Monday, December 11, 2006

I Hurl Like A Girl

"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." -Dorothy Parker

You're always hearing people blather on about how cancer made them a better person. Not me. I can't say that cancer has made me a better person, but I sure as hell can say it's made me an angry, bitter person. And, somewhat unexpectedly, it has also taught me how to pitch a blazing two-hundred-mile-an-hour fastball. Or rather fast book. Specifically, those ubiquitous "inspirational" cancer books.

These two gifts from cancer, the bitterness and the pitching, are not unrelated. And raise your hand if you're shocked to hear: it's all about the money.

George Scott once said, "Nobody throws harder than Nolan Ryan. Not even God." But ol' Boomer had never seen me take on a pile of "inspirational" cancer books.

The first book I hurled so hard it broke the sound barrier was Lance Armstrong's famous cancer story, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. Go read the 700 reviews on Amazon: I don't think there's one that doesn't use the word "inspirational." The message being, See? If Lance Armstrong can beat advanced cancer and go on to win the Tour de France, YOU CAN TOO!

Feh. I admire what Mr. Armstrong has done and all, but how in the hell am I, a middle-aged bankrupt uninsured nobody, even remotely like this superhumanly fit young billionaire celebrity? As soon as he was diagnosed, Armstrong held a press conference announcing the bad news, and within hours dozens of the planet's leading oncologists were clambering aboard his bandwagon. Twenty-four hours later his crack team of brilliant cancer luminaries started his treatment.

My diagnosis at the underfunded overcrowded public charity Hospital for the Indigent Damned was delivered to me by a 12-year-old rotating resident whom I never saw before or since. And even though I have an extremely aggressive stage-IV cancer, it was another six weeks before my treatment began.

According to a new study being presented this week at the American Society of Hematology convention, "Patients from deprived areas had a higher relative risk to die compared to patients from affluent areas...The existing deprivation gap in relative survival for both men and women confirms that cancer survival depends on socio-economic background and is inequitable." Survival: it's all about the money. I bet fame doesn't hurt either.

The second book I tossed aside at Mach 2 was Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) during Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond by Marc Silver. The underlying assumption that runs throughout this book is that the readers are overwhelmingly affluent and insured.

In a chapter called "The Price of Looking Pretty," Silver tells the BC husbands: "If you've got the cash, don't scrimp. A wig fashioned from luxuriant human hair can run well over $1,000. For that price, your wife gets hair that shines and swings." Hmmm, let's see, shiny swingy hair, or paying the utility bills this winter? Tough decision.

In a chapter called "Hey, Big Spender," Silver writes: "The New Normal isn't just about coping with the specter of cancer as well as lingering side effects. It's also about enjoying every day. For many couples this leads to what women jokingly call 'the tumor upgrade.' In other words, retail therapy." New cars! Exotic vacations! Remodeled kitchens! And, he adds, "Guys deserve a treat too. Hey, you were a good caregiver. Go ahead, knock yourself out!" Followed by stories about men who treated themselves to sports cars, drum sets, and new SCUBA diving gear as rewards for being such good breast cancer husbands. I nearly broke a window pitching that one.

Even the books that I liked were chock full of privilege and supersonic hurl moments. In young handsome hotshot actor Evan Handler's Time On Fire: My Comedy of Terrors, he tells about how his influential well-to-do parents pulled strings to get him into the best program with the best doctor at Sloan Kettering. Fwooosh!

In The Red Devil: A Memoir About Beating the Odds, young beautiful hotshot editor Katherine Russell Rich remarks that a big advantage of living is Manhattan is that there are more oncologists to fire. And fire them she does, any time there's a personality clash. Zing!

I don't have this little luxury over at Our Lady of the Damned. There's only one board certified oncologist on staff, and he doesn't even see patients. He just comes in from his private practice one day a week to instruct and oversee the residents. But on the bright side, I'm rarely assigned the same rotating resident twice, so any personality clashes can't last more than the requisite 7 minute clinic visit.

"Cancer survival depends on socio-economic background and is inequitable." And inequitabilty makes me bitter. Once upon a time, I had health insurance. Until I turned 50 and the premium outstripped my income. But it was a lousy limited policy, and even if I had been able to keep it, this cancer would have bankrupted me.

