl Big Gulp post-college existence. But now it’s Vickie (Janeane Garofolo) with whom I identify, or this part of her character anyway:

“It’s like I’m on Melrose Place and I’m the AIDS character and I teach everyone it’s all right to talk to me or touch me and then I die and everyone goes to my funeral wearing halter-tops and chokers.”

Substitute something vaguely 21st century for the mid-90s cultural references and cancer for AIDS and this is so apt. It’s what I feel I’ve become to most everyone I know: the “cancer character.” People who had no interest or investment in me suddenly came out of the woodwork when they heard I had cancer–even my “best” friends, whom I’d emailed a week previously with good news about my Ph.D; I heard nothing from them until the C-word. Part of it is genuine concern, but, however cynical it seems, I believe there is the thrill of the exotic in it: being able to say ‘My Friend Who Has Cancer.’

Kind of like My Gay Friend, but harder to come by.

And I’m tired of playing the cancer character, even though the whole project of this blog is doing precisely that it’s ok to talk to me, it’s ok to touch me kind of thing. Trying to de-mystify and synthesize the experience of having this disease.

But it’s all a sham, or most of it is anyway. Because what I feel a lot of the time is sheer panic and terror and a loss of the will to live, and you can’t de-mystify or synthesize any of it in handy blog posts for people you don’t even know to peep in on.


A confession, pt. 2:

No matter how much I tell anyone I’m okay, I am not okay.

None of this is okay.

And I know I’ve been in denial about my level of okay because of the way things have been breaking to the psychological surface.  

Like the other day, after coming across this–Kylie Minogue: Still Looks Like Cancer–I just lost it, and hacked off all the hair I’d regrown in the past several months with a pair of blunt scissors, leaving a sinkful of coarse curls and the remainder a shorn, uneven crop peppered with bald patches.

And it wasn’t that some jackass who writes a stupid celebrity hairstyle blog had really gotten to me, but that I needed a catalyst to act out something irreparably psychologically fucked-up in myself (like cutting your wrists, but with ugliness instead of endorphins), something I have to spend every day repressing and ignoring and pushing away so that I can get out of bed, go to my stupid hateful mindless job, and exist.

Merely exist.

And then the other night I dreamt of the surgery–of the whole thing repeated, for the left side, with a smattering of cruel and unhelpful hospital staff, and awoke so traumatized–not from the dream, but from the reminder that these things had actually happened to me, and I haven’t processed or made peace with them.

I’m getting to feel like Elwood P. Dowd, and my health is like Harvey. I’ve wrestled with reality for twenty-five years, and I’m happy to say I’ve finally won out over it.

I haven’t won yet, but when I sense reality getting ready to rear its ugly head I have to slam it in some drawer or another. Sometimes literally; I found I can’t wear the pajamas I wore when I was in the hospital. Even seeing them, I start to panic. So they’re stuffed to the back of a bottom drawer. I can’t toss them out any more than I can toss out the cancer.

After all, I “still look like cancer.”

But I can’t deal with it.

Because doing so would probably involve turning my life, for whoknowshowlong, into a vortex wherein I would not be able to function–to get up, get dressed, take my Tamoxifen, spend all day moving Microsoft’s data from one place to another, and come home to no one.

So maybe–what’s the point of functioning at all, if that’s what you do?

I think: what would happen if I died now? And the answer is: some of Microsoft’s files would be delayed getting down to archives, and the temp agency would send someone else immediately.

This summer, someone asked me, How are you coping? How are you getting up, walking around?

I admitted it was with a generous dose of denial–but then I had England; then I had K.

Now the only answer I can supply besides denial is

I don’t know what else to do

or–I know what else I can do, and am scared to.

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Jade Goody & the mythology of redemption: the spectre of cancer in the media

Jade Goody–the Big Brother reality television “star”-cum-cancer martyr–died the day before I started my own chemotherapy. I remember standing on the platform at the Royal Oak train station, waiting to go to the hospital for my first chemo treatment, looking at everybody’s greedily-grabbed copies of the Metro and the London Lite; even in the “real” papers, Jade Goody was the front-page news (alongside findings of a recently-published study, coincidence or no, about the non-improvement of cancer survival rates in the UK).

