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Winter Solstice? and the death of cancer?

Friends and readers,

I begin with a soothing video -- surely needed during this season

as a preface to two linked topics: climate change and the spread of cancer everywhere to all age groups.  The chemical manipulation of our environment.

So to the heat:  We are still having shortened daylight here in a mid-Atlantic state of the East Coast of the US, but otherwise he climate is really changing. Well, duh. Summer in winter?  Well in Virginia (not far from DC so by the water) we are having a summery-winter. It's not summer and it's not an Indian summer and it's not fall. It gets quite cold when the sun goes down; dawn is dank and chilled but by noon it's balmy with a chill in the air; waters are higher too (as in the Potomac). The bulbs I planted do not grow as they do in very early spring/late winter (as it once was). You do need some sort of coat or sweater. If I open windows too wide, it gets too cold in my house. The cats sit by the grates still.

In the morning as I awake and the sun creeps into my room (like it did in the older winter) it nonetheless feels hot in the way it does on an early summer day. And at night the house is hot the way it is after it's baked all day in summer. It's just not baked with quite the same high temperatures.

My younger daughter went to the University of Buffalo to become the librarian she is today. She used to talk of small, medium, and big snow events. The first January she wrote us that she would never leave her room again, it has been that cold for so many weeks. She now
tells me it has yet to snow in Buffalo. This has not happened in 150 years. It's a new kind of season.

Then cancer. The New Yorker is not usually stupid or mean or obtuse, as witness this week's cover by Eric Drooker:

But they can be, as witness a peculiarly small-minded essay on Thoreau several weeks ago, spiteful ("pond scum"?), written out of the new certitude that people who retreat are idle self-indulgent fools, living off others, and anyway only social life is life. The moral myopia is Kathryn Schultz's.

I usually don't review reviews, especially when I've not read the book through. But Malcolm Gladwell's dismissal of T. De Vita Jr's admittedly oddly titled The Death of Cancer in the Dec 14, 2015 issue of the New Yorker deserves to be called the ridiculous point of view it is. Gladwell's complaint is De Vita was not a team player. Hence he was didn't last when he reached the prestigious position of physician-in-chief at Sloane Kettering. The chapters' demonstration is that 1) the medical establishment does not look for a cure for cancer; 2) is far more careful to follow protocols lest anyone be sued than try to cure a particular person's cancer; 3) lets people die knowing this is happening and something could have been tried to stop it; 4) carries on with bad policies and procedures known not to help but perhaps harm lest a particular group of doctors (breast cancer folks) or arm of the industry (any of the chemo drugs) make less profit. Gladwell calls all this "deeply unsettling." But clearly he's not unsettled by what DeVita shows the reader. What he doesn't like is DeVita's take on institutional politics. (We may assume Gladwell wouldn't like Thoreau either.) Gladwell's priorities are as screwed up as the people treating cancers who can't predict even what their medical treatment will result in. Read the review by all means. Gladwell is conscientious and gives his devil his due, and reports the important content of De Vita's book.

In the light of some replies I've gotten I want to say that cancer is anything but dead and among the things wrong with this book is the false upbeat framing of it. Cancer is spreading, more kinds are emerging, more rare kinds are becoming common and more and more people develop cancer at an early age: not only is our climate changing, but it and all we eat and drink is more and more poisoned by cancer-causing chemicals.

Miss Drake


Dec. 18th, 2015 04:12 pm (UTC)
Further on DiVitaq, Gladwell and personal experiences of cancer -- a reply
Thank you for the letter and comments very much. I read Gawande, used to assign his _Complications_ regularly to students doing Adv Writing in Natural Sciences and Tech, and his other essays since too.

On doctors' callousness, they are even trained that way (it's mislabled "professional behavior"), and the kind of doctor who goes into surgery is often a jock type who likes power. Who but someone with mighty thick skin could do some of the operations they do? I have an older book to recommend which is a critique of the profession from this point of view: Melvin Konner, Becoming a Doctor. Its one flaw is he does not realize what a masculinist approach he takes to women and women's bodies.

I have similar regrets and I have self-blame. I was given the name of a supposedly super-respected (and expensive) doctor in Boston who instead of giving Jim an operation to remove the cancer in his esophagus would have hit him hard with huge amounts of chemotherapy and right away. My friend who told me of him had a sister who had esophageal cancer and lived -- and had had this monstrous regimen -- very hard for over a year. He said the operation was barbaric.

Well after it was over Jim realized he really couldn't eat very well at all, his voice was half-gone, but worse by the time (4 weeks) we were ready for chemo and radiation the cancer had spread throughout his liver. Now basically Kaiser gave up: they said they would give him chemo and it would extend his life for a few months but he would not live more than that. After a couple of rounds, he said "no more" and chose to die. He starved to death and took heavy medication for the terrible pain.

My regret is I could not get Jim to go. He would not listen, not discuss it, and I never was in life able to influence him when he made up his mind about something. He was a dominating husband. After the cancer spread to the liver another friend gave me the name of someone at Sloane-Kettering who might consider trials (remove parts of the liver, attack it with chemo): this time Jim would not even allow me to finish talking.

I have been told by others that this huge amounts of chemo described in the article can and does sometimes have an adverse response. A friend's husband and the husband of a friend's friend did that and died howling -- just about. In one case he had to be amputated -- and his wife couldn't resist trying for every minute of life. IN the other he got a terrible form of leukemia.

I suspect from what you say I would dislike the book very much. Another book I used to assign -- deeply humane and good medicine -- is by Danielle Ofri -- Singular Intimacies.


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