Sometimes I come across web sites that make me so angry I want to pitch my computer out the window. But here's one that made me slam my forehead against the keyboard and cry: The Lime Project. It's about Heather, a 34-year-old potter who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. A bunch of her friends have put on a fundraiser, posing naked for a cheesecake pinup calendar they're selling to raise money for Heather's medical expenses.

"Unfortunately, Heather has no prescription coverage on her medical insurance, and because she is working, she doesn't qualify for government aid," these friends tell us on the web site.

"The medications that will keep her alive physically are going to kill her financially, and even if she survives the cancer, she may not survive the debt...the medical bills keep rolling in, much faster than her salary can cover them. We're naked so Heather doesn't go broke. So buy a calendar. Or five. Or just donate. Or buy pottery from Heather- she can finally make things again after not being allowed to touch any clay during the course of her treatment. But help us help Heather. We love her. And none of us want to see her win her fight against cancer, only to be held under crushing debt for the rest of her life just to stay alive."

Is this a fucked up inequitable world or what, when even an insured cancer patient's buddies are reduced to stripping and posing naked on a calendar so she can afford medical care? And then people try to blame it on the Prednisone when I can't stop crying.

So, dear readers, let's review what we've learned today: The existing deprivation gap in relative survival for both men and women confirms that cancer survival depends on socio-economic background and is inequitable. I just want you all to read those words one more time. Especially the word inequitable. This means that some lives are valued more highly, and are more worth saving than others.

Anyone want to join me for a pint of bitters?

The only cancer book I've loved totally and without reservation. RIP Miriam.


Blogger B. Dagger Lee said...

Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner (American Splendor) wrote a graphic book called "Our Cancer Year" that is supposed to be terrific. Is there a Conoco station near you I can send it to?

5:13 PM  
Blogger Rose said...

I'll have two pints, please.

If I recall correctly, your next round of chemo will be on Wednesday? I will be thinking of you.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Lymphopo said...

Thanks, they've moved it back to Thursday because of scheduling conflicts with my MUGA scan. A day of reprieve!

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll join you in a pint of bitter.

Bitterness and anger were the dominant emotions my mother experienced as a cancer patient. But I don't think she ever came across the proposed solution of 'spend money, you'll feel better'. Cripes. How bloody insensitive.

I'll be thinking of you on Thursday.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Liz.

I don't know why those people don't get it. Oh well yes, I do.

I've been banned from two blogs now for hurling bricks at the industry, and not being polite about it. A third shut down to stop my posts, and the fourth, or was he fifth, the Cheerful Oncologist, didn't ban me, just ignored me as he went on about his business of cheerfully defending his livlihood.

What a growth industry.

12:10 AM  
Blogger Sassy Pants said...

I'll take the month of August if you're ever looking to produce a nudey calendar. People might pay you not to give it to them though.

I missed you Granny! Another blogger sent me to your new site.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Alto2 said...

When I saw "hurl" in the title, I thought you were going to write about particularly bad nausea and vomiting. Spending too much time around my kids. Oy!

I am dumbstruck at the utter vacuum of intelligent, helpful support for cancer patients. What non-moron thinks platitudes and a cute wig get you through the hardest struggle of your life? Idiots all. Most of us may not know you personally, but we're pulling for you all the same.

Keep writing. One day this blog is going to become your inspirational cancer book, and it's going to make a huge difference in someone else's life. And, it's going to make you a lot of money, too. nyah.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only things worse than these platitude infested books are the people who give them to you. Good job on the hurling.

I don't have cancer, but I am a retired hospice nurse, if that counts for anything.

I will light a candle or a cat for you, your choice.

Keep your life sustaining sense of humor. I am certain it is helping others as much as it is helping you.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope you won't mind a little vulgarity, because all I can think of to say is fuck fucking cancer and fuck being poor and fuck the system that keeps things so eternally inequitable.

That you can be so funny in addition to angry and bitter is downright inspirational. Naw! I kid. It just all sucks, and I'm so sorry you have to go through this.