 I don’t know how large the storm surrounding this woman was in the American media, but in England she was as ubiquitous as Big Brother himself: first for the car-crash entertainment value of her all-around ignorance and repugnance, with the cherry-on-top of racist allegations–and then for the car-crash entertainment value of her stage 4 cervical cancer, and society’s ensuing Schadenfreude at observing her decline, glued to the television with eyes wide.

She made a mint out of that damn cancer, and, maybe even more sickeningly, seemingly won everybody’s sympathy from the media exploitation of her sickness –from her showstoppin’ Cancer Special, to her eight-weeks-to-live “fairy-tale” white(trash) wedding, to which she sold the rights to Ok! magazine for £700,000. (A  few months after Goody’s death, her previously-incarcerated Prince Charming was arrested yet again for an alleged sexual assault on a teenager. This may want to be excluded from the Disney version of the Jade Goody Story).

The debate raged as to whether Jade, being dumb as pig shit, was the victim of the media’s agressive manipulation of her, or whether Jade, being an unscrupulous media whore, was in fact the one doing the manipulating of her audiences. But whoever was pulling the strings, the result was the same–as her Guardian obituary put it:

The pig who deserved burning had become our sacrificial lamb, garnished with sentiment. Britain had turned 180 degrees to embrace a woman it had earlier scorned. Symbolically, at least, it was the right time for Goody to die.

–what someone on the BBC referred to, as I listened to Radio 4 while waiting for my chemo, as “the mythology of redemption.” Continue reading

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Paging Dr. Wilson

Dr. Wilson, you are needed in the real world.

If you saw this week’s episode of House, then you know what I’m on about.

If you don’t, here’s a quick spoiler (because this show is so very unpredictable).

This week Dr. Wilson, the oncologist:

1.) diagnoses cancer recurrence in the lung of a lymphoma patient, tipped off by the fact that the old man seems mildy depressed. Wilson quickly eliminates it, somehow, and sends the man smilingly on his way, and

2.) treats cancer recurrence in the brain of an ex-leukemia patient he’s befriended with extra high dose chemo, which cures the cancer overnight but subsequently destroys the dude’s liver, at which point Dr. W donates a piece of his own liver to save the patient’s life.

Umhello. I’m depressed, also have inexplicable headaches, chronic leg pain…and a mammogram from nine months ago that turned up “suspicious lesions.” I can’t even get an appointment. The only reason I am finally having the damn mammogram re-done–those dumb things I’m supposedly to have every six months–is because my mother is the personal friend of a well-connected OB/GYN.

Dr. Wilson: Why did you make me head of oncology?

 Dr. Cuddy: Because you’re caring…

Would this exchange occur in any hospital in the world outside of prime-time television?

I liked my oncologist in London when I first met him. He was relaxed, calm, reassuring. Eventually I realized that he was so laissez-faire not because there was nothing to worry about, but because what happened to me didn’t matter to him.

 I saw him twice throughout the whole course of my treatment. I don’t think I’ll be hitting him up for a liver.

Shoot, baby, were the world like it is on television, and you could solve all my problems in forty-five minutes, and look damn cute doin it.

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Breast Cancer® by Beckett


<—For the cure!

Because why the hell not?  

Pink shit everywhere. As omnipresent as the American flag and just as commercialized, bastardized almost out of meaning.

Not completely. But almost. Because as the American flag still connotes the rockets’ red glare etc, it’s been saturated with commercial meaning too (as K often says when pointing to “American style” muffins or burger buns in an English grocery, “It’s got the American flag on it…it’s gotta be good). So too with the pink shit. It still connotes the struggle with the disease, the awareness etc…but it also connotes, “Buy this pink shit and feel like a better person.” (It’s got a pink ribbon on it…it’s gotta be good).

“It’s gotta be good” is a dangerous phenomenon. Because it almost never is. There’s too much trust placed in arbitrary symbolism.  If you risk becoming too attached to the symbol, you can forget the substance. Continue reading


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