12:53 PM  
Blogger kathy a. said...

i'm with janeen. also pretty much with everyone else. cancer sucks; the inequities suck; chemo sucks.

you, however, do not suck. you are using the best tools there are: getting angry, fighting the damned thing, keeping healthy as you can, laughing at the insane stuff. if there is something we can do, you need to tell us, ok?

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its like that horse, Barbaro. He's a nice horse, I am sure, and his owners love him. However, they're millionaires and he's got a pair of 'nads loaded with little winners. He's alive.

The plug horse that some poor kid uses to ride to the 7-11 in Cut N' Shoot, Texas would be well and thoroughly fucked in a similar situation.

And Lance Armstrong can go fuck himself. (Just sayin'. I can't stand rock star dweeby bicyclists.)

6:55 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

What Kathy A. said. in spades.

fuckity fuck fuck fuck.

fuck the -system.-


7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sure hope all you fuckity uppity women voted this past, and voted Democrat (left) or whatever it's called there. Because if there's anything I can't stand is people who talk it but don't walk it, and the Liz's of the world are in the same place 4 yrs from now.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuck. Sorry I don't have anything better than that to say.

11:09 AM  
Blogger slfisher said...

I hope you're planning to write your own book.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If hurling books is helpful, burning them may be better. Publicly, for preference.

Perhaps some people close by could assist you in a public book burning protest? I'm so sad at your situation, even more so because our government in Australia is trying to make our system more like the American one. My sister had cancer treatment, it was hideous, but it was almost entirely free. Knowing that she was getting the best care in the world made a huge difference to her ability to cope. It's pretty sad that the richest country in the world can't provide that.

9:50 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

it will take more than a change of party to fix this system. Bill Clinton came the closest, what with promising to overhaul (*did* he actually put single-payer plans on the agenda? or was i dreaming?) and that was when he had both houses of Congress and a big ol' budget surplus, pre-sinkhole of a war, pre-Fox News and talk radio and so forth; and that ambitious plan still melted away.

i put a lot of energy (and a fair amount of cash and volunteer time) into the '04 elections. i don't think a lot of us have quite recovered from that one, tbh. yeah, i voted. yeah, we now finally have Congress, both houses, even (well, maybe, assuming whatsisname recovers).

it's not enough. even if we ("we;" the Democratic party as it stands is i believe well to the right of the "left" parties in Canada and much of Europe; and there is no viable third party) win the White House in '08...

there needs to be a real fundamental shift; this is beyond partisan politics, at least at the superficial level.

Michael Moore was supposed to be doing his next film on the health care industry ("Sicko"). Haven't heard anything about that one lately though.

9:53 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

what i don't know is what it was like decades ago, in the U.S. certainly we never had health care socialized to the degree of a lot of other countries; but, and i just did a big post about this, riffing off some other people talking about that latest BBC date wrt global wealth inequity (the world's three wealthiest people own more put together than the 48 poorest nations, put together; 50% of the world's population shares 1% of the world's wealth). The U.S.'s wealth distribution has changed dramatically since the "boomer years" (i.e. post WWII-Reagan). and, the gap has only grown steadily since, including during the Clinton years (at least on average).

according to another study, we may be the "wealthiest" nation, but not in terms of y'know quality of life; that would be, yep, Ireland, currently.

it is a global problem though, ultimately.

still, yeah, there's no reason it has to be -this- dismal here.

9:59 PM  
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5:19 AM  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Liz--I thought this was going to be about throwing up--you know, some black cancer humor about throwing up like a girl ...but this was much better. Love your list of books to hate. People keep giving me this crap, and I don't hurl it, I just recycle it (I live in Seattle, we recycle like maniacs here)...

I have to say, though, that I am really disturbed by the descriptions you give of your care at Our Lady of the Damned. One oncologist? He never sees patients? You see a different resident every time you go in? I would be insane.

I know that it's all about the money, but I'm really concerned for you. Have you considered moving? Is there anything I can do to help? I don't make that offer lightly, please let me know. You deserve the attention of the best doctors you can find, whether you can afford to pay them or not.


1:14 AM  

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